Wakefield’s run comes to an end against Woburn in semifinals, 6-3

Jun 13, 2019 by

Published in the June 13, 2019 edition.

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

LYNN — Before we go any further let’s get this out of the way: It was a season Wakefield fans won’t soon forget.

A Middlesex League Freedom Division championship, a second straight trip to the playoffs, the program’s first tournament win since 2003 and a visit to historic Fraser Field for a semifinal against an experienced, deep and talented team.

The Warriors will be dissatisfied with their 6-3 loss to Woburn to end the season yesterday; they were there to win.

But hopefully they took a second to look around and soak it in. Not many teams make it this far.

Not many teams refuse to quit while facing a 6-1 deficit either.

Liberty Division MVP Ryan Qualey (6.2 IP, 4 H, 9 K’s, 2 BB, 1 ER) earned the traditional win/save combo. The Warriors had their chances against the Tanners’ ace and scratched around a run in the 4th, but Qualey often buckled down and got out of jams with a nasty mix of high-velocity fastballs and sharp curveballs.

With a five-run lead, Woburn pulled their starter in the 7th, keeping an eye towards the next round.

Wakefield clearly took it personally.

Junior Chris Coombs hit a slicing ball to right that the outfielder couldn’t handle. Sophomore pinch hitter Mike Iannuzzi drew a walk, junior Anthony DeVito hit a base hit and senior captain Gabe Sanders later picked up a two-RBI knock to right with one out and the bases loaded. Sophomore Cal Tryder walked to load the bags again and Woburn made the change back to Qualey to close.

Yes, you can do that in high school baseball.

The big righty struck out Warrior senior captains Tommy Mottl and Erich Hickey to end the game.

If Wakefield had to do it all over again, they’d put the exact same guys up at the dish, 10 times out of 10. It just wasn’t their day.

“We didn’t give up,” said head coach Kevin Canty. “I think the stage was a little big, we don’t have guys who have played in that, part of that is not being in the tournament or winning a game in 16 years, but I think we learned a lot about our guys.”

“It sucks for our three seniors; they led us the whole way. There was nobody we’d want up in the last inning than Gabe, ‘Hick’ and Tommy. They helped us turn the corner as a program.”

Wakefield gave the ball to sophomore Danny Hurley to start. He pitched a solid game, keeping a deep Tanner lineup off the board for three innings. Hurley ended up pitching 3.1 innings, scattering four hits and two runs with a walk and a strikeout.

The most exciting play of the day actually occurred in the bottom of 3rd. Woburn was threatening to take the lead with a runner at second and two outs. A lined base hit to left looked like an all but certain 1-0 lead. Warrior freshman Zack Kent charged the ball and fired a missile all the way home to catcher Anthony DeVito, who corralled the high throw and brought the tag down just in time to get the Wakefield dugout and fans along the third base line going.

The first player off the bench to congratulate DeVito and later celebrate with Kent was Tryder, who in the next half inning roped a triple to right with one out. Mottl picked up the RBI on a groundout and Wakefield had the lead.

The Tanners responded in the bottom of the 4th with a long, one out rally. A double, overthrow on a pickoff attempt and walk put runners at the corners with one out and sent Canty out to make a change to Coombs on the mound. The next batter hit a two-RBI double and after an error at second in Coombs’ typically well-fielded position, Canty made the switch to Sanders with the bases loaded and one out. A sacrifice fly made it 3-1 but Sanders limited the damage on a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

The Warriors had their chance in the 5th. Back-to-back singles from Hurley and Coombs brought up one of Wakefield’s best bunters in junior Scott Elwell who put one down. Qualey made a great play to get the lead runner at third, but an overthrow to first put Coombs on third and Elwell on second.

“Ok,” said Canty to his dugout from the third base line with a shrug and a smile. Mission accomplished.

The next two at-bats perhaps best pictured the will to win of Woburn’s ace on this day.

He struck out DeVito and got Kent to fly out to end the threat.

Woburn picked up three more runs in the 5th via a balk, suicide squeeze and RBI base hit.

Wakefield ended up using five pitchers in this one: a senior, a junior, two sophomores and a freshman.

It was a microcosm of the season. With a nod to the tone-setting seniors who the Warriors had in the heart of the order and counted on for both top production and leadership, Wakefield also heavily relied on underclassmen to get the job done, especially on the mound. The Warriors’ ace, sophomore Chris Alden was unavailable to pitch against Woburn because he threw 10.2 innings and picked up both wins in their first two games of the postseason.

Seeing his team on this stage was surprising to Canty, not because he didn’t believe they could do it, but because it’s extremely rare to see such a young team in the sectional semifinals.

“If you told me at the beginning of the year that we’d be in the north semifinals I’d say you’re lying,” said Canty. “The amount of pitching we relied on with young guys, they got better quicker than I thought they would. I thought we would have peaked more towards the end of the year, but after that tough week (May 6-May 10) we had when we lost to them (Woburn), Arlington and Belmont, we started to turn the corner at that point which was really impressive.”

In just two seasons, Canty, with a nod to assistants who have been in the program like Jason Zerfas, Tom Leahy and Kevin Murray, has built a program with depth.

Last year, the Warriors counted on captains Brendan Coughlin and Jake Nardone in the heart of the order. This year, Sanders, Mottl and Hickey. The Warriors will certainly miss them, but have the system now where it’s next man up: Coombs, DeVito, Elwell. Different players, same leadership.

Now, Wakefield has the experience to build on.

“Just understanding the pressure and understanding what it’s like in a game like this with all the people around a big stadium, it’s a little different than what we’re used to,” said Canty when asked what he hopes the returning players can take from this.

“Overall, I can’t be more proud of our guys.”

A league trophy, a broken 16-year-old curse and a semifinal run.

Who in Wakefield isn’t proud of them?

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