By Jean DePlacido
---- — LYNN — Peabody West didn’t accomplish its goal of going through the round robin portion of the Williamsport Little League Sectional unbeaten.
But despite last night’s 3-2 loss to North Andover East at Reinfuss Field, the Tanner City kids already knew they had reached tonight’s Section 4 championship game before the second game, Beverly vs. Weston, had even begun.
Now 2-1 in tournament play, Peabody West has allowed just nine runs in 20 innings of sectional play thus far, the best percentage of the four teams.
“We’re either the No. 1 or 2 seed (tonight) ... it really doesn’t matter which, because we’re in the championship game,” West manager Frank Benea said.
North Andover East (2-1) won the game in the bottom of the sixth and final inning by scoring two runs.
Peabody West scored both of its runs in the top of the first when Nick Iannuzzi hit a two-run homer over the fence in center field, scoring Jonathan Polignone (who had singled) ahead of him. North Andover East answered with a run in the bottom of the inning when Connor Gough led off with a single and Steven Hajjar doubled him in.
The score remained 2-1 through the next four-and-a-half innings. Chris Kwmuntis came on in relief of Peabody West starter Dan Marshall in the second inning and did a great job. Marshall was strategically removed at 20 pitches so he will be eligible for today’s title tilt if needed.
Kwmuntis didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning, when opposing pitcher Jake McElroy led off with a single. Left fielder Christian Cummings made a great diving catch to rob Hajjar of extra bases, with McElroy advancing to second base on the play and later to third on a passed ball. After Joe Quinlan grounded out, North Andover East’s Joe Phinney had two strikes on him when he hit a grounder to second base. The ball took a funny bounce, allowing McElroy to race home with the tying run.
After Alex Karelas walked, both runners advanced on a wild pitch before Thomas Finn singled to drive in the winning run.
McElroy went the distance for the win, scattering six hits and no walks with a dozen strikeouts.
“We didn’t hit and striking out 12 times doesn’t usually happen to us,” said Peabody West coach Ed Aiello. “This is a wake-up call; if it had to happen, better it was now than in the finals. Give credit to that McElroy kid, because he did a great job.”
Benea praised the job Kwmuntis did on the mound in the extreme heat after catching all eight innings in Thursday night’s 3-1 win over Weston. He only gave up two hits last night while walking three and striking out five.
Peabody West turned a nifty double play in the third inning, started by Polignone at third base. He fired to second baseman Cooper Jacques, who in turn threw to first in time to get Danny Albrect.
“McElroy pitched a great game for us; he only made one mistake in the first inning on that home run,” said North Andover East manager Rob Carpentier. “I call the pitches, and with the count 2-0 we decided to challenge him (Iannuzzi). That was my mistake.”
Caroline Kukas doubled down the right field line for Peabody West to lead off the second inning, but was stranded at third. They threatened again in the fourth when Iannuzzi (3-for-3) led off with a single and Will Preshong followed with a one-out bloop single, but McElroy bore down to strike out the next two hitters.
In the top of the sixth Iannuzzi doubled, dislodging the bag when he slid in safely, but was called out for being off the base without calling time out. After the umpires huddled, the call stood.
Peabody West will be in good shape on the mound with their ace Iannuzzi ready to pitch tonight (7:30).
“We never worried about our pitching because we’ve got a lot of kids that can get the job done,’” said Aiello. “What we were concerned about was hitting. That’s where we have to do a better job.”