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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Two of the Bay State Conference’s elite baseball programs met last Wednesday afternoon at Memorial Field as the defending Division I Eastern Mass champion Wellesley Raiders traveled to face their arch-rivals, the Needham Rockets.
Behind a complete game, seven-strikeout performance by left-handed ace Hank Weycker, the Raiders (10-4, 5-3) earned a 5-2 victory over the Rockets (8-5, 4-4).
“I definitely liked the way that we competed today,” said Wellesley head coach Rob Kane. “Sometimes during this season we’ve had our moments where we don’t necessarily give a full effort. But I thought today, right from the first inning where we scored in the top of the first and put a little pressure on them, that the effort was there.”
It didn’t take long for the Raiders to get the bats going, as Colin Blasco led off the game with an infield hit to short and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kai Grocki. Hank Weycker ripped a single to left-center field on the third pitch of the ensuing at-bat to plate Blasco. The Raiders took the early 1-0 lead.
Weycker recorded a pair of groundouts to strand a runner at first base to get Wellesley out of the bottom of the first inning. Following a lead-off single by John Woernle, Needham starter Tom Chmielewski responded in the top of the second by recording back-to-back strikeouts, followed by a pop-out to end the inning.
Will Foley led off the home half of the second for Needham with a single down the third base line. However, Weycker settled in and recorded a strikeout, followed by a pair of groundouts, to end the inning. Foley was left stranded.
Chmielewski continued to deal for Needham in the top of the third, recording a strikeout, a pop-out to first base, and a fielder’s choice after allowing an infield hit with two outs to get the Rockets out of the inning unscathed.
Weycker put together his strongest inning of the afternoon in the home half of the third, striking out the side on just 11 pitches to preserve Wellesley’s 1-0 lead. Max Zajec reached on an error to begin the top of the fourth for Wellesley, followed by a fielder’s choice on a grounder back to the mound by Woernle. Chmielewski got Jay Driver to pop out to second before Woernle swiped second to put a runner in scoring position. Holt Fletcher then belted a single to right field, but Kevin Mackenzie fired home a dart to nail Woernle at the plate for the inning-ending out to keep it a single-run deficit for Needham after three and a half.
Needham capitalized off of the momentum from the big defensive play by Mackenzie to conclude the top half of the third and scored a pair of runs to take a 2-1 lead. Alec Sharton wore a pitch on the shin to put a runner on first with one out as Ben Gilarde came on to pinch run. Will Foley drew a walk to put runners at first and second before a passed ball moved the runners up to second and third. Tom Chmielewski struck out swinging on a ball in the dirt following a six-pitch at-bat, but Gilarde was able to take home on the throw to first. A wild throw home by Zajec trying to nail Gilarde went wide to the backstop, allowing Foley to come all the way around from second to give Needham a one-run lead at the end of four.
Despite the defensive lapses that led to the surrendering of the lead during the previous half inning, Wellesley bounced back in the top of the fifth. Matt Maiona drew a walk to lead off the inning before swiping second to put the tying run in scoring position. Colin Blasco hammered a single into left, but Wellesley held Maiona at third to put runners at the corners with no outs for Kai Grocki. Blasco took second on a fielder’s indifference on the first pitch of Grocki’s at-bat to put two men in scoring position. Grocki then labeled a second-pitch fastball into left field to plate Maiona and tie the game. With runners at the corners and still no outs, Hank Weycker ripped a double down the first base line, scoring Blasco and seizing back the lead for Wellesley at 3-2. John Ciolfi then cracked a single into left to score Grocki from third to double Wellesley’s lead to a pair of runs at 4-2. Zajec grounded into a fielder’s choice at first to plate Weycker from third for Wellesley’s fifth and final run of the game as the Raiders led by three headed into the sixth.
“Our hitting came together at the right times,” said Kane. “We overcame the mistake at home plate by putting up four runs in the next half [inning]. Timely hitting a couple times with the bases loaded or it was first and third. Kai Grocki, Colin Blasco, John Ciolfi were three guys in particular who had big days. Hank Weycker had a big RBI single too.”
Steven Donovan led off the home half of the fifth with a bunt single for Needham. However, a hit-and-run backfired on the Rockets as a shallow pop-out to Zajec at first resulted in a double play. Weycker then got Charlie Roberts to line out to second base to end the inning.
Roberts came on to pitch for Needham in the top of the sixth and recorded a pop-out with a pair of groundouts for a 1-2-3 inning. Kevin Mackenzie led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to right before taking second on a passed ball. Alec Sharton ripped a single to center on the second pitch of the ensuing at-bat, but a base-running mistake resulted in Mackenzie getting picked off at third base on a relay throw by Weycker. Will Foley then reached on an error in right field as the tying run came to the plate in the form of Chmielewski with runners at the corners. A shallow fly-out to center by Chmielewski prevented Needham from sending home the runner at third. Weycker then struck out Charlie Roberts on five pitches to end the inning, and Wellesley escaped the frame with their three-run lead still intact.
Roberts struck out a pair of Raiders, mixed in with a runner getting gunned down at second on a steal attempt, to keep the deficit at three runs for Needham through six and a half. Weycker came back out for the home half of the seventh with the chance to shut the door and induced a first-pitch pop-up to second to record the first out, followed by a groundout to second. Alex Luscher smacked a single to right with two down to keep Needham alive, but a diving stab and sprint to first to record the game’s final out by Zajec ended it for Wellesley, as the Raiders prevailed with the three-run win.
Zajec’s defensive efforts drew high praise from his coach following the victory.
“I was very impressed by the defense Max Zajec made at first base,” said Kane. “Max did a really nice job on that double play and made a couple other plays on bang-bang plays at first base. Pleased with the all-around effort today and now we have to turn the page.”
At the time of print, Wellesley will look to stick to its winning script when the Raiders host Framingham on May 16 while Needham will attempt to get back on track that same day against Belmont.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.