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Stephens, Bears blank Belmont


by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

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Winnisquam pitcher Rory Stephens keeps an eye on Belmont’s Bret Spaulding at first base during action in Tilton on May 11. The host Bears won their first home game of the season in a 3-0 victory. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
May 14, 2012
TILTON – Fifty-four pitches. That's all it took Rory Stephens to pick up his third win of the season on May 11.

The Winnisquam Regional High School right-hander breezed through his outing against rival Belmont High School, as the senior allowed just four hits and didn't walk a batter in a 3-0 shutout to give the Bears their first home win of the season.

"I've been around baseball for a long time but I've never seen a 54-pitch, seven inning complete game shutout," admitted Winnisquam skipper Fred Caruso. "That's just awesome stuff. He's great at changing speeds, he's around the strike zone. We keep preaching to all of our pitchers, we can't live in the middle of the plate. We don't have 95 (miles per hour) here anymore. We can't live there, we have to move the ball around. Rory's three wins have just been…21 innings, two walks. You can't ask for much more than what he's been giving us."

Runs were hard to come by for both teams, as Stephens and Belmont starter Ian Shaw matched zeroes through the first four innings of action. Belmont had perhaps the best chance of the early going in the top of the first, as Angelo Palmer led off with a sharp single and stole second base on the first pitch to Brent Minery. Palmer moved over to third on a ground out, but Stephens managed to leave him there, retiring the final two hitters to keep the Raiders scoreless.

"I thought the first inning was huge," said Caruso. "They've got a guy on third with one out and to keep them off the board gave us a lot of confidence, it really did. We hadn't won at home yet, a lot of stuff going through your head. We did what we had to do."

While it wasn't evident that early in the game, a run in the first inning likely would've changed the complexion of the contest.

"Momentum is a big deal," explained Belmont coach Matt LeBlanc. "If you can get some positive momentum early, that can carry you. That run would've been a big run. When you don't score any runs, getting one early would've been huge."

Neither team was able to push a run across until the bottom of the fifth. With two outs and nobody on base, Tucker Normand walked for Winnisquam and stole second base. Older brother Parker Normand came through in the clutch, as he roped a shot over the left fielder's head for a clean double, driving in Tucker to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.

The Bears (3-7 after the win) tacked on a pair of key insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Kyle Farmer and Curtis Archibald singled to lead off the frame, and both moved up on stolen bases. Shaw managed to get Caleb Hutchins to pop up for the first out of the inning, but Farmer scampered home on a wild pitch to double the lead at 2-0. Archibald would come around one batter later, as Chris VanBuskirk laid down a perfect suicide squeeze, extending the lead to 3-0.

"When we started the season, we struck out 17 times against Newfound in the opener," said Caruso of his club, which struck out just once against Belmont. "Another game we struck out 13 times. We've cut that way down. We're putting the ball in play much more. I keep telling the guys, if you put the ball in play, good things happen. So I've just been really, really happy with our approach at the plate lately.

Belmont (6-5) couldn't piece anything together offensively in the seventh, as Stephens got the Raiders 1-2-3 to close out the gem. Belmont struggled badly at the plate over the final four innings, as Stephens retired the final 13 batters he faced, going all the way back to the last out of the third inning.

"Plain and simple, we got beat in all phases of the game," said LeBlanc. "We only squeaked out three or four hits. The few opportunities we had, we didn't capitalize on them. We just couldn't get it done today."

Shaw pitched well for the Raiders in the loss, as the senior walked just two to go along with seven hits in the complete game effort.

"Belmont's a very good team," said Caruso. "We lost to them by 11 the first time we played them (a 13-2 Raiders win). Our guys remember that, we remember that. We talked about it a little. Clearly we're a different team now than we were then. At least I'd like to think so. We hadn't played in nine days before this game and we've been stuck in the gym with just one outdoor practice since then so it hasn't been easy."

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