By Jean DePlacido
---- — NAHANT — Josh Cerretani rose to the occasion, and, because of that, the Peabody West Little League Williamsport all-stars raised another District championship.
Cerrentani blasted a three-run home run over the center field fence in the top of the seventh inning, and Dan Marshall shut down Lynnfield in the bottom of the frame, clinching a 6-3 championship victory for Peabody West.
“The first pitch was right where I was looking for it, and I put a good swing on it,” said Cerretani, who has five homers this season. “I try not to smile when I hit one out, but I couldn’t help it because it felt so good.”
The two teams were tied (3-3) at the end of six innings, forcing extra frames. Mario Grasso’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth tied it for Lynnfield. Peabody starting pitcher Nick Iannuzzi had only allowed one run and three hits through five innings, but Lynnfield got to him in the sixth with a couple of seeing-eye singles.
Steve Fama and Jon Luders both singled to left before Iannuzzi fanned Colin Simoneau for his 10th strikeout of the game. Matt Relihan hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out, but Jagger Benson followed with an RBI single before Grasso’s hit tied the game.
At that point Iannuzzi reached the maximum 85 pitch count and Marshall took over. After giving up an infield hit to Peter Gaeta, Marshall struck out the next batter to strand what would have been the winning run at third base and force extra innings.
“This was a battle between two well-matched teams,” said Peabody West manager Frank Benea, whose team now moves on to the sectional tournament next week at Wyoma in Lynn. “I think both teams were a little nervous in the first couple of innings because we all knew this was going to be a very close game.
“We’ve only hit two homers the whole tournament, and (Cerretani’s) was a big one tonight. Cerretani had the bat speed and sent it out. We did a great job coming back again the way we did after giving up the lead.”
Marshall doubled for Peabody West to lead off the top of the seventh and Christian Cummings worked a walk off Lynnfield reliever Cole DiSilvio, who took over after starter Matt Relihan reached the maximum pitch count in the sixth. Cerretani’s ensuing homer proved to be the margin of victory.
“This was an awesome baseball game with kids making plays all over the field,” said Lynnfield manager Bob Relihan. “I figured this would be a one or two-run game. Matt (his son) didn’t have great command of his fastball tonight; he had it at times but not consistently. I’m very proud of my kids and the way they battled back.”
Peabody West took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Cerretani singled and later scored on a wild pitch. Lynnfield knotted it up in the home half, capitalizing on two Peabody fielding miscues as Simoneau also came home on a wild pitch.
Iannuzzi gave up a single in the second inning, then retired 12 in a row before getting into trouble in the sixth.
Peabody West broke the deadlock with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth. Jonathan Polignone was hit by a pitch, but had to leave the game in favor of pinch runner Chris Ruggiero because he was bleeding near his eye. Iannuzzi and Cooper Jacques then delivered back-to-back RBI singles.
“Jonathan’s a tough kid,” said Benea. “He wanted to go right back in there, and late in the game he was able to return.”
Peabody assistant coach Ed Aiello said Lynnfield was such a good team that he never felt comfortable with the 3-1 lead — and wasn’t sure the runs in the top of the seventh would be enough, either.
“We wanted to win this one and not have to come back to face them again (tonight) in a winner-take-all game,” said Aiello. “They had the lead the first time we played, but we came back to take it. If they won this one all the momentum would have been going their way. (But) now we’re on to sectionals, and I think we’ll do well.”