TOPSFIELD — Joe Klingensmith may have moved into the starting rotation when Masconomet’s No. 2 pitcher went down with an injury in the middle of the baseball season, but the big junior right-hander still has a closer’s mentality.
When Winchester loaded the bases with no outs while down three runs in the top of the fourth inning yesterday, fans moved to the edge of their seats. Klingensmith, meanwhile, fell back into his comfort zone, fanning the next three hitters en route to a complete game shutout as Masconomet advanced to the Division 2 North semifinals with a 4-0 win.
The fifth-seeded Chieftains (17-5) have now won 11 straight contests and will face 17th seeded Dracut (9-14) at Alumni Field in Lowell tomorrow (4 p.m.).
“Personally, I’m just trying to strike them out (once the bases are loaded) because if they make contact, they’re probably scoring,” said Klingensmith. “My mindset was just shooting strikes and missing bats. I’ve always thought of myself as having that closer’s mentality. I throw a lot of fastballs and like going right at people.”
It was heavy doses of a heavy fastball for Klingensmith once the bases were juiced in the top of the fourth. He got all three Winchester batters swinging at high heat, with catcher Michael Manni squeezing a foul tip for the final strike of the inning. What was most impressive was Klingensmith needed only 10 pitches to get out of the jam.
“Anytime you get the bases loaded with nobody out, you hope to get something out of it,” said Sachems (11-11) head coach David Blanchard. “That was incredible execution on (Klingensmith’s) part. He was lights out all day.”
Klingensmith finished with 11 strikeouts, gave up just three hits and made two putouts — including one spectacular play in which he barehanded a grounder up the middle when he was off-balance.
The Chieftain hitters got on the board in the bottom of the second inning. Chris Rich was down to two strikes with two outs before lining a single up the middle, then stole both second and third base. Manni drew a walk and stole second before No. 9 hitter Will Twiss smacked a RBI single up the middle.
Elias Varinos then knocked in both Twiss and Manni when he ripped a single to right field, making it 3-0, but was thrown trying to extend it into a double to end the inning.
Masco would add its fourth and final run in the bottom of the sixth on a suicide squeeze by Manni.
Winchester starter Sean Keating was strong, going the distance in the loss.
“(Manni) is down to his last strike and laces a single. We were able to put together a couple hits. That was a huge inning for us,” said Masco head coach T.J. Baril, who also spoke about the importance of executing in small ball at this time of year. “The pitching at this point is going to be good for everyone, so you have to execute and do the little things. Getting that squeeze down was big.”
Manni had an outstanding day overall and his work behind the plate was a big part of the shutout. Not only did he come up with a big squeeze on the foul tip to end the top of the fourth inning, but he also threw out Michael Gianci on a steal attempt at second base after the lone error on the game for Masco put Gianci at first to lead off the third inning.
That putout sent a message to the Winchester bench as the Sachems didn’t attempt any other steals the rest of the game.
“When he throws out that baserunner at second, it sets the tone,” explained Baril. “Once that happened, it’s tough (for Winchester) to give the green light.”