By Steve Rogers
WESTPORT – One out away from a victory the Westport High School baseball team suddenly forgot how to field the ball and visiting Southeastern Regional took advantage of the opportunities to score six unearned runs in the top of the seventh inning and go on to a 9-7 win Thursday in Westport.
“That was tough,” said Westport’s Jake Friar. “It’s just a matter of staying focused and today we didn’t do that. Our pitcher was working his butt off out there and we just didn’t make a couple plays down the stretch.”
The Hawks, trailing 6-3, had two outs and a runner on first when Christian Lewis tripled home a run and Vernon Solomon followed with an infield single to plate Lewis and make the score 6-5 Westport. Westport pitcher Jake Ferland, on in relief of starter Friar, walked Scott Miller before Jeremy O’Handley hit a seemingly routine soft infield popup behind pitcher’s mound.
Trouble was no Westport player could to get to the ball before it fell to the turf and loaded the bases. Tom Merrick then hit a routine grounder to shortstop. But the throw to second for the force out was on the outfield side of the bag and the second baseman reached for the ball but had it tip off his glove and roll away. Two runs scored to give Southeastern a 7-6 edge. The next hitter then rolled a grounder to second but the ball was booted and two more runs scored.
“(Ferland) pitched a heck of a game,” said Westport coach Glenn Lincoln. “He got ground ball, after ground ball, after ground ball and we didn’t make the plays. That was the problem.”
The scene looked pretty good to Southeastern coach Don Miller. Friar, after struggling through a rough first inning, struck out 10 straight hitters and 11 of 12 before being lifted after four innings.
“It’s high school baseball,” Miller said. “The key is to get the ball in play which we hadn’t been doing. We had that stretch of 10 strikeouts in a row. We’ve been preaching putting the ball in play because when we start hitting the ball we get confidence. These kids didn’t quit.”
Southeastern roughed up Friar in the top of the first inning when the first four hitters produced three singles and a double to plate three runs before Friar stopped the bleeding by fanning two of the last three batters.
“Southeastern hit the ball really well that inning,” Friar said. “That’s probably the best I’ve been hit so far this year. They were sitting back on my curveball and attacking my fastball. They did a good job of it.”
Friar hit a two-out solo homer to left-center field in the bottom of the inning to get one run back. Then he went out and struck out nine consecutive hitters over the next three innings before he reached his pitch count and moved to third base.
“I made some adjustments and (catcher Jake) Girard really helped me out. I was able to adjust,” Friar said. “I think it was a matter of spots. I was missing over the plate bad, missing up bad in the first inning.
“In the second, third and fourth innings I was really keeping the ball down. I was happy I was able to find it because my arm was bothering me a little bit in my last start so I was glad I was able to bounce back.”
The Wildcats took the lead for the first time in the third inning. Matt Tidwell singled and stole second base and scored on Chris Silvia’s roller to the right side when no one covered first base. Silvia stole second and third before Friar walked and then stole second. With two outs Chad Willard dropped a two-run single to right center to give the Wildcats the 4-3 lead.
Westport pushed the lead to two runs in the fourth when Tidwell beat the shortstop’s throw to first for a two-out, infield hit. He promptly stole second and third base and rode home on Brendan Hall’s single to left.
Matt Souza singled through the shortstop hole and raced home on Ferland’s double down the left field line in the sixth inning to give the Wildcats a presumably safe 6-3 lead heading into the final inning. But that’s when disaster struck the home team.
“We had the bats going the whole game, fielding going the whole game pretty much for the most part, then we kind of collapsed,” Friar said. “If we’re going to make a run in the playoffs we’ve got to be able to stay focused to get a third out.”
Westport got a run back in the bottom of the seventh when Silvia reached on an error, went to second on Friar’s line single off the pitcher, and to third on Glen Enos’s fly out to deep center. Silvia scored on Willard’s fielder’s choice grounder to short.
“We hit the ball hard today most of the time” Lincoln said. “We moved guys around. Even our outs were hard hit. But the main thing is the game is not four innings it’s seven innings. You’ve got to play them all.”
Westport dipped to 6-3 in the Mayflower League and to 7-7 overall. The Wildcats must win three more games to qualify for the state tournament.