By Matt Williams
---- — BEVERLY — When heavy rain hit Cooney Field before the bottom of the first inning, the Beverly High baseball team found themselves raking the infield.
Hours later in the bottom of the sixth, the Panthers were finally raking in the batter’s box.
Senior Harry Brown’s two-run double and a two-run homer by Anthony DiOrio helped the hosts finish off Peabody, 6-1, in a game that was delayed 55 minutes due to rain and snapped the Tanners’ 12-game winning streak.
Peabody’s Pat Ruotolo got the start but left with discomfort in his throwing arm in the second, two batters after allowing a solo homer to Beverly’s Alex Toomey. Routolo threw 1 1/3 innings and had two strikeouts; he had gone seven or more innings in every start dating back to May 2011.
“He came to me and said his arm didn’t feel right. I wouldn’t say it hurt, but it was uncomfortable. When a kid throws as hard as Pat does, uncomfortable means you’re done. We won’t take chances with him,” said Peabody coach Mark Bettencourt. “After the delay, he felt like everything wasn’t together.”
Brandon Butcher held Beverly (10-4) at bay for four innings with a solid curveball and good defense by Peabody (13-2) behind him. In the sixth, with the game tied 1-1, the Panthers broke through.
Jon Berchoff plated the go-ahead run when his single got behind Rob Crovo and rolled to the wall. With two outs and two strikes against him, Brown roped a two-run single that broke the game open and DiOrio followed with his homer to left to put it out of reach.
“We got up by three and I liked that lead, and then Anthony tagged one and I knew we didn’t need any more,” said Toomey, who was excellent on the bump as his team qualified for the state tournament for the 10th straight season.
With relentless command, Toomey limited Peabody to three hits over seven innings. He needed only 72 pitches, tossed three innings with single-digit pitch counts, and retired 14 of the last 16 he faced.
“Alex was awesome. He was on his game, and he threw his breaking ball for a strike. That was the key,” said Beverly coach Dave Wilbur. “You’re hoping your best players play their best in these situations and today Alex carried the team.”
The only trouble for Toomey came in the third, when Steve Leavitt (double) and Maynard Wheeler led off with back-to-back hits. Peabody only got one run, on Crovo’s fielder’s choice RBI, and was hitless the rest of the way. Beverly’s senior righty pounded the strike zone, hitting for first-pitch strikes 80 percent of the time.
“When you’re pitching with the lead (in the count), you feel better about getting those outs,” said Toomey. “I was trying to hit my spots and I was bearing down. I tried to keep the ball lower today.”
Beverly amassed 13 hits: Three from Toomey, two from Brown, DiOrio and Berchoff and singles by Kevin Cuneo, Luke McDonald, Craig Hall and Matt Hamor. Peabody’s Butcher stranded the lead-off runner in the third, fourth and fifth, but Toomey matched him step-for-step.
“They crush mistakes. They hit in the clutch today and they hit the long ball,” said Bettencourt. “Butch held them back for four innings and I felt good about that, but Beverly’s one of the best offensive teams in the league and they’re going to break through.”
Peabody had the go-ahead run at third in the sixth when Matt McIsaac was hit by a pitch, swiped second and moved to third on a fly out. Toomey stranded him there, and at that point Beverly had left five in scoring position.
The Panthers came to bat in the home half of the sixth intent on making sure they didn’t squander another chance, and backed it up by putting a crooked number on the scoreboard.
“It was great to finally see kids cash in. They got some confidence and they relaxed,” said Wilbur. “That’s a big win for us against a fine ballclub. You have to play well in all phases to beat those guys.”
The Tanners (11-1 NEC) suffered their first conference loss, but still hold a three-game lead over Beverly (8-4 NEC) in the Large Division with five games to go.