By Brian Hines, HockomockSports.com Contributor
MANSFIELD, Mass. – With runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Mansfield’s Justin Pena had the chance to play hero — and that’s exactly what he did.
Pena dropped a bloop single over the first base bag to drive in Dan Saraceno to give Mansfield a 1-0 walk-off victory over Oliver Ames.
“We kind of had tabbed [Pena] coming into the season as a pitcher only, and he’s taken on a whole new life as a designated hitter,” said Mansfield head coach Joe Breen. “He’s just been unbelievable the last few weeks, so I’m just really happy for him. He’s worked his butt off the last few years and he deserved that one.”
The eighth inning rally by Mansfield didn’t come easy, as Oliver Ames starter Michael Mulrean quieted the Hornets’ bats the majority of the afternoon. Mulrean pitched 7.2 innings, allowing just one run and seven strikeouts.
“I’m not sure we ever did figure [Mulrean] out,” Breen said. “He pitched a heck of a game, you got to tip your cap to a kid who goes out there and busts his butt like he did.”
But in the eighth, a strong at-bat by Saraceno and a single by Kevin Dow provided the spark the Hornets needed. A sacrifice fly was able to advance Saraceno to third, where he then scored on Pena’s walk-off single.
“We just got one more, one hit, that’s all we needed there in the end there,” said Breen. “Dan Saraceno obviously started up the rallying, getting that leadoff guy on with a great two-strike at-bat and then just keeping the inning alive. Getting him to third from Tyler’s sac fly and then Justin Pena.”
As brilliant as Mulrean was for Oliver Ames, Tyler Dalton was just as good on the hill for Mansfield. The senior right-hander pitched an eight-inning complete game shutout, piling up 11 strikeouts throughout.
“[Dalton’s] kind of hit his groove here,” said Breen. “The last few games he’s basically just taking the ball and refused to give it back to me until the game is over and we win.”
Dalton was able to retire 24 of the 27 batters he faced over his eight innings of work. Oliver Ames’ only real threat came in the fourth when leadoff batter Michael Friel reached first and proceeded to advance all the way to third.
The inning ended without Frier scoring, and it was the only player the Tigers’ saw reach third base all game.
With the win, Mansfield stays in control of the race for the Kelley-Rex division championship. The Hornets are currently tied with Franklin for league wins but have two league games left compared to just one for the Panthers.
“Honestly at this point just every win, doesn’t matter who you play, how you get the win, there all huge at this point,” said Breen. “We just got to keep battling and keep being led by our seniors, and hopefully we can pull a few more out.”
Mansfield baseball (11-3 Hockomock, 15-3 overall) returns to action on Wednesday, as they travel to take on Bridgewater-Raynham. Oliver Ames (9-5 Hockomock, 11-6 overall) retakes the field Tuesday at home against King Philip.