Nico Schwartz (11) fires home a pitch during his complete-game victory against Norwood on Saturday afternoon in Quincy. Photos by Mike Flanagan.
By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Throughout the summer, scoring runs has not been an issue for Needham MIBL. Led by NHS varsity stars Steven Donovan and Joe Dateo, as well as the Belmont Hill brotherly duo of Hunter and Bryce Anderson, Needham’s bats were good for a respectable average of 4.58 runs per game this season.
Needham MIBL’s main issue has been its struggle to maintain leads. Partly due to pitching, partly due fielding errors, several of Needham's games down the stretch of the regular season took a 180. Multi-run leads late in games against Canton and Braintree evaporated, and opportunities to earn key wins and improve their postseason seeding were lost.
After finishing the regular season 5-10, Needham entered the playoffs as the No. 12 seed. A tough 2-0 defeat to Milton in the opening game placed Needham in the loser's bracket. In order to stay in the mix for longer than the minimum of two games, Needham MIBL's bats were going to need to be reignited, and the team would have to find a way to maintain a lead. Thankfully, the solution to this problem arrived on Saturday afternoon at Adams Field in Quincy, and that solution was starting pitcher Nico Schwartz. After Needham stormed back to take a three-run lead, Schwartz (seven innings, one earned run, four strikeouts) took control on the mound and willed his team to a 6-3 win, keeping the season alive.
Norwood drew first blood in the top of the fourth, plating a pair of runs off of a throwing error to claim to a 2-0 lead. Needham’s bats responded in the home half. Paul Guiney reached on an error to begin the inning. Kyle Lambert drew a walk before Andrew Stephenson reached on an error to load the bases with one out. Terrence McFarland drew a walk to force home a run and cut the deficit to 2-1. Joe Dateo then belted a base hit to center to score both Lambert and Stephenson and give Needham a 3-2 lead. A two-out two-RBI double by Steven Donovan plated McFarland and Dateo to extend the lead to 5-2 after four innings.
Norwood got a run back in the top of the fifth before Schwartz wiggled his way out of trouble via a fly to right and a strikeout, and Needham maintained a 5-3 lead. Guiney drew a walk to begin the home half, advanced to second on a passed ball and moved to third following a groundout to second. Guiney came in to score, thanks to a perfect suicide squeeze bunt by Stephenson, extending Needham’s lead back to three runs at 6-3.
Schwartz sent Norwood down in order in the top of the sixth to maintain the three-run lead. Schwartz came back out for the seventh and got a little defensive help from Joe Dateo, who while filling in for the absent Hunter Anderson in center field, made the play of the game. With runners on first and second and only one out, Norwood’s Chris Vladkowski drove a deep fly ball to center. Dateo got on his horse and ran about 50 feet towards the fence before hauling in the ball on the run and saving at least one, if not two runs from scoring. Schwartz settled down and capitalized on the sensational play by Dateo, striking out the next two batters he faced to close out the game. Needham prevailed by the 6-3 final.
For funny and insightful sports analysis as well as game highlights, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.