FRANKLIN, Mass. – When the showdown between rivals Mansfield and Franklin was moved from Tuesday to Thursday because of rain, it meant to two things: the winner of the game would now clinch at least a share of the Kelley-Rex title and Franklin’s starting pitcher would be different.
Franklin ace Jake Noviello toed the rubber on Wednesday against Attleboro, meaning that the Panthers would go with their number two starter.
But luckily for the Panthers, their number two is also an ace.
Junior Jason Ulrickson (6-0) scattered five hits in 5.2 innings of work to earn the win and also delivered at the plate, going 2-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored, leading the Panthers to a 6-3 win over the Hornets under the lights on the campus of Franklin High School.
“I was pumped,” Ulrickson said when he realized he would be starting the game after the postponement. “I’m always looking for the opportunity to pitch in the big games. At the beginning, it was a little rocky but once I settled in I was feeling good.”
The win clinches at least a share of the Kelley-Rex title for Franklin, the program’s first league title since 2012.
“We have all the respect in the world for Mansfield, coach Breen and that team,” said Franklin head coach Zach Brown, who earned his first title in his fourth year at the helm. “We knew it would be a dog fight. They made it really tough on us.
“The thing we talk about all the time is that you have to earn it, you have to get 21 outs. They don’t come easy so I’m proud of our guys that when they had opportunities, they were able to make them.”
Franklin didn’t waste too much time to get its offense in gear, plating a pair of runs in the bottom of the first. Jake Lyons reached on an error to lead off, Ryan Hodgkins singled to move Lyons to third and Ulrickson lined singled up the right side to bring the first run in.
After a fielder’s choice, Tyler Gomes grounded a single through the hole to bring Ulrickson home.
“Getting on top early is huge, that gives the team a lot of energy,” Ulrickson said. “Once we get going, we can really start to hit.”
Mansfield was quick to respond, cutting the deficit in half in the next half inning. Cullin Anastasia singled and moved to second on a fielder’s choice. Kevin Dow took ball four, which turned into a passed ball, allowing Anastasia to take third. Anthony DeGirolamo hit a grounder that looked to be the third out, but the ball was dropped at first and Anastasia scored.
The Hornets then took the lead in the fourth inning, tacking on two more unearned runs against Ulrickson. Kyle Moran got things started with a two-out single and Dow followed up with another single to put runners on the corners — Connor Driscoll taking third as a pinch runner. DeGirolamo drove a shot to right field that required a tough play from the fielder and the ball fell out of the glove, allowing two runs to cross on the error.
“We just didn’t make the pitch when we needed to, we didn’t make the play when we needed to,” said Mansfield head coach Joe Breen. The Hornets had three errors. “It was somewhat of an uncharacteristic game for us. Unfortunately when you play a team like Franklin, you don’t get to make that many mistakes and come out on top.
“Our guys fight, we battle…we’ve been down in other games and came back with different results. Our guys won’t stop fighting I know that. But when you play a team as good as Franklin, a team coached as well as they are, you can’t make the mistakes we made.”
Franklin came back to regain the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Senior Josh Macchi led off with a single and Gomes launched a double to put runners on second and third. Sophomore Alex Haba delivered the big hit of the game, doubling to left center to bring in two runs to give Franklin a 4-3 lead.
“Alex has been really steady for us offensively all year,” Brown said. “Even though he’s a sophomore, he certainly has a veteran’s soul. That at-bat there really spoke to his presence in the batter’s box, his poise in the game.”
The Panthers’ offense kept rolling an inning later, plating two more insurance runs in the sixth. Lyons notched his second hit of the game to start the inning and took third on a perfectly hit and run play with Hodgkins knocking a single into right. Ulrickson padded the lead with a two-run double into right center to put Franklin up 6-3.
“I don’t think Jason had his best stuff today on the mound but he’s always a great competitor,” Brown said. “Whether it was on the hill or in the batters box when we needed him, he was big for us so I was proud of him.”
Franklin junior Bryan Woelfel recorded the save, pitching 1.1 scoreless innings.
Franklin baseball improves to 12-3 overall in league play. The Panthers can win the title outright with either a win over King Philip on Monday or an Oliver Ames win over Mansfield on Tuesday.
“We have a ton of respect of all the teams in our league,” Brown said. “I really think that the Hockomock, top to bottom, every year is really tough and you have to grind it out. It’s really a testament to our guys and how consistent they’ve been this season.”
“It feels great, but we’re not done yet,” Ulrickson beamed.
Franklin baseball (13-4) is back in action on Friday with a trip to Framingham. Mansfield (13-5 overall, 11-4 Hockomock) hosts Oliver Ames on Tuesday.