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Division 3 baseball: Frontier edges Putnam in first round

Paul Franz
Frontier Regional pitcher Ben Ruddock delivers to Putnam in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament Thursday at Frontier Regional.

Paul Franz Frontier Regional pitcher Ben Ruddock delivers to Putnam in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament Thursday at Frontier Regional. Purchase photo reprints »

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Franklin County’s top baseball seed had to work hard to move forward Thursday afternoon, but Frontier Regional School dodged the upset bid to post a 4-2 victory over Putnam in the first round of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament at Valiton Field.

Frontier (15-6), the No. 3 seed, scored twice in the fourth inning to overturn an early 1-0 deficit, then twice more in the fifth to snap a 2-2 tie. Starting pitcher Ben Ruddock protected the lead from there, setting down eight of the last nine Putnam batters he faced with six strikeouts in that span.

The Red Hawks advanced to a home quarterfinal Monday at 4 p.m. against 11th-seeded Granby (15-6), a 1-0 upset winner over Turners Falls in other first-round action Thursday.

“Regardless of what seed they are, clearly (Putnam) is a tough team,” Frontier coach Chuck Holt said. “They ran the bases like madmen. They’re smart baserunners, and they took advantage of every opportunity we gave them.”

Putnam closed out at 12-9 after pulling the 14th seed.

The Beavers struck for a run in their first at-bat, starting when leadoff man Erick Vazquez was hit by a pitch, but Ruddock promptly picked him off first. Carlos Gonzalez singled to right and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, then Edgar Rodriguez dropped a single into right-center to score Gonzalez for a 1-0 lead. Rodriguez then stole second, but Ruddock struck out Matthew Torres to end the threat.

Ryan Hoar led off the Frontier second with a single to left, then stole second and Matt Byrne walked. Jared Allis moved the runners along with a sacrifice bunt, but Putnam’s Torres induced a pair of infield popups to set down the Red Hawks.

While Ruddock settled down to face one batter over the minimum from the second through the fourth innings, Frontier poked and prodded again in the third. Sean Doyle was hit by a pitch with two out, stole second and Rylan Baronas reached on a throwing error to put men at the corners, but Hoar grounded out to third.

Leading off the home fourth, Byrne roped a double just fair down the left-field line, then Allis reached on a grounder up the middle that was smothered by Beavers shortstop Gonzalez. Byrne moved to third and Eddie Tsai drew a walk to load the bases. After Matt Ackerman popped out, Billy Barrington bounced back to the box. Torres fielded, turned and threw low to second, and all hands were safe as Byrne crossed the plate with the tying run.

Niko Ames then grounded to shortstop and Gonzalez’s throw barely retired Barrington at second, but that was all Putnam could get as Allis scored to make it 2-1.

The Beavers needed little time to equalize, as Chris Estrada singled and Daniel Mendez walked to begin the top of the fifth. Both runners worked a double steal and Justin Robles reached on an error to load the bases. Vazquez then singled to right to plate Estrada, but pinch-runner Nelvis Garcia rounded the third-base bag too far and was caught trying to dive back to the bag for the first out.

Again, Putnam pulled off a double steal with Robles and Vazquez to put men at second and third, but that’s when Ruddock began his dominating stretch to close the game with a pair of strikeouts.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Hawks sent eight men to the plate and also took advantage of some slack defense to put together the decisive rally. Baronas led off with a single to left and was run for by Tim Hoar, then Ryan Hoar reached on an infield hit and Byrne walked to load the bases.

Allis then grounded to third and Putnam’s Fernando Mendez threw home to retire Tim Hoar, but catcher Rodriguez tried to complete the double play at first and threw wildly down the right-field line. Ryan Hoar came across with the lead run, while Byrne went to third and Allis to second.

With Tsai batting, Torres uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop, allowing Byrne to score the valuable fourth run for the Hawks. Tsai and Barrington would draw bases on balls to reload the bases before Torres induced a fielder’s choice grounder by Ames.

Ruddock did the rest for Frontier, setting down seven straight Beaver hitters before Robles reached on an infield single with two out in the seventh. Vazquez then fanned to end it, Ruddock’s 10th strikeout of the day and the fourth for the last five men he faced.

“The last couple of times he’s pitched, it’s been the same thing,” said Holt of Ruddock. “He really found a groove. It looked like he didn’t have the feel for his off-speed pitches today, but he spotted his fastball, he threw a good slider and curveball when he needed to, and it was another gutsy performance.”

Ryan Hoar had two of Frontier’s five hits, while Estrada had a pair of hits for Putnam, which totaled six against Ruddock.

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