North Middlesex Ripken teams headed to New England regional
For the first time in North Middlesex Regional Youth Baseball League history, two of its teams have won Western Mass. Championship titles and have now qualified for this weekend’s Cal Ripken New England Regional tournament to be held in Raynham and Freetown.
About 10 years ago, North Middlesex left Little League for the Cal Ripken League. The 8U team is only in its second year of existence (not counting last year’s canceled season) and won the same title in 2019, and will be making its second appearance with Saturday’s game against host Freetown (5:45 p.m.).
The 12U team will be making its first appearance in the NE Regionals, after a dramatic walk-off win in the Western Mass. final that saw Matthew Kazanjian steal home with two outs and two strikes for the winning run.
In the NE Regionals, teams are guaranteed three games each, before it dwindles down to the final four.
The 12s will open the tournament against the host Raynham team on Saturday with the first pitch scheduled 15 minutes before the 8s start at 5:30. The 12s will play the N.H. state champion on Sunday (3 p.m.) and the Conn. state champion on Monday (12 p.m.), and if they qualify for the final four, those games will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The 8s will play the Connecticut state champion on Sunday for their second game and then, after a day off, will face Chelmsford on Tuesday. Should they advance to the final four, those games will be Wednesday and Thursday.
The 12s enter the tournament with a 6-0 record, having defeated Ayer/Shirley (17-0), Gassett/Hubbardston (11-2), Fitchburg (12-2), Nashoba Regional (7-4), Ashwest (9-6) and Nipmuc Regional (3-2).
In the win over Nipmuc, the game was tied, 2-2, going to the top of the sixth, when Matty Werner sent a line drive single to center field to score Colin Taylor with the winning run. In the home half, Nipmuc had a chance to tie the game back up, but center fielder Noah Lake’s perfect throw gunned down the runner at the plate, allowing his team to celebrate with the title.
“We’re going to take it as it comes, but these kids are fast, strong, they love the game and are ready to go,” said manager Matt Werner. “We’re flush in pitching and catching and we have a strong hitting team, so we have an all-around great baseball team.”
The 8s won their double-elimination six-team tournament with a walk-off 6-5 win over Nashoba Regional before facing Uxbridge three straight times, winning 10-6, losing 13-11 and then winning 8-7 on that steal of home.
“It was quite the winning play by (Kazanjian), who just barely turned eight-years-old,” said manager Jon Healy. “He left the second after the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher. Kaz is probably the fastest eight-year-old I have seen in my life. It was awesome.”
Tewksbury lost in the finals of the Eastern Mass. tournament to Swansea/Somerset, 4-2, but still qualified for the NE regional.
Tewksbury will face that same team in the opener on Saturday at 3 p.m. and follow that up with games against the Rhode Island champion on Sunday (6 p.m.) and the Connecticut champion on Monday at 2:30 p.m.