PEABODY — The shot off Dan Dempsey’s bat in the top of the seventh was hot enough to send Middleton trotting towards new life in an American Legion Zone 5A playoff at Bezemes Diamond yesterday.
Instead, it was caught.
Lowell third baseman Brock Riley made an outstanding stabbing catch, then stepped on third for a double play to close out his team’s 6-4 win over Middleton. The decision sends Lowell to this weekend’s state playoffs in Norwood and ends District 8 champion Middleton’s summer at 18-8-1.
“A few inches left or right and it’s a tie game,” Middleton manager John Kowalski said. “The difference in the game was a couple of bounces, no doubt, and that’s a perfect example. You have to applaud the play (Riley) made and tip your cap.”
Newburyport won the other Zone 5 bracket and will also advance to the state tournament.
Middleton loaded the bases in the sixth and could’ve tied the game when Edison Thayer hit a blooping shot to center. It was falling fast, but Lowell’s Tyler Schermerhorn made a diving catch to end the inning and save the runs.
“Out of everybody in the park, Scherm might have been the only one who thought he could catch that,” Lowell manager Mike McLeod said.
Throwing on just two days of rest after going eight innings in Middleton’s playoff opener Sunday, Bobby Woodworth was sharp in a gutsy performance. The righty with a biting curve scattered eight hits, struck out five, walked two and hit one; he stranded a pair in scoring position in the sixth to send his team back to plate trailing by just two.
“Bobby’s fantastic. He’s been a great leader as our No. 1 pitcher, and he’s the kind of kid that wants the ball every day,” said Kowalski. “He’d pitch every day if I let him — and he has the arm to do it.”
Lowell had beaten Middleton, 12-2, a day earlier, but Middleton came from behind to top Billerica in their second game Tuesday to stay alive in the playoffs.
Post 87 jumped ahead 1-0 on Callery’s sac fly in the first, but Woodworth didn’t allow another run until the fourth.
“I knew they’d come back here with momentum from their last win and it would be a completely different game,” said McLeod. “Their pitcher is a real competitor and he had to be coming back on short rest like that.”
Greg Dougherty knocked in Thayer in the second as Middleton tied it. They grabbed the lead in the third when Kyle Kowalski knocked one in on a fielder’s choice and another scored on a throwing error.
Lowell scored four times to take the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth, however. Riley, who was the starting pitcher, had a 2-run double as his team strung together four straight base hits two out to move ahead 5-3. The inning could’ve been more damaging if not for an excellent tag by Middleton third baseman Greg Jain to get an out on the basepaths.
Middleton continued to fight, getting one back in the fifth on Kowalski’s RBI to make it 5-4. Lowell added an insurance run in the bottom half, however, after Callery relieved Riley with the bases loaded and escaped unscathed.
Base hits by Jain, Dempsey and Mike Manni put Callery in trouble again in the sixth, but Schmerhorn made the timely, outstanding diving catch.
“I couldn’t breathe much in those last two innings, but Connor says that’s the way he pitches. He always makes things interesting,” said McLeod.
In the seventh, Middleton’s Chris Rich and Sam Hamburger had base hits and both moved up on a passed ball to put the tying run in scoring position with one down. Dempsey’s blast was then snared by Riley to end it.
Also for Middleton, Manni scored a pair of runs, Tommy Budrewicz scored once and Kyle Kowalski and Rich each had two hits.
“These guys battled right to the final out,” said John Kowalski. “There’s a lot to be proud of from this summer.”