The Baseball Gods giveth and they taketh away.
After appearing to flip the script on the Bourne Canalmen with a remarkable 20-minute stretch of play, an Ayer Shirley baseball team built on pitching and defense picked the wrong time to have a bad inning. And it may have cost them a state championship.
“It was an up and down baseball game,” said Coach Bill Wright following Tuesday’s 7-5 defeat in the MIAA Div. 5 semifinals. “Even when we got down, I still had confidence we could get it done. We got two runners on in the seventh. We just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it.”
Chasing a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton, Panthers left fielder James Churchill made a fantastic play at the wall to hold Bourne tri-captain Jack Ferreira inside the ballpark and keep the deficit at two.
Ayer Shirley used the momentum to plate four runners in the top of the sixth, taking a 5-3 edge. The rally was led by Panther shortstop Brian Holmes, who smashed a two-run double into the right-field gap to plate teammates Sam Oestreicher (2-for-3, walk) and Noah Hunt.
Needing just six outs to advance to the title game, a stout Ayer Shirley defense came apart. Starter Cam Marshall was chased from the game after loading the bases without recording an out, walking two batters and allowing a single.
“Cam was still throwing the ball; the strike zone just seemed to get a little tighter at that point in the game,” Coach Wright said.
The staff then turned to reliever Kevin Surrette to mitigate the damage. Surrette quickly secured two strikes on Bourne’s No. 9 hitter, Tobin Johnston. But Johnston connected on a changeup, sending a soft liner into left field that evaded the outstretched glove of John Iannacone, allowing three runners to score.
“I’m never going to fault a kid for being aggressive,” Coach Wright said. “He made a great effort, but just didn’t come up with it."
Surrette proceeded to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding, allowing just Johnston to score on an RBI groundout.
Chasing a 7-5 deficit, Iannacone (2-for-3, triple, RBI) reached base in the seventh off closer Luca Finton. But Finton’s fireball was a bit too hot for the Ayer Shirley lineup to handle. The veteran reliever struck out the side, securing the Canalmen a trip to the big dance. Five days later, Bourne doubled up Hopkins Academy, 10-5, to bring home the Div. 5 title.
“We didn’t get the state title, but we got to the final four and gave the champs a game,” Wright said.
Ayer Shirley finishes the season with a record of 17 wins and six losses.
“This was a group of high character kids,” the coach said. “Whether they were between the lines, or outside of them, they were unbelievable.”
The Panthers will graduate seven seniors, each who contributed to winning a share of three league championships.
“I’m going to use this team as the example going forward,” said Wright. “They were a team that didn’t get too high, didn’t get too low. They just showed up every day and tried to get better than the day before.”
“We started out 1-2,” he added. “We had lost three starting pitchers from the year before and there were a lot of uncertainties. So for us to get this far, and to have this kind of season, that’s a tribute to these guys’ character.”