By Phil Stacey
---- — LOWELL — Clutch pitching. Stellar defense. Timely at-bats. Smart, aggressive baserunning.
Stop us if you’ve hear this before — make that many, many times before — in regards to the Danvers High baseball team.
Junior lefty Brandon Hyde spun his second complete game shutout of the playoffs and his teammates capitalized offensively when given their chances, adding up to a 6-0 shutout win over Belmont in a Division 2 North semifinal at Alumni Field.
Second-seeded Danvers (20-3) now returns to the Division 2 North title game for the first time in five years and fourth time overall under head coach Roger Day. Ironically, the Falcons will be facing No. 5 Masconomet (18-5) — a 2-0 winner over Dracut in the earlier semifinal yesterday — for the third time in a North championship game, having split the previous two meetings.
A slender southpaw who relies on movement, deception and keeping his pitches down, Hyde was, in an almost unprecedented move, making his third postseason start in as many games for the Falcons. Two days after he was knocked out of the box by Reading in 2-plus innings (a game Danvers rallied to win, 7-6, in 9 innings), he was back toeing the rubber last night, beginning the game for the third time in seven days.
“I was actually only expecting to pitch one inning, but my arm and everything else felt great,” said Hyde. “Coach left me in, and now (fellow lefty) Ray Arocho is fresh for Sunday.”
“I definitely had to try and redeem myself (from Tuesday). The first inning was a little tense, but after that I felt better, especially knowing the defense I have behind me.”
Hyde (now 10-0 on the season) allowed six hits, two walks (one intentional) and struck out four while throwing just 85 pitches. Only one Marauder player reached third base against him, when they loaded the bases with two out in the top of the sixth, by the Falcon ace bore down and struck out John Cole to end the inning.
“That’s what Brandon does; he just competes. And you saw how many big pitches he made when the game could have turned. He’s just fearless,” said Day. “How many 3-2 pitches did he throw to get people (out)? And when he gets hit, he turns around and gets a ground ball for us and we turn a double play.”
The Falcons turned two double plays last night, ending both the third and fifth innings. Shortstop Evan Eldridge started both, firing to second baseman Dan Connors to initiate the first (with Connors adroitly catching, leaping and throwing to first in one fluid motion) and taking it himself before firing over to first baseman Raffy Tylus on the latter.
“Our pitchers are always throwing strikes, so when teams get a runner on first I’m like ‘throw a strike, throw a strtike’ to them, and we’ll make the plays,” said Eldridge. “And Danny and I have worked together for a long time and work well together. We practice that all the time: right where we like it on the double play and how to get rid of it quickly.”
Was there any hesitation in turning to Hyde again?
“None. Absolutely not,” said Day.
The latter half of Danvers’ lineup, which went hitless against Reading two nights earlier, contributed in a big way against Belmont (13-10). Tylus had the biggest hit, a two-run single that went past the third baseman and into left field to score teammates Joe Strangie (2 runs scored) and Arocho, making it 3-0. Eldridge followed that up with a bloop single to left, thereby plating Tylus.
Eldridge later successfully executed a suicide squeeze — the Falcons’ second in as many games — to plate his team’s fifth run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“When we get help after our top four, we’re in pretty good shape,” Day said of his team’s offensive success. “We needed someone else tonight, and Raf’s hit was huge. So was the one by Evan, as well as the squeeze.”
Danvers’ other two runs came when Strangie walked, took second on another walk, went to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch in the first; and when Tylus hit a dribbler for a single, went to second on Eldridge’s squeeze, advanced to third on a fly out and came home on an infield error.
The Falcons, who had runners on base in each of the first five innings, also benefitted from five walks and four Belmont errors.