By Jean DePlacido
---- — BEVERLY — The initial Panther Invitational Baseball Tournament finals will take place tonight (7:30) when Peabody meets unbeaten Danvers. After dropping its first game to Manchester-Essex, Peabody has roared back with four straight wins — including a 6-4 win over Manchester-Essex last night — to earn a berth in the championship game.
Peabody must beat Danvers (3-0) twice to win.
“I’m not happy we lost our first game of the tournament, but I like playing every night with no breaks,” said Peabody manager Sarkis Sarkisian. “We’ve played the most games of anybody in this tournament; we certainly got our money’s worth.
“We knew it was important to get a quick start tonight because the first time we played them it was a pitchers’ duel until the end when a home run (two-run shot by Harry Painter) won it. We said before this game that we wanted to win every inning, and while we didn’t do that we were able to win most.”
Peabody scored two runs in the top of the first on a wild pitch and throwing error. Caroline Kukas, Tyler MacGregor, and Mason Zeuli all singled in that inning. They tacked on two more in the second on a towering two-run homer over the left field fence by Josh Cerretani after Evan Mullen singled.
Manchester-Essex starter Will Janowicz settled down to retire the next eight in a row before Chris Kwmuntis doubled in the fifth, went to third on a sacrifice fly by Cerretani, and scored on a wild pitch to put Peabody ahead, 5-2.
Mancester-Essex is a good team; they have had a strong program for a while now,” said Sarkisian. “After that first game we knew they would hang tough because they’ve got a lot of good players. The way they were coming back we needed an insurance run, and we got it.”
Zeuli started for Peabody and worked the first 41/3 innings before reaching the 85 pitch limit. He was relieved by Nick Iannuzzi. Zeuli was charged with four runs on six hits, walked one, and struck out eight. Bennett O’Leary had worked a walk to start the fifth and Jack Julian singled before Zeuli had to leave.
One run scored on a throwing error after a pick off attempt and the second run came home on a throwing error to close the gap to 5-4. Manchester-Essex had scored a pair of runs in the second on singles by Ryan O’Connell, John Creehan, and O’Leary. Julian’s grounder was thrown away trying to complete a double play, allowing two runs to score.
That was as close as Manchester-Essex would come. Peabody added an insurance run in the top of the sixth when pinch hitter Ryan Lemole belted a two-out homer over the left field fence off reliever Jake Levendusky.
“I try to get everybody in the game in some way,” said Sarkisian. “I decided to let Lemole hit, and he made the most of the opportunity with his first Little League home run. I’m happy for him; he’s a great kid and it couldn’t have come at a better time for us.”
Peabody banged out eight hits led by Mullen with two. They also got some big defensive plays from Iannuzzi at shortstop and MacGregor at third base in the fourth inning. Dan Marshall came on in the sixth to finish up after Iannuzzi had thrown 20 pitches. Manchester-Essex also had eight hits led by Creehan with a pair. Luke Leavitt, Harry Painter, and Janowicz all hit safely.
“I’m really proud of my kids,” said Manchester-Essex manager Keith Painter. “We finished 1-2, but we had to play Peabody twice and Danvers. I’m lucky to have a lot of kids on this team that play really hard. They’ve been together since they were 9-years-old. It’s tough for us to go against teams from big communities, but I am very happy with the job the kids did.”