LYNN — North Andover East may not have qualified for the sectional title game, but the squad certainly did finish their summer on top.
Trailing by a run with two outs in the sixth and final inning, Jake McElroy singled and scored the trying run and Thomas Finn drove home the game-winner as North Andover earned a 3-2 walkoff victory over powerhouse Peabody West in the Little League Sectionals last night.
“I am really thrilled,” said North Andover coach Rob Carpentier. “Twice we were down to our last strike and came through. This team never quit. This is a very special team.”
Unfortunately for North Andover, the squad did not earn a berth in today’s final. The round-robin tourney ended in a three-way tie, and Peabody won the tiebreaker for fewest runs allowed, while Beverly took the second spot due to beating North Andover head-to-head.
East struggled to find offense early last night, but thanks to a tremendous effort by starter McElroy remained in striking distance.
“We didn’t hit and striking out 12 times doesn’t usually happen to us,” said Peabody West coach Ed Aiello. “This is a wake-up call; if it had to happen, better it was now than in the finals. Give credit to McElroy, because he did a great job.”
McElroy went the distance for the win, scattering six hits and no walks with a dozen strikeouts. His lone mistake was allowing a two-run homer in the first inning.
“McElroy pitched a great game for us. He only made one mistake in the first inning on that home run,” said Carpentier. “I call the pitches, and with the count 2-0 we decided to challenge the hitter. That was my mistake. But he was excellent the rest of the way.”
McElroy prevented further damage in the fourth, when two batters reached with one out. But he was able to bounce back to strike out the next two hitters to keep it a one-run game.
Meanwhile, North Andover’s lone offense through the first five came in the bottom of the first when Connor Gough led off with a single and Steven Hajjar doubled him in. But could muster little else against stater Dan Marshall and reliever Chris Kwmuntis.
That is, until the sixth.
McElroy led off in inning with a single. Left fielder Christian Cummings then made a great diving catch to rob Hajjar of extra bases, but McElroy hustled into scoring position by taking second base, then scampered to third on a passed ball.
After Joe Quinlan grounded out, North Andover East’s Joe Phinney had two strikes on him when he hit a grounder to second base. The ball took a tough bounce, allowing McElroy to race home with the tying run.
After Alex Karelas walked, both runners advanced on a wild pitch before Finn singled to drive in the winning run.
“To finish this game the way we did says a lot,” said Carpentier. “We would love to be in the final and it will be tough to swallow that we didn’t make it. But we did a great job, and this was a very good win to finish.”