By Matt Williams
---- — The Middleton Legion baseball team was one of the hottest in all of District 8 down the stretch of the summer season. Not surprisingly, they’ve carried that momentum into the playoffs.
Middleton won eight of their last nine games to lock up the top seed in their district, and then won their playoff opener in eight innings over Billerica on Sunday.
Today, the double-elimination district crossover playoffs continue when Middleton faces Lowell at Peabody High (5 p.m.). With a win, they’d advance to the finals and have be beaten twice; A loss would pit them against Billerica (a 3-2 winner over Haverhill) in an elimination game also to be played tomorrow night.
A pair of victories puts Middleton in the eight-team state finals being hosted by Norwood this weekend.
At 17-6-1 overall, Middleton’s team is made up of current high school players, some recently graduated high school players and a few that recently finished their first year of college. Over the course of the summer, they’ve gelled together and the results have been clear on the diamond.
“I think the success is a result of our commitment,” said manager John Kowalski. “The team set three goals: To have fun, to improve their baseball skills and to win. We had a slow start, but we ended up going on a seven game winning streak that got us going.”
Phil Doyle, who just finished up his freshman year studying at Villanova, was one of Middleton’s top pitchers this summer and is battling a knee injury. Bobby Woodworth, a St. John’s Prep grad who plays club baseball at Cornell, has been another excellent arm. He went all eight innings in the playoff win over Billerica, striking out eight batters.
Woodworth led off the bottom of the eighth win a single and Billerica intentionally Edison Thayer. Tommy Budrewicz then lined a single to plate the winning run.
“It was a dramatic win. It was exciting,” said Kowalski, who is assisted by Tom Wheeler and Curtis Kowalski.
Masco catcher Mike Manni is also a key player for Middleton, as is recently graduated Chieftain Greg Jain. Ethan Dyer, another Masco varsity player, has been a valuable pitcher.
“Overall, I’m very proud of their commitment and their efforts,” said Kowalski. “Winning makes it more fun, and these guys have really gelled together as a team and found a unique chemistry with a positive attitude.”
Locally, the district crossover playoffs were divided into two brackets. Middleton, Lowell, Billerica and Haverhill were placed in one while the other was Sudbury, Newburyport and Methuen and Medford. Newburyport won its first two playoff games and is in the driver’s seat in the other bracket looking to advance to states.