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Stephenson’s shutout gives Needham fourth win

Stephenson’s sidearm style flummoxes Westwood’s batters en route to a complete game shutout.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Sunday night, the rain fell on Needham High’s baseball field, but not enough to warrant stopping or cancelling the game between Needham and Westwood. Unfortunately for Westwood, they could not find hits with runners in scoring position, and ultimately lost the game, 3-0.

Westwood pitcher Jack Rufo played well. Until he was pulled in the bottom of the sixth inning, the left-hander had only given up one run. While he faltered a bit in the sixth, an overthrow from center field to home plate that had a low chance of working out did him no favors. It would be very difficult to pin the loss on Rufo.

Westwood had some mental mistakes that cost them, including this overthrow on a low percentage play at the plate.

Instead, Westwood’s big issue was its lack of hitting - specifically, its lack of hitting with runners in scoring position. In the fifth, they had men on second and third with no outs, and produced nothing. Then, in the sixth, they also had men on second and and third with no outs, and they once again produced nothing.

This wasn’t lost on Rufo, who declared: "We got guys in scoring position, but nothing happened then. We’ve go to come through when it actually matters, otherwise we’re not going to win games. I think it’s all mental right now. We have the talent, and we prove we can get hits all game long. It’s just that last ten percent we need to win games.”

Coach Flynn, who informed me his team’s record is now “two wins and I don’t know how many losses - I stopped counting,” concurred with his pitcher, noting the stranded runners and arguing: “We haven’t been clutch all year. The kid [Andrew Stephenson] had some great stuff, but we hit the ball hard against him. In those situations tonight, we didn’t get it done.”

Jack Rufo pitched well, but Westwood couldn’t get the hits they needed with runners in scoring position.

The man who did get it done was Andrew Stephenson. The Wellesley High product (Wellesley doesn’t have a team in the league, so he tried out for Needham) pitched all seven innings, giving up only four hits and zero runs. And, he did it in a unique way.

Stephenson has a funky sidearm submarine delivery where he gets so low, his knuckles almost touch the dirt. Coach Krechting noted he’s the only one in the league that throws like that, and it causes some problems.

“It’s obviously hard to hit. They had some pretty funky swings tonight. He does that to every team he faces.”

Berkley makes a nice catch that has a Westwood runner scrambling back to the base.

Why does he throw like that? Interestingly, it was a conscious decision he made when he was younger, knowing he wouldn’t get very big.

“I was always a smaller kid and I was doing it one day at practice. I was thinking I probably won’t be, like, six foot two, throwing 90 and blowing the ball by anyone, so why don’t I try something different and make myself unique? It has worked out for me, a lot.”

As for why it was working so well tonight, Stephenson didn’t have much to say other than that “I always try to be confident in myself, keep the ball in the strike zone, keep it down, get some weak contact and trust my fielders. It just worked out for me today.”

Still, because no team wins with out scoring runs, Needham’s offense should be applauded for, even if they didn't exactly light it up at the plate, doing enough to win.

Donovan rounds the bases but keeps an eye on Westwood’s third baseman, Perkins.

“Bryce Anderson always sticks out." Coach Krechting noted when asked who stuck out to him offensively. "He’s such a great, great hitter and he added three hits tonight, so it was good to see.”

Anderson’s single, Donovan’s double and Hgaley’s single in the sixth led to the two runs that really stretched the game. Otherwise, there would have been far more pressure on Stephenson during Westwood’s last at-bats - even if he likely would have handled it.

With the win, Needham moved to 4-9 on the year.

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