By Matt Williams
---- — TOPSFIELD — The best things in life are free.
Unless you’re a baseball coach. In that case, free bags have a tendency to drive you bonkers.
Beverly High took advantage of 11 free passes in fighting its way past host Masconomet, 11-7, on a sunny and windy afternoon on the regional high school’s Topsfield campus.
The visiting Panthers batted around in second inning and again in the fifth, overcoming two Chieftain leads to win their season opener.
Masconomet (1-1) suffered its first loss while Beverly took advantage of seven walks and four hit batsmen by five Chieftain pitchers; seven of the 11 freebies Beverly was afforded came around to score.
“That was probably the death of us,” said Masconomet first-year coach T.J. Baril. “We used a lot of pitchers and saw good things out of all of them. Some guys were in tough spots, some had short warm-ups, but I liked our depth.”
The Chieftains trailed 5-4 and got to Beverly pitcher Cam Rogers (5 hits allowed over 3-plus innings) in the fourth. Greg Dougherty drove in Chris Rich with the tying run and, after Beverly’s Alex Toomey came on in relief, Will Twiss came up with a two-run single to give the hosts a 7-5 lead.
It was the only hit Toomey allowed in three innings of work, however, and the Panthers went to work in the top of the fifth as Rogers (2 runs scored) led off with a single. Luke McDonald then walked and Tristan Fasheh laid down a sacrifice bunt. Masco’s Twiss fanned the next batter, but walked Matt Hamor to load the bags with two down and the score 7-6 after Rogers scored on a passed ball.
Harry Brown (2-for-4, RBI, two runs) tied it, 7-7, with an RBI single and Kevin Cuneo followed with a three-run double that put Beverly on top for good. Toomey (3 RBI) added an RBI double as Beverly poured on six runs, all with two outs.
“We were scrappy. It wasn’t pretty at times, but we battled back,” said Beverly coach Dave Wilbur. “You expect your leaders and your veterans players to come through in those spots — and they did.”
Toomey’s arm quelled any Masconomet comeback attempt as he struck out four while spreading two walks over the fifth and sixth innings. Eric Messina came on for the seventh and closed out the victory, striking out cleanup hitter Joe Klingensmith and getting two ground ball outs.
“Our pitching came around. That’s a Masco team that can swing the bats and took advantage of some opportunities, but Cam settled down, Alex shut them down and Eric was great,” Wilbur said. “I liked their poise.”
Back in the bottom of the first, Masco led 4-0. Speros Varinos led off with an infield single, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch and was driven in by Twiss for the early lead. Troy Bunker and catcher Mike Manni (who threw out a runner later in the game) also had RBI as the hosts jumped ahead.
Beverly fought back immediately, however, sending 12 men to the dish in the second. Masconomet used three pitchers — starter Ethan Dyer, Sam Hamburger and Twiss — that combined for four hit batsmen and three walks as the hosts’ lead evaporated. Hamor had a two-run double to highlight the big inning while Cuneo (2-for-4, 3 RBI), Toomey and John Berchoff also drove in runs.
“Masco is a team that will win a lot of games and trailing them 4-0 in the first innings, I really liked our poise,” said Wilbur, whose team is at it again Wednesday against Peabody. “That’s probably what I was most pleased with: being down four runs, we kept the course and came back.”
Twiss led Masconomet in innings pitched with three and was around the plate for the most part, throwing first-pitch strikes to seven of the 13 batters he faced. Elias Varinos threw the final 21/3 innings and looked good getting out of a two on, none out jam in the seventh.
“This was a really good non-league game for us against a really good Division 2 team that went deep (in the state tournament last year),” said Baril, whose club opens league play at Newburyport Thursday. “It was a good test. We did a lot of good things and we also made some mistakes.”