Beverly/Lowell one win away from state tourney

Beverly/Lowell Post 389/750 and Cambridge Post 84 each went into Friday’s matchup against one another red hot, Beverly/Lowell having won 16 of its last 17 and Cambridge having won its last seven.

With a spot in the district championship on the line, something, or someone, had to give.

It wasn’t Beverly/Lowell.

Post 389/750 took advantage of four Cambridge errors in the second inning to score six runs in the frame while starting pitcher Kyler Dennis pitched a complete game shutout as B/L claimed an 8-0 victory at Don Schaly Stadium.

Beverly/Lowell clinched a berth in Saturday’s district title game against Cambridge at 1 p.m. Cambridge, a 12-2 mercy winner over St. Clairsville in an elimination game, will have to defeat B/L twice to advance to state.

For the second consecutive game, Beverly/Lowell staked itself to a sizable lead and carried that momentum through the rest of the game.

“Our bugaboo all year long has been, we don’t play as well chasing a team,” said Post 389/750 head coach Todd Engle. “But we play real well when the other team is chasing us because we defend relatively well. The key for us is to get out and make them chase us.”

Engle’s club was given several extra outs in the bottom of the second and took full advantage. Gunnar Smith grounded to the shortstop but reached on an error to start the inning. Cambridge starter Matt Tom got the next two batters to fly out which should have ended the inning, but Tom had to try to dig down and get one more batter.

Unfortunately for Cambridge, he wouldn’t be able to do that until eight batters later after six runs had already crossed the plate.

Joel Estes worked a walk to put runners at first and second with two outs. Bryce Gandee then grounded to short for a hit, but the shortstop’s throw got by the first baseman and allowed Smith to score the game’s first run. With runners now at the corners and Jake Ullman at the plate, Beverly/Lowell executed a double-steal to plate Estes. Gandee stole second on the play and advanced to third on an errant throw home. He would then score on Ullman’s single to left, and just like that the score was 3-0.

B/L wasn’t done yet, either.

Next batter Ethan Estes grounded to third but the roller was bobbled, putting runners at first and second. Lance Schafer then cranked a double to left field to bring in Ullman. After Ethan Estes scored on a wild pitch, Derek Layton singled up the middle to drive in Schafer and give Post 389/750 a six-run cushion.

That was way more support than Dennis needed on the mound, as the right-hander scattered seven hits in nine scoreless innings of work. Dennis threw 95 pitches, 64 for strikes. He struck out just one batter but also walked just one.

“I throw a lot of fastballs. I’m pretty accurate. I’m young so I don’t really overpower anyone. I just make my team work, let them hit the ball and my defense plays well for me,” Dennis said.

Unlike Cambridge, Beverly/Lowell’s defense played a clean game in the field behind its pitcher, most notably Ullman at shortstop, who made one slick play after another.

“Jake’s played extremely well,” Engle said. “He’s had two nice games here. If he hits the ball well, he usually fields it well. He’s been that way all year this year in the field.”

For Dennis, the only troublesome inning came in the first. With two outs, he walked Tom and gave up a single to Luke Larson, but got Parker Evans to ground out to short to end the threat.

In no other inning did Dennis allow more than one base-runner, and only three base-runners advanced past first base throughout the entire game.

“He wanted to go back out in the ninth,” Engle said. “I was going to make the change there, but he’s just so competitive. He did a hell of a good job.”

It was the second day in a row that Beverly/Lowell got a big lift from its starter, as Ben Barnas allowed just two runs in seven and two-thirds innings Thursday against St. Clairsville.

Engle said he’ll likely hand the ball to Phillip Hoffman Saturday in the championship game, but has “four kids who threw a lot of innings this season left if we have to play two games.”

For Beverly/Lowell, Schafer led the way at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a double, a run scored and a run driven in. Ryan Lovette went 3-for-4 for Cambridge while Evans went 2-for-4 with a double.