By Mike Grenier
---- — LOWELL — Dracut High brought an unimpressive 9-14 record into yesterday’s Division 2 North baseball semifinal against Masconomet, so Chieftains fans might have assumed their team would have a free pass to the final.
The Masconomet players would’ve been foolish to make that assumption, however. Dracut had played much better in the postseason than its overall record indicated, and as the Chieftains discovered, there would be little margin for error if they wanted to move on.
As it turned out, Dracut gave Masconomet its stiffest test in three tournament games. But senior right-hander Speros Varinos pitched spectacularly and his teammates came through with just enough offense late in the game to give the Chieftains a hard-earned 2-0 victory at Alumni Field.
Masconomet (18-5), which is now on an 11-game tear since midway through the regular season, has pushed its way to the North final for the first time since 2010, when it whipped Reading (9-1) before losing to Duxbury (2-1) in the state semifinal. The Chieftains will play second-seeded Danvers (20-3) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lowell’s LeLacheur Park.
“We have seniors who’ve been on varsity for three years and we haven’t done this before, so it’s pretty great,” said Masconomet centerfielder Tom Budrewicz, who hit a crucial triple and scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the fifth when Greg Jain punched a single through Dracut’s drawn-in infield.
Masconomet’s postseason story has centered on its pitching, and with good reason. The Chieftains have posted three shutouts in succession. Varinos shut down Melrose, 9-0; Joe Klingensmith blanked Winchester, 4-0; and Varinos came back yesterday with a three-hit masterpiece in which he struck out 11. One of those Dracut hits was an infield job.
“He’s our horse,” Masconomet coach T.J. Baril said of Varinos. “He’s been doing this all year. He’s going to throw strikes and our defense has confidence in him and will make plays.
“I thought he had a little trouble finding his curveball early, but it came around and then every pitch was working for him. He commanded both sides of the plate.”
Varinos needed to be perfect because Dracut right-hander Dan Zabbo matched him by stringing up zeroes through the first four innings. Masconomet did have runners on second and third with just one out in the fourth, but Zabbo bailed out of a potential mess with a double play that was helped along by some over-eager baserunning by the Chieftains.
The breakthrough against Zabbo finally occurred in the fifth. Budrewicz smashed one deep to left center and Dracut left fielder Andrew Curtis, going full tilt, got his glove on the ball but couldn’t hold on. Budrewicz ended up with what could only be called a hustle triple, and it forced Dracut to draw its infield closer. Jain then slapped one through the right side for the 1-0 lead.
The Chieftains, who finished with just five hits, weren’t quite done. Jain advanced to second on Chris Rich’s sacrifice bunt and raced to third on a passed ball. William Twiss then whacked a liner off Zabbo’s body and beat it out for an infield hit that scored the second run.
“We scratched out a couple of runs there,” said Baril. “If Tom isn’t busting it all the way when he hit the ball, he wouldn’t have reached third, and then Jain came through. And Twiss came busting out of the batter’s box and reached first before they could make a play on him.”
The key for Budrewicz is that he didn’t hesitate for a second, even though it looked to some observers that Dracut’s Curtis would haul in his deep ball.
“I thought it was just a popup,” Budrewicz said. “It started (drifting) and I just kept running. That’s the way I was trained. I won’t stop running until the umpire says I’m out.”
The way Varinos was pitching, Dracut might as well have been down 20 runs. The Chieftains’ ‘horse’ was consistently brilliant.
Dracut’s most serious threat came in the third when it had runners on first and third with two outs, but Varinos struck out Chris Seidl to end the inning. He would strike out two or more hitters in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings.
In other words, he was the alpha dog in this contest.
“My curve felt good, and the goal is always to get through seven innings (for a complete game),” said Varinos. “Even when it was (0-0), I had confidence that we’d get some runs. This is the kind of team we have. We got some clutch hits and great defense.”