By Jean DePlacido
---- — LYNN — When the pressure was on, the Beverly Little League all-star team responded in a big way.
After relief pitcher Joe Ward struck out three hitters in a row with the bases loaded to force extra innings, teammate Brayden Clark came through big-time with an RBI double in the top of the eighth inning to ignite Beverly’s 6-3 victory over North Andover East in a Section 4 tournament game at Reinfuss Field.
The victory was huge for Beverly (now 1-1 in sectional play), as a loss would have likely knocked them out of advancing in the Williamsport tournament. Now, they can turn their attention to Weston tonight (7:45 p.m.) in Lynn and, with a win, advance to Saturday’s sectional title game.
Ward, a left-hander, relieved Clark on the mound into a 3-3 game with two runners on and none out in the bottom of the sixth inning. A wild pitch and a walk to North Andover East’s Robbie Carpentier had the bases juiced, but Ward got tough and struck out Connor Gough and Joe Valentino swinging before Jake McElroy was caught looking at a third strike.
“What an impressive performance by Ward to get out of that jam,” said Beverly manager Jim Cross. “The game was on the line and we had to bring him in. He’s our horse and we knew this game was so important (that) we had to do everything to win it.
“We left it all on the field tonight. We weren’t worrying about pitch count; we were here to win. If we didn’t, our chance to get to the finals would be pretty much over.”
North Andover, which fell to 1-1 with the loss, will now meet unbeaten Peabody West tonight (5:30 p.m.) needing an upset win to stay alive.
“At that point I would have put a lot of money on us with the bases loaded and the top of the order coming up,” said North Andover East manager Rob Carpentier. “That kid (Ward) was lights out; he came right at us and we couldn’t hit him.”
Beverly scored three times on four hits in the big eighth inning, with the bottom of the order delivering the biggest blows.
Relief pitcher Joe Phinney of North Andover had come into the game in the third inning after Beverly took a 3-0 lead and had given up a single to Matt Collins, the first hitter he faced. But he shut down the Garden City boys until the top of the eighth when Clayton McAlpine led off with a single and Collins beat out a bunt down the first base line. But a sacrifice bunt attempt by Jack Cairns turned into a double play when he was out at first and McAlpine was thrown out at home plate.
Clark, the No. 8 batter, then delivered a clutch RBI double to the gap in left-center to score Collins with the go-ahead run. Kyle Camara followed with a double of his own to the base of the center field fence, scoring Clark. Camara then came around on an infield hit by Ward to give Beverly a three-run lead.
“The bottom of the order came through when we needed them,” said Cross. “Clark is an 11-year old, and he got a huge hit in a big time spot. He’s a real competitor, and I’m so happy for him.
“We battled to the end. These kids don’t quit and they worked extremely hard for this one. We couldn’t figure out their second pitcher (Phinney) for a long time. He was tough, but we finally got some big hits.”
North Andover East threatened in the bottom of the inning when Ward walked Carpentier, but catcher Johnny Gilbride threw him out trying to advance on a wild pitch. Ward got McElroy to ground out to third base to end the game, stranding runners on first and third. He pitched three innings of scoreless relief, surrendering only one hit, walking four and striking out six.
Beverly never trailed in the game, getting a run in the top of the first when Ward and Gilbride hit back-to-back doubles. They added two more in the second when Gilbride singled to drive in another teammate, and the third run came home when the throw to home plate was off the mark.
Collins started for Beverly and had a no-hitter going until the fourth when North Andover East scored three times to tie it up. The key hit was a three-run double by T. J. Regan, who came off the bench to deliver a clutch two-out hit.
In four plus innings Collins allowed three runs on three hits, walked four and struck out five.
“Collins did a great job,” said Cross. “This was a must win for us, and it’s nice we didn’t give up any more runs in that eighth inning because runs allowed is critical.”
Ward, Gilbride and Collins all had two hits for Beverly while McAlpine, Cairns, Clark and Camara also hit safely.