HAVERHILL – Coming to the finish line of a tough-luck season on the diamond, Haverhill High’s penultimate game Thursday afternoon proved to be a microcosm of its season.
Timely hitting once again proved elusive as Haverhill dropped a 2-1 decision to Dracut in the opener of their Hillie Classic. It was the fifth loss in six one-run outings in it’s 2-17 campaign. Haverhill will play Marblehead in the Karelis Division consolation at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Dracut will face Salem, a 6-3 winner Thursday, in the 3 p.m. title game.
“What you saw on the field today was six sophomores playing,” Haverhill coach Paul Sartori said. “And all six of those sophomores have more than 50 at bats on the year. It’s a learning process, but we’re hoping it will benefit them next year. It’s been a tough season so far.”
The Haverhill coaching staff, however, knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“We lost our two (all-star) pitchers from last year, and we haven’t been able to make it up since then.” Sartori said. “I think John Trask, who is our pitching coach, has done a great job in getting an outfielder to come in to pitch or a second baseman to come in to pitch.”
Thursday, it was Jack Kelleher, a first baseman last year who was making his 11th mound appearance of the season. The junior hurler was up to the challenge against Dracut (5-14), allowing only three hits and striking out two before being relieved after issuing his fourth walk to lead off the sixth.
“I didn’t throw a single inning last year,” Kelleher said after his fourth start of the year. “Then in the first scrimmages I was throwing a lot and sort of floated the idea of me being a reliever. Then I got my stamina up a little more.
“Getting into a routine helps. I was used to getting into the bullpen and then just going. Now I have a set time in the bullpen and I can get stretched out. I like the structure of (starting).”
The Middies got to the Hillie starter in the third when a couple sacrifices aided a run-scoring single from Sal D’Amico and a two-out RBI double by Andrew Chenevert to grab a two-run lead.
Haverhill responded in the bottom of the frame when sophomore Tucker Grant rapped a two-out single and moved to second on a Ryan Bateman walk. Colin Snyder singled in Grant to cut the deficit to one.
The Hillies threatened in the fourth when Jack Libucha was stranded after a two-out triple. In the fifth, Grant was left at third on an inning-ending double play, and in the sixth Kelleher had a two-out single but courtesy runner Nicholas Terilli also was left hanging at third.
Dracut’s D’Amico lasted on the mound until one out in the sixth when he was chased by the second of Grant’s singles – the fifth hit the junior hurler surrendered.
“That was his first start of the year,” Dracut coach Talbot said of D’Amico, who also had two of Dracut’s hits. “He’s been a reliever for us, but Sal wanted a start. He’s been pitching really well and he earned it. He had a great overall game, and I’m excited to have him back next year.”
The Hillies also will be looking forward to 2024 when hopefully a veteran group eager will erase the hard times of 2023.
“I think next year is going to be a lot of fun,” Kelleher said. “This year has been kind of a mental challenge. Next year, I think is our window.”
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