SHIRLEY – The Ayer-Shirley 16–18-year-old Senior Babe Ruth squad was looking to get back on the winning track Sunday afternoon.
With Groton-Dunstable in town, the Panthers were hoping to snap their two-game skid and climb back towards the .500 mark on the season.
The hosts got off on the right foot, building a six-run lead early on before the Crusaders clawed back late in the ballgame to force extra innings.
The Panthers had a chance to win in the eighth inning but the winning run was thrown out at the plate to end the ballgame as the two teams had to settle for a 9-9 tie in eight innings.
With the tie, the Panthers are now 1-3-1 overall in Central Mass. Baseball League while Groton-Dunstable is 4-1-1.
Panthers head coach George Logan was available after Sunday’s contest to speak with the Tracker about his team’s performance on the diamond against the Crusaders.
“My guys made some big plays today, they made 99 percent of the plays in the field,” said Logan.
“We had the one tough inning, we let the lead get away and allowed them to have a big inning and that was the difference.”
Ayer-Shirley scored three runs in the second inning and added four more in the fourth and enjoyed a 7-1 lead after four complete innings.
The Crusaders scored a single run in the fifth and two more in the sixth to pull within 7-4. Groton-Dunstable continued its offensive rally in the seventh as it scored five times to take a 9-7 lead entering the bottom of the seventh inning.
Needing a pair of runs to keep the contest going, the Panthers did just that. With one out Brian Holmes walked and stole second before Zach Cebollero delivered an RBI single. Cebollero proceeded to steal second base and advanced to third on an error by the Groton-Dunstable catcher. Cebollero came home with the tying run on a passed ball to knot the score at 9-9.
“They guys showed some resiliency in the bottom of the seventh to battle back with two runs to tie the game,” said Logan. “I thought we played well for most of the game. That one inning though cost us.”
Cebollero got the start on the mound for Ayer-Shirley and went five and two-thirds innings before giving way to Russell Kilcommon, who pitched an inning plus for the hosts. Holmes relieved him and threw the final inning and a third for the Panthers. Cebollero struck out 11 hitters during his outing while Kilcommon and Holmes each struck out a batter.
“I thought Zach pitched unbelievable. He was on. He had a ton of strikeouts,” said Logan. “he’s a solid player and I feel confident when he is on the mound.”
In total, the Panthers smacked eight hits in the ballgame. Seth Valliere had himself a solid day at the dish as he registered three hits and scored two runs. Teammate Jake Fleming reached base twice and scored a pair of runs.
With 10 teams in the league, Ayer-Shirley will play a 16-game regular season. The Panthers opened the campaign with a loss to Sterling on June 12 before a win against Narragansett (June 14) followed by a pair of losses to Leominster (June 19) and Clinton (June 23). If Mother Nature cooperates, the Panthers will conclude their regular season on July 31 with a home game against Quabbin. All eight of Ayer-Shirley’s regular-season home games at played at Cofman Field, located behind the Lura White Elementary School in Shirley.
The 10 teams making up the league this season are: Ayer-Shirley, Leominster, Quabbin, Winchendon, Groton-Dunstable, Townsend/Ashby, Clinton, Sterling, Narragansett and Ashburnham/Westminster.
Both teams returned to action on Tuesday evening. Groton-Dunstable traveled to Fuller Field to battle host Clinton while Ayer-Shirley was back at Cofman Field when it hosted Winchendon.