By Matt Williams
---- — SALEM — Every high school baseball team works on turning two, because you never know when a double play might be the key to an entire game.
Yesterday may have been one of those days for the Beverly High baseball team, which extended its winning streak by simultaneously snuffing out Salem’s early momentum and kick-starting their own.
The Panthers turned a double play to erase the Witches’ first inning pressure, then scored five times over the first two frames to take control of an 8-3 decision at Salem State. Beverly won its eighth straight to move to 15-4 with one game to go before the state tournament.
“It wasn’t our A-game, but we’ll take the win and move on,” said Beverly coach Dave Wilbur. “We made their guy (Ben Kapnis) throw early, we got some key hits and we got the baserunners home. That was good to see.”
Alex Toomey went 3-for-3 and drove in five runs to put his RBI total for the season in the neighborhood of 30, according to Wilbur. The senior righty also struck out eight over six innings to earn his sixth win of the year.
Salem’s Kapnis pitched six innings and conceded the first runs of the game on Toomey’s 2-run single in the first. The patient Panthers drew three walks while scoring three more in the second inning as Toomey earned an RBI on a bases loaded hit-by-pitch and Luke McDonald drew a bases loaded walk. Harry Brown also knocked home a run with a single.
The Witches (3-13) got one back when Cody Mercier reached on an infield single, stole second and third and scored when Timmy Ryan reached on an error to make it 5-1. Ryan also drove in a pair in the fifth when he hit it back to Toomey with the bases loaded. The Panthers got a force out at home, but threw it away looking for the double play, allowing two runs to score.
“When we have a good approach, we get runners on and we get them home,” said Salem coach Paul Caron. “That’s been a weakness for us; we have to have a better approach so we can do that more often.”
Toomey clobbered a 2-run double in the fourth and McDonald followed with his second RBI of the day as Beverly built its lead to 8-1 before Salem got two back.
“One thing I liked was that every time they scored, we added on some runs,” said Wilbur. “We didn’t quite let them back in the game.”
Kapnis battled to hold Beverly scoreless over the last two innings. The senior gave up six hits in all, though he issued six walks and hit three batters while also fanning four.
“Ben’s a three-year varsity player and he knows how to compete,” said Caron. “Some of our younger kids are learning that, and that’s the biggest thing we’ll take away from this year.”
Eric Messina struck out a pair in a perfect seventh for the Panthers. Toomey finished with six innings thrown, four hits allowed and just one walk. He struck out the side in the fourth.
“I thought Alex pitched well,” said Wilbur. “Eric missed a start because we didn’t play last Friday. He’ll go (tomorrow) so this was basically his bullpen today. It lets us shuffle the deck a little bit.”
Ryan doubled in the first and Josh McRae walked to put the pressure on Beverly early, but the Panthers turned a 4-6-3 double play to escape the jam. Mercier had two hits for the Witches while Sammy Arias and Chad Fontaine had one each.
Brown, Beverly’s Tufts-bound center fielder, reached on all four of his at-bats and scored three runs to set the table. Anthony DiOrio singled, scored twice and drove in a run, and Cam Rogers reached twice and scored once as the top of the Panthers batting order did the bulk of the damage.
First baseman Jon Berchoff also scored a run for Beverly, which was the home team after the game was moved due to poor conditions at Cooney Field.
Salem finishes its season at the Dick Scanlon Tournament this weekend, facing Wilmington on Saturday. The Witches will play Chelmsford or Malden on Sunday, while Beverly wraps up the regular season with a non-league game against Newburyport tomorrow. Then it’s on to the state tournament for the Panthers, who are making 10th straight postseason appearance and could be seeded as high at No. 2 in Division 2 North.