BEVERLY — It was a bang-bang play at first base — and it changed the entire complexion of the game for good.
Playing his first game at shortstop yesterday in place of injured captain Anthony DiOrio, Beverly's Brandon Sungy went into the hole, dove and snared Genaro Ciulla's hot smash with his backhand. Quickly he got up and fired the ball to first baseman Kevin Cuneo, but the speedy Ciulla got to the bag just as the ball did, and the Peabody baserunner was ruled safe with two outs in the top of the fifth inning.
From there, the floodgates open.
Visiting Peabody scored six times before the final out of the inning was recorded and, with ace right-hander Pat Ruotolo in the midst of a two-hit, 15-strikeout performance, the visitors pulled away from the Panthers with a convincing 8-1 triumph at Cooney Field.
"That's baseball. We got the opportunities there and were able to take advantage," said Peabody head coach Mark Bettencourt after his team (now 2-2) won its Northeastern Conference opener. "To beat a team the caliber of Beverly, you have to take advantage when given the chance."
Throwing a fastball that topped out around 87-88 mph with a wicked changeup, Ruotolo — who allowed both hits against him in the bottom of the first — was dominant in retiring the last 19 batters he faced, including 15 via strikeout.
Only the left-handed hitting Sungy, Beverly's leadoff hitter, didn't fan against Peabody's star righty.
"I felt pretty zoned in and worked well with Genaro (behind the plate)," said the 17-year-old Ruotolo. "My release points were good and I wasn't leaving the ball up high."
"Pat got stronger as the game went on; I thought he was throwing harder in the sixth and seventh innings than he did earlier in the game," said Bettencourt. "And that's after throwing an inning for the save (Tuesday vs. Tewksbury)."
Beverly's lone run came with one out in the first when Alex Toomey, Ruotolo's pitching counterpart, got the fat part of his bat on a changeup left up in the zone and smoked it over the fence in left field. Cam Rogers followed with an infield single and Luke McDonald walked with two out, but not another Beverly batsman reached base.
"We were overmatched by that guy," Beverly (1-1) head coach Dave Wilbur said of Ruotolo. "He threw hard and he threw strikes. For the most part, we just couldn't hit him. Let's be honest; he's one of the best."
Beverly held on to its 1-0 lead behind Toomey, who pitched well in his first varsity start, into the fifth inning. Nine of the first 13 outs he recorded came via the ground as Toomey mixed a solid fastball with sneaky offspeed stuff.
After retiring Peabody's 8-9 hitters to lead off the fifth, Ciulla reached first on his infield single before some miscommunication between Beverly's center and right fielders resulted in Casey Grenier's shot falling in for a hit. From there, Bobby Losano singled to center to plate Ciulla and tie the game, 1-1, and Steve Girolamo struck out but reached on a passed ball to load the bases.
Peabody took the lead for good on a catcher's interference call, scoring Grenier before Aaron Comak cleared the bases with a triple to center. Steve Leavitt followed with an RBI single, and just like that it was 6-1.
Ciulla ("as Genaro goes, we go offensively," said Bettencourt) then blasted a 2-run homer to center off lefty reliever Evan Derosby in the sixth to complete the scoring. Both Ciulla and Grenier had two hits apiece.
Losano made a great diving catch in center field to rob Beverly's Rogers of extra bases in the sixth.
"This game was a microcosm of our season; we came out very slow and got ourselves in a hole, then came on strong and got that confidence we needed," said Bettencourt.