LYNN — It is truly an amazing feat. A Peabody West Little League Williamsport all-star team is going to the state finals for the seventh time in 13 years — not to mention the fact that the program has done it representing Districts 15 and 16.
Peabody West rallied from a three run deficit to defeat a gritty Beverly team, 10-5 at Reinfuss Field in Lynn in the Section 4 championship on Saturday night. The team now advances as one of the final four in the state tournament that opens on Thursday night in West Roxbury. Peabody fans will have two teams playing for state championships at West Roxbury with the Peabody West 11-year olds also playing there.
“The parents in West Peabody do a lot of training with their kids,” said coach Ed Aiello. “We have a great program with a lot of dedicated people, and we really appreciate their efforts. I think that loss to North Andover East (3-2 last Friday night) turned out to be a great lesson. I’m not saying we were too overconfident, but maybe a little too sure of ourselves. We saw what can happen, and I think that’s going to help going forward at the states.”
The many Beverly fans wearing orange and sitting on the hill overlooking the field, had plenty to cheer about early. Beverly scored a pair of runs in the second inning and another in the third for a 3-0 lead. Matt Cross led off the second with a single, and after Peabody pitcher Nick Iannuzzi struck out the next batter, Matt Collins singled to right field sending Cross to third. A passed ball allowed Cross to scoot home, and Jack Cairns drove in Collins with a hit up the middle.
Joey Ward tripled to start the third inning and came home on Johnny Gilbride’s infield hit. Peabody West left fielder Christian Cummings was hurt trying to catch Ward’s fly ball and had to leave the game.
“Cummings has had problems with a hamstring, and he was right up against the fence when he pulled it,” said manager Frank Benea. “He landed awkwardly, but I’m so glad he was able to return to get up to bat later. He’s such a competitor he wanted to get back in even though he couldn’t run.”
The roof caved in on Beverly in the bottom of the third when Peabody West sent 13 batters to the plate and scored 10 runs. It all started when pitcher Gilbride hit Dan Marshall and ended when reliever Kyle Camara got Chris Kwmuntis to pop up. But in between there were two big home runs that accounted for five runs — a two run shot from Josh Cerretani and a three run dinger by Iannuzzi.
“I was not looking to put it out, just trying to get a good swing,” said Iannuzzi, who went 5 2/3 innings on the mound, allowing all five runs on eight hits, no walks, and five strikeouts. “It felt amazing when I knew it was a home run (way over the left field fence). That’s my first of the tournament.
“It’s so exciting to be going to the state championship. I was a little nervous when we got behind. What happened was I left the curve ball a little high at the beginning, and they were hitting it. I worked to keep it down.”
Beverly got seven hits in the first three innings, but Iannuzzi only gave up one after that, a double to Gilbride in the fifth inning. He scored on an error, and Ryan Barror came home on a wild pitch to close the gap to 10-5.
“We got off to a great start, but had that one bad inning,” said Beverly manager Jim Cross, whose team won District 15 and posted a 2-2 record in sectional play. “Once they got that two run homer to make it 5-3 I tried to settle Gilbride down. We gave them a couple of extra bases in that inning with errors, but give Peabody West a lot of credit. That’s a very good team, and Iannuzzi is a very tough pitcher.”
Beverly finished the summer with a 9-3 overall record and won the Garden City’s first District 15 title in 20 years.
“I’m extremely proud of my guys; they never quit. They’ve fought hard for the last month, and made our city proud by doing something we haven’t done in Beverly in a long time,” said Cross. “This is a great group of kids, and they never quit in any game. I’m so happy the city came out to support us, and we gave fans plenty to cheer about. It was a great run.”
Peabody West collected seven of its eight hits in that one big inning. Kwmuntis, Jonathan Polignone, Caroline Kukas, Marshall, and Cummings all singled to keep the inning going. Gilbride had not allowed a hit until Cerretani’s homer. The only other hit in the game for the Tanner City boys was a single by Marshall in the fifth off Camara, who did a nice job in relief.
“I’m a nervous person anyway, and I’ll admit I was worried when Beverly took that 3-0 lead,” said Benea. “We hadn’t been scoring many runs in our last two games (loss to North Andover East and 3-1 extra inning victory over Weston). We had a good batting practice this morning, and it really helped.
“We saw what the Beverly team did against Weston, coming back to win so it helped that Iannuzzi could go so deep into the game. He came close to going all the way, and that was huge for us.”
Iannuzzi struck out the first two batters in the top of the sixth before reaching the maximum 85 pitches. Cerretani took over and gave up an infield hit to Ward before getting the final out on a ground ball.
For Beverly Ward, Gilbride, and Cross all had two hits. Clayton McAlpine, Collins, and Cairns also hit safely.
The game started with a bit of controversy when Peabody West catcher Kwmuntis asked the home plate umpire Mike Orlando to check Beverly leadoff hitter Ward’s bat to see if it was legal. After a 10 minute delay while the bat was checked by sectional officials it was tossed out and play resumed. Using another bat, Ward launched a long shot that was caught by Kukas at the fence in right field.
The rule states if an illegal bat is used both the player and coach of his team can be ejected from the game.
“Frank is too classy a guy for that,” said Aiello. “If we insisted they would have called Bristol (CT. headquarters for the New England region), but we didn’t want that. All we wanted was the bat thrown out because we had talked it over before the game and felt it was illegal.”
“Ward’s bat has the sticker (for approved bats) on it, but I guess it was not on the list when they checked,” said Cross. “They did the right thing and tossed it out, but we have had it checked a bunch of times in the district and passed every time. He has been able to use it all along.”