By Mac Cerullo
---- — WEST NEWBURY — After missing the postseason a year ago, Pentucket (12-8) is set to open its tournament run this afternoon against No. 20-seeded Stoneham (9-11) in the preliminary round of the Division III North tournament.
Though Stoneham is the only team in the field with a losing record, Pentucket head coach Tom L’Italien said he expects a tough challenge from the Spartans, who play in the tough Middlesex League and have beaten a number of tournament teams already.
“They’re from a very competitive league, it’s pretty heavy with Division II schools, so they’ve clearly played some good competition,” L’Italien said. “They have a couple good pitchers, their catcher is pretty good and they play pretty good defense. We’re going to have to figure out a way to beat them, because they’re not going to beat themselves.”
Pentucket is similar to Stoneham in that its biggest strengths are pitching and defense, which means that if both teams come to play, the deciding factor could come down to which team can get the big hit when it counts.
That was an issue for Pentucket early in the season, when the Sachems started out 1-4 while having scored a total of five runs in their first five games. Four of those games were decided by two runs or less, and the Sachems lost three of them.
But after that, the Sachems started to hit, and their fortunes quickly turned around. Pentucket won their next eight games, scoring four runs or more in every game. The team continued to pitch and field well too, and during that stretch the team held its opponents to three runs or fewer six times, including three shutouts.
L’Italien declined to say who would be starting today’s game, but either way the Sachems should be in good hands. Ryan Kuchar, who was just named to the Cape Ann League’s All-League team, finished the season with a 1.25 ERA in 51 innings with 76 strikeouts, 8 walks and a no hitter, and Pat Beaton, a CAL All-Star, had an ERA of 1.89 in 40.2 innings with 22 strikeouts and 8 walks.
Offensively, Dylan Wright led the team with a .391 batting average and 7 stolen bases; Jon Sirios, also a CAL All-Star, batted .345 with a team high 14 RBIs; and Kuchar batted .306 with 10 RBIs and a team high five doubles.
Overall, Pentucket scored 98 runs on the season and averaged 4.9 runs per game, and they also allowed just 59 runs, or 2.9 runs per game. Should the Sachems meet those averages again today, then a date with No. 4 Charlestown (13-5) in the first round would await.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to, but our kids never panicked, we believed in ourselves, we got a nice winning streak and we expected to make the tournament,” L’Italien said. “We’re thrilled we made it, and every team has a story, and if you go deep in the tournament you’re able to tell that story.”
DIVISION III NORTH PRELIMINARY
No. 20 Stoneham at No. 13 Pentucket
Pentucket Regional High School, 4 p.m.