By Chuck Frye
---- — LOWELL — It was a goal too big to ignore.
“For the seniors coming into this season, we were saying that we wanted to go out the way we came in, as North sectional champions,” said Whittier ace Andrew Wells.
So the Wildcats weren’t going to let little things like unsettled play or a two-run deficit to St. Mary’s keep them from their destiny. When Wells found his groove on the LeLacheur Park hill, the comeback commenced. And when Nate Frongillo ripped a line single to right field in the bottom of the seventh inning, bringing Connor Manning streaking home, Whittier accomplished its major achievement via a walk-off 4-3 victory.
Next up will be a berth in the state semifinals against South champ Middleboro,to be played at LeLacheur Tuesday at 4 p.m.
“To beat St. Mary’s, you have to have a pretty excellent day,” Boland said. “Wellsie never thought we were underdogs against them but I did, so I couldn’t be more proud of my guys.”
Ironically, neither team got off to a particularly great start save for Spartan starter Brendan DeLeire (one earned run, four hits, 10 strikeouts), who fanned the first five Wildcat batters he faced.
A hit batter, two physical errors, an infield popup from Chris Butler that fell between two ‘Cat players for a single and a Victor Molle outfield fly that was lost in the lights for a double gave St. Mary’s a 2-0 lead after three innings before Whittier tightened up and battled back.
Wells (two earned runs, five hits, five strikeouts, no walks, one hit batter) did his part despite yielding a sixth-inning run on Scott Betts’ long triple to right and Bryan Nerich’s RBI single. Over the final four innings, Wells retired 12 of the final 15 batters he faced.
“I felt good, even with just three days rest,” explained Wells. “I know we have a young group and they might have had some jitters. It’s a big game played on a big stage, but you’ve got to keep battling. If you stay strong, they’ll stay strong with you.”
A passed ball plated Wells (double) with Whittier’s first run in the fourth while two errors and Anthony Licciardello’s triple to the warning track in right gave the ‘Cats a 3-2 lead in the fifth.
Then with the game knotted up in the final frame, a small glimmer of hope was all Whittier needed.
Ninth hitter Manning’s hustle set the stage, pressuring St. Mary’s infield into a poor throw to end up at second base leading off.
“Connor has a lot of speed and he ended up on base three times for us,” said Boland as Manning also walked and singled.
Then Frongillo — after an inauspicious start with a strikeout and ground out before walking in the fifth — found his spot to shine.
“I’m not going to lie, my heart was racing when I was going up there,” Frongillo said. “But Wells worked hard for us all night and he deserved the win so I put a good swing on it.”
Noticing that DeLeire was working him outside most of the night, the senior took his first offering, a fast ball on the outer edge, and launched it into right field. When Manning slid across the plate ahead of the throw, the celebration was on.
“There’s not a lot of teams that get to win this twice,” said Frongillo said as his freshman class also took home the North crown. “We wanted to win the CAC title, the Voke title and the North and we’ve done that. Now we want to see where we can go from here.
“We want the State title,” Frongillo concluded. “There’s no stopping us. We’re going all the way.”
agateHed:Whittier 4, St. Mary’s 3
agateText:Division 3 North Final
agateText:at LeLacheur Park, Lowell
agateText:St. Mary’s (3): Christopher Butler 2b 4-1-2, Justin O’Blenes cf 4-0-0, Victor Molle ss 3-0-1, Dan Donovan c 2-1-0, Scott Betts 1b 3-1-1, Brendan DeLeire p 2-0-0, Bryan Nerich lf 3-0-1, John Gaeta pr 0-0-0, Clay Yianacopolus dh 2-0-0, Vinny Capano ph 1-0-0, Ryan Madden rf 3-0-0, Alec Costanza 3b 0-0-0. Totals 27-3-5
agateText:Whittier (score): Nate Frongillo cf 3-0-1, Alex LoGiudice rf 3-0-0, Anthony Licciardello c 3-1-1, Andrew Wells p 3-1-1, Jaylin Deveau ss 3-0-0, Ralph Francesconi dh 3-0-0, Jorge Martinez 1b 2-0-0, Josh Barton pr 0-0-0, Devan Doucette lf 2-0-0, Connor Manning 2b 2-2-1, Stefano Zarro 3b 0-0-0. Totals 24-4-4
agateText:RBI: SM — Nerich 2, Molle; W — Licciardello
agateText:WP: Wells; LP: DeLeire
agateText:Whittier (18-6): 0 0 0 1 2 0 1 — 4
agateText:St. Mary’s (17-7): 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 — 3