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Joyce Endee

Belmont wins 6-5, finishes off regular season sweep of Winnisquam

Belmont first baseman Jake Bryant holds on a Winnisquam runner during action May 13 in Tilton. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
May 16, 2011
TILTON – In the rematch of Belmont High School's first win of the year on April 22, the visiting Red Raiders made it a perfect 2-for-2 against neighboring Winnisquam Regional High School, as Belmont stranded the tying run at third base to close the game out with a 6-5 win on May 13.

Belmont (5-6 overall with the win) ran into trouble immediately in the first inning, when Winnisquam scored two runs thanks to RBI singles from Jordan Cote and Kyle Pratt. Starting pitcher Chris Brace was pulled after four batters, and freshman Ryan Pluskis came on to get out of the inning with his side behind 2-0.

The Red Raiders responded with a run in the second, as Jake Bryant singled and came around to score on a balk called against Pratt with two outs.

With Pluskis in a groove and keeping Winnisquam off balance in the middle innings, Belmont was able to take the lead in the third. Taylor Morrill doubled and found himself on third base after a fielder's choice, setting up one of the biggest plays of the afternoon. With Morrill on third and Bobby Cozzens on first, Belmont coach Matt LeBlanc gave the suicide squeeze sign to left fielder Bret Spaulding. But with the pitch well out of the zone and Morrill chugging for home, Spaulding was unable to get his bat on the ball. But Morrill did get an outstanding jump on the pitch, and the speedster slid in under the tag to steal home and tie the game 2-2.

The Raiders would score three more times in the inning, the big hit coming when Josh Romprey blooped a two out, two-run single to right field as Belmont took a 5-2 lead.

"The story is, if we don't hit, we typically don't win," said LeBlanc. "Today, we didn't hit all that great but we had some timely hits. To be able to score runs, stealing home and all that… that's the way baseball goes sometimes. We were able to get some runs and that's the name of the game."

While Belmont had the momentum clearly in its corner, Pratt made sure he kept his team in the game on the mound, allowing the Bears a chance to come back. The comeback started with a run in the fifth, as Pratt walked, stole second and moved to third on a bad throw. He would come home on a wild pitch and it was 5-3 Belmont.

The Raiders would tack on a huge run in the seventh, as Cozzens singled and stole second. After a Spaulding ground out moved him to third with one out, Belmont tried another squeeze bunt. This one was snuffed out by the Bears, but Cozzens managed to get back to third after being hung caught in a brief rundown. The shortstop would eventually score, with Kaleb Brace driving him in on a sacrifice fly to make it 6-3.

That set the stage for a wild bottom of the seventh, as Bryant, now on in relief of Pluskis, balked in two runs in a span of three pitches, cutting the deficit to 6-5. With Curtis Archibald standing on third base and two outs, Bryant was able to pick up a timely strikeout, earning the save with the tying run 90 feet away.

"We were confident the entire time that we were gonna come back," said Winnisquam skipper Fred Caruso. "This team really has no quit in it, we think we can beat anybody on any given day. Even in that last inning, we got a couple gifts there but we had the tying run at third. The problem is we dig ourselves holes at the plate. We've been battling our offense all year."

Pluskis earned the win for Belmont, as he tossed 5 2/3 innings of relief. The lefty struck out three and walked seven for the Red Raiders. On the other side, Pratt went the distance for Winnisquam, striking out seven to take the loss.

"(Pratt) deserved a lot better fate there," Caruso said. "We snuff out the squeeze, didn't get it. We threw to the wrong base on a ground ball, misjudge a fly ball in left field. Mistakes that cost us for sure."

After dropping the game in April to Belmont on the road, 10-5, Winnisquam had been on a roll, as the Bears were winners of seven of eight entering the loss.

"I don't know what it is, they seem to get up for us," Caruso said. "It's like I told the guys, we had a similar situation last year early in the season that happened at Mascoma. And I told the guys, this is our Mascoma. It's not that we played horrible, we just didn't make any adjustments on the fly. We gotta be more patient up there. I told them, either we pick ourselves up and learn from this, or we fold it up and pack it in. And we'll see how we do the next couple of weeks."

LeBlanc hopes the win is a turning point for Belmont as the team heads down the stretch run of the regular season.

"If we show up like this, we're going to hang with anyone," he said.

Martin Lord & Osman
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Martin Lord Osman
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