By Jean DePlacido
---- — BEVERLY — Fans have been treated to plenty of exciting games in the inaugural Panther Invitational Little League Tournament at Harry Ball Field.
Last night was another such example as Peabody scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to defeat Danvers, 5-3, and force a one game, winner-take-all contest between the two teams tonight (7:30 p.m.).
Peabody has now won five games in a row after dropping their opener. It handed Danvers its first loss of the tournament behind the work of pitcher Jonathan Polignone, who tossed a complete game two-hitter.
Because Polignone was able to go the distance, Peabody will have ace Nick Iannuzzi ready to face Danvers in the rematch tonight back at Harry Ball Field.
“That was huge,” said Peabody manager Sarkis Sarkisian, who said every decision made is a joint one with all the coaches having a say. “Originally we planned to get three innings from Polignone, but he got in a groove. All our coaches agreed to let him go as far as he could.”
Danvers scored all three of its runs in the bottom of the first when John Weimbert belted a three-run homer, scoring Matt Taylor (who had singled) and Matt King (hit by pitch) ahead of him. Polignone settled down and did not allow a hit the rest of the way; he walked one, hit two and struck out 10, with at least one punchout in every inning.
Polignone issued a one out intentional walk to Weimert in the fourth inning, then struck out the next two batters to get out of the frame with the game tied, 3-3. He had retired 10 in a row before the walk; the only other Danvers baserunner the rest of the way was Archie Boule, who was hit by a pitch in the fifth but was thrown out trying to steal by catcher Chris Kwmuntis.
“I threw mostly fastballs along with a curve at times,” said Polignone. “I didn’t really get too nervous when they went ahead because I’m good under pressure, and I knew my team would come back.
“It’s exciting to be in the championship game; we knew we had to beat them twice to win it all.”
Peabody got on the board in the second inning when Kwmuntis singled to score Mason Zeuli. They cut the deficit to 3-2 in the third when John Mulready singled and later scored on Iannuzzi’s hit. Danvers committed seven errors in the game, and the miscues led to the final three Peabody runs off Tom Mento, who only allowed five hits, didn’t walk anybody and struck out 10.
Evan Mullen doubled in the fourth on a ball the left fielder lost in the lights. He later scored on a throwing error to knot it up.
The winning run came in the top of the sixth when Iannuzzi led off with a single and Tyler MacGregor reached on an error. An errant pickoff attempt went into center field, then was overthrown at third base, allowing Iannuzzi to come home with the go-ahead run. Kwmuntis delivered a two-out single to add an insurance run, and Polignone retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning.
“We made a few uncharacteristic mistakes, and Peabody is a great team,” said Danvers manager Scott Taylor. “Tom Mento did a great job pitching, but their pitcher was outstanding, too. His offspeed stuff kept us off balance.
“We didn’t hit tonight, and we could have played much better. We’re in great shape as far as pitching goes, but we need to show up ready to play (tonight).”