By Matt Williams
---- — PEABODY — Senior Matt McIsaac came to the dish with the winning run in scoring position and two hits already in his back pocket in the bottom of the seventh yesterday at Bezemes Diamond.
It turned out all he had to do was put the ball in play.
McIsaac grounded sharply to third and Beverly's ensuing throwing error allowed pinch-runner C.J. Alimonti to score from second as Peabody walked off with a 1-0 win over the Panthers in the Northeastern Conference opener for both teams.
“Both teams played great for 6 2/3 innings, and it was going to come down to one mistake,” said Peabody head coach Mark Bettencourt. “It was a matter of who would blink first — and luckily it wasn’t us.”
Right-hander Pat Ruotolo saw his first action of the season for Peabody (2-1) and improved greatly as the game progressed. He struck out 10, walked a pair and scattered four hits in recording the shutout, his seventh in his last 10 starts dating back to 2012.
Beverly (1-1) had him on the ropes a few times, however. The Panthers had runners in scoring position in the first four innings and stranded seven runners; Ruotolo was devastatingly efficient pitching from the stretch with five of his K’s coming with men on base.
“You have to score to win. It seemed like we had a man on second base every inning and needed to get a big hit,” said Beverly head coach Dave Wilbur.
Eric Messina took the hill for the Panthers and went pitch for pitch with arguably the NEC’s best in Ruotolo. Messina scattered five hits over the complete game performance, fanning five and walking one. He was aggressive and wasted no time, averaging just 13 pitches per inning.
“He’s fearless,” said Wilbur. “Eric pitched a tremendous game. This was a great pitcher’s duel and a heckuva high school baseball game.”
Beverly turned a couple of double plays early in the game that kept it scoreless. Second baseman Cam Rogers made a leaping grab in the hole, then doubled up Peabody’s Mike Petrosino (double) in the first. Shortstop Anthony DiOrio stabbed a George Tsonis rocket for a 6-4-3 twin killing in the second.
“Every time we play Beverly, it comes down to the end like this,” said Bettencourt. “Both teams played solid defense and both pitchers worked out of some jams. Neither of us really got the timely hitting.”
Ruotolo gained confidence in his curveball in the late innings and needed just five pitches to retire the side in the top of the seventh. Messina then got the first two Peabody batters before Tsonis came up in the No. 6 spot. The Tanners’ third baseman singled and took second when the ball was mishandled in the outfield. Alimonti ran for him and came home when another captain, McIsaac, put the ball in play.
“Sometimes veteran players put too much pressure on themselves, so we moved the batting order to try to get those guys to relax,” said Bettencourt. “We saw some results.”
Rogers had two of Beverly’s four hits and stole two bases. Diorio singled in the first and also stole a bag and Jon Berchoff doubled but was stranded in the sixth.
Catcher Brandon Polignone had a hit for Peabody and McIsaac had two steals in addition to his two hits.