By Chuck Frye
---- — LAWRENCE — Talk about taking advantage of a second chance.
Rain on Friday wiped out four quality innings of pitching from lefty ace Joan Vargas and, more importantly, Lawrence’s 4-0 lead over Tewksbury in the Lawrence Invitational tourney final.
When the Redmen took the field last night in the replay, they did everything they could to put the heat on the Lancers right from the start. Aggressive baserunning created some defensive issues for the host squad that even a massive comeback couldn’t cure. After Lawrence erased a seven-run deficit in the sixth inning, two errors in the top of the seventh led to the deciding tally in Tewksbury’s 8-7 title triumph.
It was Tewksbury’s first Invitational championship since 2000 and only its third overall crown in 32 years.
“We did everything we possibly could do to give them a seven-run lead,” said Lancer head coach Brendan Neilon. “Give our team credit, we fought back but you can’t spot anyone that kind of lead in a championship game and expect to win.”
As is his M.O., long-time Redmen head coach Ron Drouin, a Lawrence High alum and Methuen resident, pulled out all the stops on offense. Dialing up fake bunts to advance runners to uncovered bases, forcing poor fielding via nine stolen bases that led to four unearned runs, setting up a steal of home that led to a run-scoring balk, plus a pair of attempted suicide squeezes ... Drouin went deep into his bag of tricks.
“From 1996 to 2008, we clearly got the better of (Lawrence) but from ‘09 to now, they’ve owned us,” the 20-year veteran coach said. “We had to play a little bit reckless to see if it worked. We don’t swing the bats well so we try to do things that are unorthodox like stealing home plate. We had to take some chances.”
That strategy plus a two-run triple from No. 8 hitter Eric Hunter in the second inning got Tewksbury its big lead but the Lancers didn’t pack it in.
Sending 11 batters to the plate in the fourth, Lawrence rode RBI hits from Jesus Ventura and Jose Abreu, a bases-loaded walk from Elvis Peralta, a run-scoring wild pitch and a two-run single from Jose Cedano (two hits, two runs scored) to climb back within a run. And when Cedano reached on a sixth-inning error, stole second, moved to third on an infield out and scored on a wild pitch, the Lancers had drawn even.
But in the top of the seventh, Drouin went back to the well one more time after leadoff hitter Dom Rosado reached on an error and was sacrificed to second. With a 2 and 2 count on tourney MVP Cam Oliveira, Drouin called for one more steal attempt. Oliveira struck out but the throw to third skittered into left field and Rosado scampered in with the game-winning run.
“Their coach did a great job making the right moves,” said Neilon. “He’s won eight (MVC) championships, and there’s a reason for that.”
Despite the setback, the Lancers emerge well positioned for the upcoming tournament. Following starter Wilmer Gomez (two innings) and Sam Quiroz (3 1/3 innings) to the hill, Vargas only threw 18 pitches over the last 1 1/3 innings to close out the game.
“As much as we want to win our own tourney, we’re looking at the state tourney and I think we saved our pitching staff the way we wanted to,” Neilon concluded. “We didn’t throw Vargas too much and now he’ll be ready to go (on Thursday, the expected start of the postseason).”
agateHed:Tewksbury 8, Lawrence 7
agateText:Lawrence Invitational Tourney final
agateText:Tewksbury (8): Dom Rosado ss 4-2-1, Mike Casey cf 3-0-0, Cam Oliveira p/lf 4-1-1, Alex Hamilton dh 4-1-0, Zack DiRocco 1b 3-1-1, Joe Csookmay 3b 3-1-1, Nick Bain c 2-2-2, Dennis Ong pr 0-0-0, Eric Hunter rf 3-0-2, John Cave lf/p 3-0-0, Tim Sughrue p 0-0-0, Alex DiRocco 2b 0-0-0. Totals 29-8-8
agateText:Lawrence (7): Elvis Peralta ss 3-1-0, Jose Cedano c 3-2-2, Jose Abreu cf 4-0-1, Elvis Batista 1b 1-1-0, Javier Morales dh 4-0-2, Jose Martinez rf 1-0-0, Jesus Ventura rf 3-1-1, Brahiam Ortega 2b 3-0-0, Edison Urena 3b 2-1-1, Antonio Rodriguez lf 3-1-0, Wilmer Gomez p 0-0-0, Sam Quiroz p 0-0-0, Joan Vargas p 0-0-0. Totals 27-7-7
agateText:RBI: T — Hunter 2, Csookmay; L — Cedano 2, Peralta, Abreu, Ventura
agateText:WP: Sughrue; LP: Vargas
agateText:Tewksbury (7-13): 0 4 1 2 0 0 1 — 8
agateText:Lawrence (15-7): 0 0 0 6 0 1 0 — 7