Sour sixth deflates Lisbon
Class S Final Four
|His momentum is about to carry Mike Higgins (9) off the second-base bag during the top of the fifth. Despite being tagged out after losing contact with the base, the senior was called safe after it was ruled he was pushed off the bag. Michael Beniash. (click for larger version)|
June 17, 2009PLYMOUTH—For five innings last Wednesday, the 11th-seeded Lisbon Panthers flashed their mettle.
Senior ace Kyle Fifield was in command. His defense was mistake-free. On just two hits, Lisbon's offense produced the game's lone run.
In a tense Class S semifinal against their namesake from Pittsburg, the locals were within six outs from a shot at their fifth title in six years.
Then came the acerbic sixth frame.
Then, back with authority, came seventh-seeded Pittsburg.
And with one swift and seismic blow, Lisbon's fragile lead vanished; its inspiring postseason run finished at Plymouth Regional High School.
Fifield lost his control, his defense lost its composure and Pittsburg sent 14 batters to the plate, producing all eight runs en route to the 8-1 triumph and its second straight title game appearance.
In the championship played Saturday in Manchester, Pittsburg earned its first baseball title with a 3-1 victory over No. 4-seeded Newmarket, which had stunned previously unbeaten Gorham, 3-0, in the semifinals.
"I told them after to keep their heads up," said Lisbon coach Jeremy Aldrich, whose Panthers dispatched No. 6 Colebrook and 14th-seeded Littleton during the postseason before falling last Wednesday. "It was a heck of a run. To come in as an 11 seed, nobody expected us to do anything, but we did. And we expected to win today.
"It really came down to that one inning. Everything that possibly could have happened, happened."
Piecemeal, the nightmare frame unfolded.
Fifield, who held Pittsburg scoreless for five frames, yielding three walks and three hits while fanning six, walked Marcus Chase on four pitches to christen the sixth. After Chase stole second, Fifield induced a groundout to Hunter Judd that advanced Chase to third. Logan Chase then drew a walk and stole second, leaving runners at second and third with one out. Travis Rioux then hit a soft ground ball to Lisbon's Hale Fitzgerald, but the senior second baseman couldn't handle the ball, allowing the tying run to score. After intentionally walking eighth-grader Travis Chase—who pitched five innings of one-run ball to keep Pittsburg within striking distance—to load the bases, Fifield walked Tadd Sierad on four-pitches that plated the go-ahead run.
"I thought I had plenty of gas in the tank," Fifield said. "I just couldn't find the strike zone."
Said Aldrich: "If we were going to get beat today, we were going to get beat with Kyle.
No regrets. For a kid that's worked that hard for four years, he deserved the chance to finish it off."
Jamsie Myers, who has been Lisbon's go-to closer all season, then entered with one out and the bases loaded. But Pittsburg, riding a wave of momentum, didn't let up. Tyler Foote lashed Myers' first offering down the third base line for a two-run double and the rout was on.
After Whitney Covill's RBI single made it 5-1, Pittsburg added a run on a squeeze bunt and scored another after Myers plunked a batter with the bases loaded. The final blow came on Marcus Chase's straight steal of home, Pittsburg's sixth successful plate theft in six attempts this season.
"There was never any sense of panic," said Pittsburg coach Richard Judd, whose Panthers knocked out 10th-seeded Woodsville and No. 2 seed Derryfield en route to the semis. "We knew we could come back."
Ericson Smith then replaced Myers, getting the third out after Travis Chase's long fly ball was caught in center field. Hunter Judd, Pittsburg's ace who had just three innings of eligibility left in the playoffs, pitched the final two frames. The junior got six outs while holding Lisbon hitless to earn the win.
Pittsburg, meanwhile, continued its mastery of Lisbon, beating the Panthers for the third time this year. It also continued to wield hot playoff bats, accumulating 29 runs on 32 hits in three games.
"The kids are confident, not cocky and we did the same thing against Derryfield," coach Judd said of his team's ability to rally. "We played Lisbon three times. We knew we could hit Fifield after a while. It was about being patient and getting on base. All of a sudden we got the bats going. And once we got them down, we had to bury them because that's a good team."
Lisbon, which had scored eight runs combined in the first innings of its two prior playoff games, produced its lone run last Wednesday in the top of the fourth. Fifield broke up Travis Chase' no-hit bid with a double to the left-field gap with one out in the fourth.
After Lisbon's No. 5 hitter Rollie LaCoss struck out, Smith knocked a soft fly ball into left field that plated Fifield for the 1-0 lead—Lisbon's lone two hits of the contest.
In the fifth, Fitzgerald nearly gave Lisbon a larger cushion. With Mike Higgins on second, he blasted a long, deep ball to left-center, but Pittsburg's center fielder hauled in the out near the 350-foot sign.
On defense, Lisbon had three defensive gems that kept Pittsburg off the scoreboard. In the first, Smith snagged a line drive down the third-base line and doubled off the Pittsburg runner who had taken off from first. In the second, Fifield picked off the leadoff hitter at first base. In the bottom of the fourth, Fifield and catcher Matt Champagne teamed up for a strikeout-throwout double play.
But the optimism quickly reversed in the game-changing sixth. With the pressure percolating following a first-batter walk, Lisbon, despite so many positives during its playoff run, couldn't maintain its poise.
"We battled all year long and we turned things around late in the season," Aldrich said. "We battled today too, but they were just better than we were."
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