By Matt Williams
---- — PEABODY — It was unquestionably the most important at-bat of the game, and Peabody’s hard-throwing righthander Pat Ruotolo wasn’t about to take the easy way out.
With a one run lead, runners on second and third and two outs in the top of the sixth, Ruotolo bore down against Marblehead’s No. 3 hitter, catcher Tom Koopman. The Magicians’ junior captain worked the count full and fouled off two pitches, but Ruotolo fanned him with a cutting fastball that hit the black of the plate away to end the threat.
“I went to visit Pat before the at-bat and I said with first open, should we put him on and face the next kid? Pat said ‘I’ll get him’,” said Peabody coach Mark Bettencourt. “That’s Pat’s confidence.”
Ruotolo retired the side in order in the seventh to close the door on Peabody’s 1-0 win at Bezemes Diamond. It was the eighth straight win for the Tanners (9-1) and Marblehead dipped to 3-5.
Brett LeBlanc gave Marblehead some life when he reached on a bunt single in the sixth then took second on an errant throw. Senior Connor Green followed with an infield single and stole second to put Ruotolo in a bit of trouble.
The UConn-bound righty struck out Matt Koopman, however, and followed that up by fanning older brother Tom, who had Marblehead’s only other hit back in the first.
“We had two shots to get those runs and Pat reared back. Give him the credit,” said Marblehead coach Jason Tarasuik.
Marblehead’s hitters had some good at-bats and fouled off a fair number of Routolo’s high heaters. Still, the Tanner ace had pinpoint location on his off-speed stuff and retired 14 straight in the middle innings. He finished with 13 strikeouts, three hits allowed and no walks.
Moreover, Ruotolo hasn’t allowed a run in 24 2/3 innings of work this spring. He’s 3-0 with a pair of saves and two shutouts.
“Pat’s going to do his job. We know that,” said Bettencourt. “He’s on his regular rotation now and we know as the season continues he’s going to get even sharper.”
The Tanners would have preferred to give their ace more run support, but Marblehead lefty Scott Temme pitched with poise and guile. Peabody had baserunners in every inning but Temme was extremely effective with men on behind him.
“He threw strikes, pitched to contact and our defense did a good job behind him,” said Tarasuik. “He battled and did a really nice job for us.”
Senior Matt McIsaac drove in Peabody’s run in the third, plating sophomore leadoff man Mike Petrosino (2-for-4), who had doubled.
The Tanners stranded runners in scoring position in the next three frames while looking to extend the lead, however.
“We’re a vulnerable team offensively right now,” said Bettencourt. “We’re having a hard time with guys that throw the curve for strikes. We’re not sitting back and driving the ball the other way right now, but we’re working on that in practice and it will come.”
Petrosino was the game’s only player with multiple hits while McIsaac, George Tsonis, Sean McGrath and Maynard Wheeler singled for Peabody. Temme stranded two in the fourth and escaped a bases loaded situation in the sixth.
Marblehead reliever Jordan Chmara plunked Wheeler and walked David Cravotta but retired the side when the Magicians turned a 4-6-3 doubleplay.
“The pitching was a good sign for us for the rest of the year,” said Tarasuik. “We’re going to build some confidence from this even though we lost. It was a well played game by both teams.”
Temme scattered six hits over five innings and struck out three. He and Chmara combined to strand nine Peabody baserunners with five of those in scoring position.
“You’re seeing us change our lineup and try different things. We’re looking to find a hot hitter,” said Bettencourt, whose team has opened up a three-game lead in the Northeastern Conference Large division. “Our pitching and defense are tight right now, but we need to get more of that timely hitting.”