LOWELL -- Everything was in place for Lawrence High to get an eventual berth into the Div. 1 North finals on Saturday.
The Lancers had momentum after consecutive dominating wins over Central Catholic and Lexington and they had their ace, Miguel Matos, who allowed six runs the entire season.
But then there was Arvin Nunez, and his 80 mile an hour fastball for Andover High.
A junior varsity pitcher a year ago, Nunez went pitch-for-pitch with Matos for the distance, including one extra inning, and the Golden Warriors stunned the Lancers, 3-1, and will be in the sectional title game Saturday back at Alumni Field at 6 p.m.
“I tried to throw strikes,” said Nunez, a Dominican who grew up in Andover and is headed to UMass Lowell in the fall to study chemical engineering.
“It was fun,” he added. “This is what you play for, for games like this.”
Even when the score was scoreless through four innings, it felt like Lawrence was chasing Andover. Lawrence didn’t get its first hit until the 5th inning, just after Andover went ahead 1-0 on JoshGruenberg’s RBI single to left field.
The Lancers finally tied it in the bottom of the sixth on a booming, high, 370-foot sacrifice fly to left center by Christian Verona, scoring Kebler Peralta.
The teams went quietly in the seventh inning before the floodgates opened for Andover in the first extra frame. It all started with one out on a grinding, 10-pitch walk by Matthew Potts, followed by a botched fielding play on a sacrifice bunt (error on throw).
A long fly ball to center gave Lawrence a breath of fresh air, with two outs, but a single by catcher Nolan Schirmer, who ended the sixth inning by throwing out a Lawrence base-runner at second base, went under the glove of the Lancers’ right fielder. Two runs scored.
Nunez got the ball back in the eighth.
“It was his game,” said Andover coach Dan Grams. “He was still going strong.”
Lawrence hit four balls hard, including a leadoff single by Peralta, but they were hit hard at Andover fielders.
Andover players all ran toward Nunez as if they’d won a championship. Honestly, it felt like one, at least for Nunez.
“That kid was tough,” said Lawrence High coach Kevin Fielding, of Nunez, who allowed only five hits and one earned run. “We couldn’t get that second run. We were close, but (Nunez) made the pitches.”
Grams said he couldn’t have predicted a game like this from Nunez last year. But after seeing him gain confidence throughout the spring, he wasn’t surprised by anything Nunez did yesterday or does in the near future.
“When you work hard and love the game like he does, anything is possible,” said Grams. “We met with him before the season started and told him we needed him to be one of our top three starters. But when Andrew Therialt got hurt, we needed more out of him. Well, as you saw, we got it.”
Andover 3, Lawrence 1, 8 innings
Div. 1 North Semifinals
Andover (3): Joshua Gruenberg rf 3-0-1, Patrick McConnell cf 3-0-0, Matthew Potts ss 3-1-1, Shane Lachance DH 2-1-0, Anthony Teberio 1b 4-0-1, Nolan Schirmer c 4-1-2, Alex Weinreb 2b 2-0-0, Aidan Ritter 3b 4-0-2, Alex Pisacreta lf 2-0-0, Henry Grebe lf 1-0-0, Tanner O’Sullivan lf 1-0-0, Totals 29-3-7
Lawrence (1): Kebler Peralta ss 4-1-2, Juan Medina 4-0-0, Henry Checo 4-0-1, Christian Verona 1-0-0, Luis Mejia 3-0-0, Luis Colon 3-0-2, Iconencia Cuevas 2-0-0, Pedro Mora 3-0-0, Denis Brito 2b 2-0-0, Totals 26-1-5
RBI: A — Gruenberg, Schirmer; L — Verona
WP: A — Arvin Nunez; LP: L — Miguel Matos
Andover (14-9): 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 — 3
Lawrence (14-9): 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 — 1
Peralta lost, but goes out winner
There are some baseball players who just stick out. Lawrence High senior Kebler Peralta is one of those players.
And it’s not just his minute size (5-foot-6), but his fire, strength, arm and, well, talent.
He played his last high school game yesterday, making a highlight film play at shortstop in the second inning and then had two potentially big hits in the sixth and eight innings. But it was all for naught.
“I’ve been around here a long time and he’s the best shortstop I’ve ever seen,” said Lancers coach Kevin Fielding. “He’s amazing out there. I’ve never used a nickname on a kid, but one day I saw him make a play like the one he made today and I called him ‘Wizard.’
“We’ve had a lot of great shortstops here,” said Fielding. “Recently, Harvey Blanco, Kebler’s brother Elvis (Peralta), Vic Mendez ... I’m serious here ... Kebler, in my opinion, is the best.”
Fielding didn’t get an argument from the other side.
“That Peralta kid is special,” said Andover High coach Dan Grams. “He’s amazing. He makes every play. He dives for everything. Maybe I saw someone better, but I don’t remember.”
Peralta is headed for Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Tex. in the fall. Like his brother, a recent draft pick of the Oakland A’s, he is expected to draw pro interest next June.