By Jim Sullivan
---- — Looking to make the jump over .500 for the first time this season, the Newburyport baseball team sent junior James Nutter to the mound yesterday against Manchester Essex. The right-hander had quite the day, shutting out the Hornets (2-7) at Pettingell Park 3-0.
“I was a little nervous,” Nutter said of his first varsity start. “So I’m psyched the way it went. I have no regrets.”
Nutter’s first start seemed to be in trouble when he was tagged for a double on his second pitch by Max Nesbit, who then stole third. But Nutter pulled his act together, gunning down the next three Hornets in a row, two by way of strikes and one by pop-up.
“The first pitch of the game, it was a ball,” said Nutter. “I’m used to getting ahead and I knew that, from there on, I have to use the fastball. I wasn’t too surprised that he hit it— I left it up. After that I just knew, I had to keep it down. Having a man on base really helped me focus more.”
Clipper Brian Fiascone started the bottom of the frame off with a double off Manchester pitcher Brandon Bartlett, but that would be all Newburyport could muster in its first turn at the plate.
Nutter had an uneventful top of the second and watched happily as fellow Clipper Connor MacRae reached on a throwing error at first. He was moved over on a single past third from Colby Morris. A perfect bunt from Mike Sweeney loaded the bases next, and Ryan Short knocked in two runs with a single. Andrew Fiascone walked in the next at-bat, and moved over to second on a wild pitch before Short was caught on a pop-up at third.
Brian Fiascone started the bottom of the third off with another double, then grabbed third on a pop-up from Colt Fontaine. Connor Wile knocked Fiascone in with a sacrifice fly to center to put the Clippers up 3-0.
Nutter cruised along until the top of the seventh inning, allowing only four more hits and watching as his team backed him up nicely, including a notable diving catch in left field from Sweeney in the top of the third. Nutter would let up his sixth hit, a single to Dominic Cerrone, in the top of the seventh, then Corey McCollum drew a walk after two outs, before Nutter induced a pop-up to end the game.
All in all, Nutter recorded the shutout with the six hits, one walk and seven strikeouts.
“James stepped up today, he really pitched well,” Clippers coach Steve Malenfant said. “He pitched well in the preseason, but this really was his first opportunity to go quite a bit of time and we found another starting pitcher who is quality. He was steady throughout the game. He kept them off balance a little bit. And we got some key hits at key times. We hit just enough to put us in a position to win.”
“He kept us off balance,” Hornets coach Bob Garrett said of Nutter. “We hit the ball hard sometimes. Sometimes they caught it, sometimes they didn’t. He was mixing his pitches well and kept our bats pretty quiet. We just didn’t get that one hit. You always need that one hit.”
Looking to break .500, Malenfant knew he had to be wary of the Hornets.
“(Manchester Essex) came to play,” Malenfant said. “If you really check their games out, you can see that they hit the ball pretty darn well. They’ve lost some close games and they’ve had some high scores. They are a force to be reckoned with and we handled ourselves pretty darn well.”