LOWELL — Heating up at just the right moment is the key to all playoff runs, and the Newburyport baseball team is red hot right now.
The second-seeded Clippers (21-5) spent Saturday afternoon burying another private school's season at LeLacheur Park, beating fifth-seed St. Mary's (16-8) by a score of 3-1 to take the EMass. Division 3 North championship trophy back to the NHS Wall of Fame behind a brilliant performance both on the mound and at the plate from Brett Fontaine.
Newburyport clinched its first sectional title since 1996. The Clippers will play the South champion in the state semifinal tomorrow (4 p.m.) at LeLacheur Park.
"It's a great win for us," said Fontaine. "For me, for the program, for everyone on the team. It feels great. I know everyone's psyched. We earned it."
Forty-year coach Bill Pettingell, who has announced he'll retire after this season, is two wins away from his first state title.
"To win 21 games is a complete team effort," Pettingell said as he was swarmed by media. "(The Spartans) were everything we expected of them and, I assume, we were everything they expected. We were very similar teams. We're both good teams, I think. We both deserved to be here."
Facing fellow right-hander Matt Turmenne, Fontaine showed nothing flashy or fancy. He simply got players to pop up or hit into the infield.
Turmenne was good, if a little more flashy. Both pitchers held their opponents scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning when Clipper Colby Morris drew a walk. Then Ryan O'Connor hit a single past second base. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch.
With runners on second and third, Fontaine got it done from the other side of the plate as well, sending a liner into center field, plating both Morris and O'Connor.