NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. - North Attleboro junior pitcher Justin Gallagher struck out eight in just his second varsity start and Jake Lang hit a two-run home run as North Attleboro handed Oliver Ames its first loss, 5-1, at Community Field on Saturday afternoon.
Gallagher set the tone early, striking out the side - all swinging - in the top of the first inning and the Rocketeers didn't take long to turn that into offense, scoring their first run in the bottom of the first.
"He commanded, he was ahead of all of the hitters," North Attleboro head coach Paul Tobin said of Gallagher. "He showed tremendous poise, he had an awesome game."
Shortstop Dylan Grzenda singled into left and stole second base with one out in the bottom half of the first inning. He took off for third as Dave Manning walked and then first baseman Chris Bredberg's pop up to left was deep enough to score Grzenda on a sacrifice fly. Ryan Gagne was hit by a pitch and Matt Cote walked to load the bases for North Attleboro, but OA starter Alex Geba was able to induce a ground ball to third to escape the jam.
Gallagher rolled through the second and third innings. He allowed just one base runner to reach on a walk and threw just 22 pitches in the two innings combined.
The Rocketeers' Matt D'Attilio led off the bottom of the second with a single and was pushed to second on a sac bunt from Mark Ventola. Lang reached on an error, which also allowed D'Attilio to get to third with one out. But Geba produced back to back outs, forcing a pop up with second and then getting a swinging strikeout.
It wasn't until the bottom of the fourth when the scoreline changed. With two outs, Ventola reached on an infield error and beat the throw at second for a stolen base. Lang then took a 1-2 count and launched the ball into the grandstands in left field for a two-run shot to make it 3-0.
"He's our lead off hitter, he's been leading us the whole way," Tobin said of Lang. "Home runs we'll take as a bonus but he's tremendous, he's an on-base machine. He's just a dirt dog player, we love the style he plays."
Oliver Ames responded in the top of the fifth, but didn't get all that they had hoped for. Joe Walsh drew a one-out walk and pinch runner Larry Kelley advanced to second when Nick Charleston took first on a five pitch walk. John McMillan singled into the outfield, loading the bases for the Tigers with one out. Gallagher responded with his sixth strikeout to get to two outs.
OA leadoff man Mike Ferrara hit a hard shot to third but North's throw forced Bredberg off the base, allowing Ferrara to reach safely and Kelley to come home to close the deficit to 3-1. Gallagher didn't fluster though, getting a three pitch strike out.
"It was very encouraging, absolutely," Tobin said of Gallagher getting out of the jam. "I'm very pleased for him because it's a big step up for him. He's going to be a big help for us if he can pitch that way."
The Rocketeers pushed the lead back to three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Bredberg drew a one-out walk and Ryan Gildea came in to run for him. Gildea took second base on a wild pitch and scored when Cote's hit dropped into right field to make it 4-1 in favor of North.
Gallagher got through four batters in just 11 pitches in the top of the sixth and North Attleboro picked up their final run in the bottom half of the inning. D'Attilio singled and stole second base. He reached third when Grzenda grounded into a fielder's choice and eventually came home on a wild pitch.
"He was good," OA head coach Leo Duggan said of Gallagher. "He struck out eight and he did a good job. We were just a step behind but give those guys credit, they were much better than us today. It was a learning experience, we'll be back."
Oliver Ames falls to 6-1 on the season while North Attleboro improves to 5-0 and now stands as the lone unbeaten team in the league.
"They're a very good team and they're very well coached," Tobin said of OA. "Anytime you can battle a team like that and get the win, we're very happy with it."
The Rocketeers will look to keep their undefeated record intact when they host Franklin on Monday at noon. OA will try to bounce back when they host King Philip in a non-league contest.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.
All photos by Josh Perry. Please give credit to Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com