MANSFIELD, Mass. – Mansfield bounced back from an early deficit with three runs in the bottom of the fourth, cutting the Stoughton lead to just one. In the top of the fifth, Hornets starter Jack Neureuter gave up a lead-off single but then retired the next two hitters and induced a grounder to third that looked likely to end the inning.
The Hornets were that close to being back at the plate down by just one, but the throw to first was wild and the inning stayed alive. The Black Knights took advantage and then some.
Stoughton sent 15 batters to the plate in the fifth (including 12 after the second out) and scored 10 runs with two outs to break the game wide open and cruise to a 14-3 victory at defending Kelley-Rex champion Mansfield in the season opener for both teams.
“Ten runs with two outs…I’ve never seen it since I’ve been here,” said Stoughton coach Mike Armour. “I’ve always had a soft spot for two-out RBI, so I think for our guys to just keep the train moving and to plate 10…it’s just pretty special.”
The Black Knights took the lead in the top of the second. Jack Connelly led off and was hit by a pitch. Joe Piana followed with a single to left and Connelly made it to third on a Chris McNulty fielder’s choice. Pat Hagerty plated the opening run with a groundout to first.
In the third, Stoughton put together a two-out rally to extend the lead. Jake Gibb (4-5, RBI) started it with a single to left, followed by a single from Doug Seaman (2-4). Connelly chased a 2-0 pitch at his eyes but then Neureuter came over the plate and the junior first baseman drove it to right center for a two-RBI triple. Piana made it 4-0 with an infield single.
It was only a precursor for what was to come in the fifth.
“From a pitching standpoint, we didn’t throw enough strikes early in the count,” said Mansfield coach Joe Breen. “We fell behind and had to throw too many good hitters’ pitches and they took advantage of all of those opportunities.”
Mansfield had a chance to cut the lead in the third, but Stoughton starter Ryan Sullivan, who struck out five in five innings of work, got Mike Arnold swinging with two runners in scoring position.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Hornets did bounce back and get on the scoreboard. Tyrone Pascual walked to begin the inning followed by a Kevin Dow single and both runners moved up on a Sullivan wild pitch. After a strikeout Jake Tryder knocked in both runs with a single. With two outs, Matt Farragher, who reached on a fielder’s choice, was brought home by a bloop double down the rightfield line by Charlie DeMassi.
“We do have a young team,” said Breen, “but we do have guys who have been tested in other sports…they know when you’re down you’re not out and it’s certainly a credit to our seniors for keeping our guys in check.”
The Hornets nearly carried that momentum into the fifth, but the error with two outs and a man on first turned into a game-changer. Nick Quattrucci singled in a run and the leadoff hitter Justin Hutchinson brought in two with a single to right. Sullivan, the ninth hitter of the inning, helped his own cause and brought in two with a double to right center that chased reliever Tyler Dalton (who came in the inning before).
Gibb followed with an RBI single off new pitcher Jon Needle. Seaman singled, Connelly walked and Piana got an RBI when he walked with the bases loaded. Facing the third Hornets pitcher of the inning, David Simmons, McNulty then added his second hit of the inning with a double down the line in left that scored a pair of runs and made it 14-3.
“It’s nice to see the bats come out blazing,” said Armour. “Guys were having good at-bats. I’m just proud of the guys and the approach they had. Putting up 14 runs on a club as good as Mansfield is a hell of a way to start the season.”
Breen remarked, “You let a one-run lead snowball and then next thing you know you’re chasing way too many and you’ve got to approach the game in a very different way after that.”
After having to battle through his previous two innings, Sullivan came out firing for the bottom of the fifth and pitched a perfect frame, including a couple of comebackers that he fielded cleanly.
Armour said of his No. 1 starter, “Sully is just a gamer. He’s got a cutter in the arsenal now and that ball’s been moving to go along with the fastball and the curve. He’s going to be tough.”
Junior Luke Johnson pitched the final two innings for the Black Knights, allowing only a single to Zack Peterson. Armour said, “It’s never over until that final out…and I think Luke coming in and being called on out of the blue…he rose to the occasion.”
Breen was disappointed in the final result, but acknowledged that it was only game one of a long season and admitted that the weather at the start of the spring had an impact on the team’s preparation.
He explained, “It’s tough to mimic live-ball, game-speed outside of games. I think we didn’t handle that very defensively today, especially on the infield…we just let it get a little out of control.”
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.