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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Walpole Post 104 and Needham Post 14 Legion baseball split their two-game series this past weekend, with Needham taking Friday’s matchup, 6-4, while Walpole came away victorious on Sunday in Rocket-town by a final of 9-5.
Many of Needham’s players, such as Steve Donovan and Charlie Sumner, are just starting to get into Legion mode after leading Needham High School to a Division I state championship two weeks ago and being forced to miss the first two weeks of the summer season. Walpole, meanwhile, is off to its best start in years at 10-2, with Bentley rising sophomore Charlie Auditore and Walpole High ace Cam Schlittler leading the way.
The Northeastern-committed Schlittler got the start for Walpole on Sunday and continued to impress, with five innings of two-run ball with eight strikeouts. Walpole got the bats going early against Needham ace and Division I Tournament hero Charlie Roberts as RBI hits by Auditore, Aidan Murray and Will Jarvis put Post 104 ahead 3-0 after a half inning.
Schlittler responded with a 1-2-3 bottom half to keep it a 3-0 lead after one, but Roberts worked his way out of some trouble and stranded a runner at third by inducing an inning-ending groundout to second to keep it a three-run game. A pair of St. Sebastian’s Arrows got Needham on the board in the bottom of the second as Robby Smith smacked a single to right to plate Alex Cherry, who led off the inning with a single to left, as Post 14 cut the deficit to 3-1 after two full.
A leadoff walk by John Brady, followed by a single to left by Jarvis, put runners at first and second with nobody out for Walpole, but Roberts fought back with a strikeout and a pair of groundouts to keep it a two-run game after two and a half innings. Schlittler struck out the side, mixed around a pair of walks, to leave runners stranded at first and second in the bottom of the third. Walpole carried their two-run lead into the fourth.
Dylan Hanifin led off the top of the fourth for Walpole with a double into the left-center field gap. Auditore drew a walk to put men on first and second before Chris McLean flied out to center. Bryan Kraus ripped a single to center on the second pitch of the ensuing at-bat to plate Hanifin and make it a three-run game once again at 4-1. Auditore advanced to third on a wild pitch and later came around to score, thanks to an RBI groundout by Brady, as Walpole took a 5-1 lead.
Schlittler sent Needham down in order in the bottom of the fourth via a strikeout, a groundout to third, and a fly to center. Roberts induced a pair of groundouts before surrendering a triple down the right field line to Hanifin with two away in the top of the fifth, but Needham came out unscathed after Roberts battled back to strike out Auditore, ending the inning.
Donovan got a run back for Needham in the bottom of the fifth by singling home Sumner, who reached on a walk, to make it a 5-2 game. Schlittler, however, worked three strikeouts to limit the damage to a single run for Needham and keep the deficit at three runs through five full.
Walpole opened it up a little in the top of the sixth, plating four runs in the inning. Back-to-back walks by Drew Von Klock and Kraus got the rally started before McLean cracked a single to center to score Von Klock and make it 6-2. Jarvis drew a walk to load the bases and Donato followed it up by singling home a pair of runs to left to make it 8-2. Back-to-back walks issued to Murray and Matt Falvey forced home another run to stretch the lead to 9-2 for Walpole. Roberts was able to record a double play on a line-out to third, followed by an inning-ending fly-out to center.
Needham got a pair of runs back in the home half of the sixth off of Brady, who came on in relief of Schlittler. An RBI single by Owen Zides and a passed ball to the backstop brought home Patrick Wade from third, making it a 9-5 game through six.
Walpole was sent down in order in the top of the seventh after a pair of fly-outs and a groundout to short by Kraus. Matt Donato came on in relief and shut the door in the bottom of the seventh, striking out a pair and inducing a game-ending groundout to second. Walpole took the four-run win and settled for the weekend split.
Despite the positive result on Sunday, Walpole head coach Lee Delaney says that there are some things that he and his team hope to improve upon moving forward.
“We were a little bit hungrier after they came out the other day and whacked us around a little bit,” said Charlie Auditore after the win. “With Cam on the mound, you have that mindset that you can beat anybody in the state. We came out and swung the bats well early, jumping out to that lead in the first inning. Those guys are a good team; they proved that by winning the D1 Tournament, and with all the other good players they have from Wellesley and Seb’s. Giving Cam some early run support was big. He’s pretty special, and we put ourselves in good shape early on and got the result we wanted.”
In regards to his closer Matt Donato, Delaney says that Sunday’s effort was par for the course for the due-to-be senior captain for Walpole High next spring.
“It’s a luxury to have a guy like that come in and stop the bleeding like he did there,” said Delaney. “He got those two strikeouts and a groundout, three big no-stress outs to end it. That was huge.”
As for Auditore, who will return to Bentley for his sophomore year this fall after a big freshman season that featured a walk-off single against Southern New Hampshire, the notion of coming home to Walpole and playing for his hometown Legion team this summer is extremely special to the former Rebel baseball captain.
“It’s a blast,” said Auditore. “We [Auditore, Cam Martin, Brian Gaughan] played with them last year to get a little taste of it, and the run they had this year [in the Super Eight] was pretty special. It’s a great group of young guys. Coming out and getting some work in this summer is huge for them and huge for me - we’re just out here trying to get better and do all we can to win.”