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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It truly was a battle of aces on Monday afternoon at Eldracher Field in Walpole, as Needham’s Charlie Roberts (six and a third innings, three hits, no runs) and Walpole’s Brian Gaughan (four innings, four earned runs, seven strikeouts) put on a clinic on the mound. Despite the efforts of Gaughan, the Rebels (3-3) fell by a final of 7-0 to the Rockets (3-3).
Gaughan retired the Rockets in order (strikeout, groundout, pop out) to begin the game, but Roberts countered by getting two fly outs and a strikeout to keep the game scoreless after one.
Brian Gaughan struck out the leadoff man to begin the top of the second inning, but quickly found himself in a bit of trouble following a single to center by Alex Luscher. A hit-and-run advanced Luscher to third as Needham had runners at the corners with one out. The Rockets then dug into their bag of tricks, as a squeeze bunt by Jack Dateo plated Luscher from third and there was no play at first, leading Needham to an early 1-0 lead. Gaughan finished the inning with two consecutive strikeouts to strand the runners at first and second, sparing his team any further damage. The Needham lead remained at just one through an inning and a half.
Roberts continued to pitch flawlessly in the bottom of the second, retiring the Rebels in order (strikeout, ground-out, ground-out) to preserve the 1-0 lead for Needham after two. Gaughan got back on track in the third frame, getting Needham’s Tom Chmielewski to ground out to third before striking out the final two batters of the inning and keeping the deficit at just one.
The Rebels were finally able to break through at the plate in the bottom of the third, as Ryan Donato mashed Walpole’s first hit of the contest into center field to put a runner on with two outs. The Rebels were able to put runners on first and third following a single to right by Andrew Moore. Cam Martin drew a walk to load the bases, but a ground-out to second by Charlie Auditore left the runners stranded and allowed Needham to get out of the inning unscathed.
Needham was able to put runners on first and second to begin the top half of the fourth, thanks to back-to-back singles by Alec Sharton and Alex Luscher. The runners advanced into scoring position following a sacrifice bunt. Jack Dateo drew a five-pitch walk to load the bases for Kevin McKenzie, who delivered a shot up the middle to plate both Sharton and Luscher, extending the Needham lead to 3-0. With runners at first and third, Jonah Lichtman followed up the two-RBI hit by McKenzie with a ground ball to second base on a hit-and-run to score Dateo and extend the Needham lead to 4-0. Gaughan then settled down and struck out the next batter he faced before getting a fielder’s choice back to the mound, and Tom Chmielewski to line-out to center, as the Rebels entered the bottom of the fourth with some ground to make up.The Rebels were able to put a runner on to begin their half of the fourth thanks to a leadoff walk, but a pop-out to Dakari Cox at third base followed by two fly-outs allowed Roberts to get to the fifth inning with a goose egg in the run column and just two hits against.
Brian Gaughan finished his outing strong in the top of the fifth by getting Dakari Cox to pop out to second before a fly-out to center and pop-out to third, but the Rebels were again unable to crack Roberts in their half of the fifth, as a ground-out back to the mound, a fly-out to center and an Andrew Moore strikeout allowed Needham to enter the sixth still ahead by four.
Bryan Kraus came on in relief in the top of the sixth for Walpole and was able to record two quick ground-outs. However, the Rockets put together a two-out rally when Jack Dateo drew a five-pitch walk and stole second base. Dateo then attempted to steal third base, but a high throw into left field allowed the speedster to run home and extend Needham’s lead to 5-0. Kraus would then get Lichtman to ground to short to end the inning.
With Charlie Roberts still going strong for Needham, the spell of bad luck at the plate that had plagued the Rebels throughout the game continued in the home half of the sixth, as despite making solid contact with a rope to the right side of the infield, Cam Martin’s liner was snagged by the Needham second basement for the first out of the inning. Charlie Auditore ripped a base hit into center field to give the Rebels life, but a ground ball back to the pitcher by Bryan Kraus on the next Walpole at-bat put an end to the inning as the Rockets turned the 1-6-3 double play.
An RBI single by Dakari Cox in the top of the seventh extended the Needham lead to 6-0. Cox then stole second and advanced to third on a fielder’s choice before a ground ball to the right side by Luscher allowed Cox to come home in exchange for the second out of the inning.
Leading 7-0, the Rockets sent Charlie Roberts back out to the mound to finish the job and make an attempt at the complete game shutout. Roberts was able to produce a ground-out back to the mound, but then proceeded to walk the bases loaded. The Rockets then opted to bring in Charlie Sumner to close things out, and Sumner made quick work by recording a strikeout and a fly-out to right field to end the game, as the Rockets prevailed by a final of 7-0.