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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Wet conditions at Turco Field forced the Walpole High baseball team to take a short trip down the road to the all-turf complex at Xaverian on Tuesday morning, still serving as the de facto home team in a key non-league matchup against the Hawks.
Despite a seven-inning gem by staff ace Cam Schlittler, extra innings were needed to decide the contest after a late Xaverian rally tied the game at two in the bottom of the sixth.
After coming on in relief and pitching the Rebels out of the top of the eighth, senior captain Matt Donato cracked a two-out walk-off single into the left-center field gap in the bottom of the inning to give Walpole a thrilling 3-2 victory.
“You don’t win games without two-out clutch hits and making plays when it matters,” said Walpole head coach Chris Costello. “A couple years ago, we just couldn’t get those two-out hits late in games in similar situations and it was a no-doubter today. Good to see.”
The game remained scoreless at the end of four innings despite both teams getting men on base, as Walpole catcher and senior captain Tyler Page gunned down a pair of runners attempting to steal to end both the second and third innings.
“He’s good. He’s not going to shock and awe you when you come out and see him play. He’s just a little guy but he can hit and he’s got as quick of a release as any catcher I’ve ever coached. He doesn’t have a big power-arm, he’s not going to light any showcases up, but if you watch him play day-in and day-out, there aren’t many catchers in the state who have that type of talent. Tyler’s a great leader and he’s a good guy to have.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Dylan Hanifin wore a pitch on the arm with two outs to put a man on first. Ryan Boyagian drew a walk to move Hanifin into scoring position and put runners at first and second. Jack Magane ripped a single into the right field on the second pitch of the ensuing at-bat to drive in Hanifin and give Walpole a 1-0 lead. Matt Falvey drew a walk to load the bases for Tyler Page, and the senior captain took a ball off the helmet to plate in a run from third to extend Walpole’s lead to 2-0 after five full.
Xaverian responded right back, however, as the Hawks strung together a two-out rally to tie the game at two in the top of the sixth. Magane saved the go-ahead run with a diving stab at short with runners at the corners and flipped on to second to get the force and end the inning. Costello gave praise to Magane and his infield for their resilience following the game.
“You’re going to be on top for a while, you’re going to be on the bottom and it’s all about how you handle those aspects and those critical outs that we handled today,” said Costello. “Our middle infield was fantastic. Magane and Murray were awesome.”
The Hawks were able to strand the potential winning run for Walpole at third in the bottom of the seventh, forcing the game into extra innings. Matt Donato came on in relief of Schlitter and pitched the Rebels out the top of the eighth inning by recording a strikeout, a fly-out to right, and a groundout to Magane at short.
Tyler Page led off the bottom of the eighth for Walpole with a single up the middle before a walk by Bryan Kraus moved the potential winning run into scoring position. Chris MacLean grounded into a double play on the ensuing at-bat, but the winning run advanced to third base in the form of John Brady, who came on to pinch-run for Page. With a one-and-one count on the ensuing at-bat, Matt Donato shot a line-drive base hit into the left-center field gap to plate Brady and send the Rebels home happy with the 3-2 walk-off victory.
Costello says that wins such as the this against top competition like Xaverian are the type that can help a team build confidence and get them rolling heading into the bulk of their schedule.
“Yeah, I mean, just look at our schedule; Needham, Minnechaug, Xaverian, Franklin, St. John’s Prep, we could come out of that a number of ways - whether 4-1, 1-4, 2-3, take your pick,” said Costello. “Any win at this point before we turn over after vacation and get into league play is massive. We do it for a reason. We want to play the best guys and challenge ourselves. It should prepare us for the long haul and hopefully, if you have some success, it puts you in the position for a conversation later in the season.”
As far as his starting pitcher, Cam Schlittler, Costello says that it’s just another day at the office for the Northeastern commit after tossing 82 pitches and going five scoreless.
“He’s just so efficient,” said Costello. “He had a couple of hiccups with some uncontested walks, but it’s still early in the season. It was a plan that we talked about. We knew that we were going to have to use his cutter and his change-up much more today than we did on opening day [against Needham], and that’s out of respect for Xaverian and the way Coach Lambert teaches their approach. Overall, I thought Cam was great and he’s going to be a lot better in a couple weeks, too, because we’re still going slow with him. 82 pitches in seven full against a quality team like that shows just how efficient he can be.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.