The Norton National 12-year-old all-star baseball team has had the uncanny ability this summer to almost always be able to respond to an opposition rally with one of its own.
At the same time, Foxborough has been a squad down the stretch of the regular season that has not let an early deficit affect its performance.
That set the stage for an interesting match-up in the quarterfinals of the Hockomock League Junior 12B playoffs on Tuesday night on Field B on the Lee Burchill Complex.
Norton emerged victorious, 16-6, in a back-and-forth affair that included a 45-minute delay. The game was halted in the bottom of the fifth because of the 10-run mercy rule.
With the victory, Norton, the second seed, improves to 12-1 and advances to the quarterfinals. The locals will host an opponent that has yet to be determined on Thursday night at the Burchill Complex. “This was a huge win for the team,” said Norton assistant coach Rick Palin. “The last two years, we lost in this round of the playoffs. This was a big hump for the team to get over, being able to advance to the semifinals.”
Foxborough, the seventh seed, completed its season at 5-8. In its regular-season finale last week, Norton had beaten Foxborough, 22-4, at the Rodman Fields in Foxborough.
“We told the kids before the game not to take this team lightly,” said Palin. “We emphasized three things to the players. First, don’t take this team lightly and second they were going to play loose, which they did. The third thing was that this team beat us last year as 11-year-olds, so they are dangerous.”
It was an impressive offensive performance by Norton as the team collected a total of 11 hits, along with nine walks and also had a batter hit by a pitch.
Louis Dion led the way with a 3-for-3 performance that included two singles, a double, five RBI and one run scored. Jake Palin was 2-for-2 with two singles, a walk, one stolen base and three runs scored, while Matt Bingel was 2-for-2 with two doubles, a walk, two RBI and three runs scored. Bingel also pitched the fifth inning for the team.
Lead-off hitter Ryan Gill was 1-for-2 with a single, walk and two runs, while Eduardo Mercado was 1-for-2 with a triple, walk, two RBI, a stolen base and two runs scored.
Maddie Murphy, the starting pitcher in the game for Norton, was 1-for-3 with a long opposite-field home run to right field. Mike Sheehan, who pitched the fourth inning, was 1-for-2 at the plate with a two-run double.
Brian Holmes did not have an official at-bat, but had two walks, a sacrifice fly, one RBI and one run. Kyle Pereira collected two walks and two runs. Jack Mulvehill worked out a walk and got hit by a pitch, scoring a run. Jayson Poirier also had an RBI groundout.
Norton also played terrific defense as Holmes made a great play at third base prior to the team throwing a runner out at second base to end the second inning. While catching, Holmes also picked a runner off third with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth, a play that helped Norton hold Foxborough scoreless in the frame. The hosts also halted Foxboro’s final threat of the night by ending the fifth inning with a double play.
“We made some big defensive plays that helped us keep the momentum,” said Palin.
Foxborough collected seven hits in the game with Noah Goldman leading the way with a 2-for-3 effort that included a double, home run, three RBI and two runs scored. Matt Mullally was 2-for-3 with a single, homer, two RBI, one stolen base and two runs.
Devin Hainsworth was 1-for-3 with a single and run scored, while Dylan Mucinskas was 1-for-2 with a double and a walk. Matt Fay was 1-for-2 with a walk and hit by pitch. Matt Dundon had two walks and a run, while Ken Eva and Matt Nutting worked out walks.
Norton looked as if it was going to cruise to an easy victory after exploding for seven runs in the bottom of the first inning, but Foxboro bounced back to score one run in the top of the second inning and four more in the third to cut the lead to 7-5.
In the bottom of the first, Gill scored the first run on an error with Holmes chasing home Mercado with his sacrifice fly. Murphy then crushed her homer to right to push the Norton advantage to 3-0. Two-run doubles by both Dion and Sheehan accounted for the other four runs and gave the hosts a 7-0 lead after one.
But Foxborough was not deterred, scoring once in the second as Mullally scored on an error. With the storm clouds approaching, the visitors scored three times before the game was stopped because of lightning and rain.
A three-run homer to right center by Goldman closed the gap to 7-4. But then play was halted for close to 45 minutes because of the weather. When the game resumed, Mullally pulled his team a little closer with a long homer to right center to make it 7-5.
“The team has been doing that the last four or five games,” said Foxborough head coach Steven Goldman. “These kids keep fighting and fighting. The first inning has been our Achilles heel this year, but the kids always seem to come back. The kids do a great job staying focused. They are fighters. The team has a lot of guts and heart. I was really impressed with the way the kids kept coming back in this game.”
However, Norton regained control by scoring four runs in the third and three more in the fourth for a 14-5 lead. During the rally in the third, Bingel had a two-run double to left center, while Dion had an RBI single to center and Poirier collected an RBI groundout.
Mercado was the star in the bottom of the fourth. He tripled in two runs to make it 13-5. Mercado then capped the rally by stealing home to push the lead to 14-5.
“We were able to build an early lead, but they did a good job coming back against us” said Palin. “Any pitch we left up in this game, they crushed. But our team has been good all year at extending leads when the other team gets close.”
Foxborough got one run back in the top of the fifth when Goldman doubled to the left-center field fence, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scoring on a groundout by Mullally.
A two-run single by Dion in the bottom of the fifth scored both Palin and Bingel and made the score, 16-6, calling a halt to the contest because of the 10-run mercy rule.
“I thought the final score was a little deceiving,” said Goldman. “The kids played hard and well. I thought the game was a lot closer than the 16-6 score. I felt we were in this game the whole time.”