Undefeated Wolverines end Bulldogs’ playoff hopes

Steve Bonica was part of a strong senior class that propelled the Bulldogs back into the postseason in 2015. (Mike Barucci photo)

Steve Bonica was part of a strong senior class that propelled the Bulldogs into the playoffs. (Mike Barucci photo)

The Canton High baseball team saw its second-round playoff hopes of beating undefeated Westwood (20-0) squashed in the first inning after an avalanche of walks as well as two hit batsmen and four hits propelled the Wolverines to a 16-1 lead and an eventual 20-5 win.

The loss unfortunately ended a dramatic week for the Bulldogs, who survived a 6-4 extra-innings road win over Greater New Bedford Vocational last Thursday in the opening round of the Division 2 south sectional playoffs. Canton (10-10) was seeded 17th out of 17 teams in the bracket, while Greater New Bedford (9-9) was seeded 16th.

The Bulldogs ended the season at 11-11 overall and became the first CHS baseball team since 2004 to win more than 10 games and make the playoffs. Former CHS baseball coach Tom Healy, who coached the 2004 team, joined more than 50 Canton fans in attendance in Westwood on Saturday.

The game got off to a good start for the visiting Bulldogs as the offense put together three hits for a 1-0 lead. But the optimism was short lived as the Wolverines were very patient at the plate and worked the count for 10 walks, sandwiched around two hit batsmen, an error, and four hits for a 16-1 first-inning lead.

Senior captain Pat Vartanian, who regularly plays catcher, drew the start for the Bulldogs after regular starting pitchers Kevin Powers and Griffin Jerrier were used extensively in Thursday’s 13-inning win. After the game, Scott said he selected Vartanian to pitch because of his senior leadership and his previous pitching experience.

Junior Sean Doyle and senior Shane Ezepik followed in relief and pitched well as Westwood scored one more run in the fourth inning and three more in the sixth, including two by a homerun.

Despite the huge deficit, the Bulldogs played hard right up to the end of the game, out-hitting Westwood 11-8. Vartanian led the way with two doubles and two singles, while junior Joe Peccia had three hits of his own, including a double and a triple. Powers added an RBI single, Jerrier had a double, Ezepik had a single, and Doyle and Joe Bires had one RBI apiece.

In Thursday’s win over Greater New Bedford, Bires made two huge plays defensively that saved the game for Canton.

With the score tied 4-4 in the seventh inning with runners on second and third and no outs, Bires rushed in for the catch and dove for the ball. The ball hit his glove, bounced up, and while face down on the ground, Bires reached up and caught the ball with his bare hand. He then made a mad dash to second base for a double play and nearly turned a triple play, throwing to third a second too late.

The Greater New Bedford team had raced onto the field, thinking Bires did not catch the ball. However, the umpires agreed that Bires had made the catch and ruled the runner out at second base. Powers then struck out the third batter to end the inning.

In the 10th inning, Bires came through with another clutch play as he threw out the potential winning run at the plate. He also drew two late walks and came around to score the game-winning run in the 13th inning.

Powers had three RBIs on the day — including the winning RBI on a bases-loaded hit — and also got the win on the mound, pitching in relief of starter Jerrier. Vartanian went 3 for 6 with an RBI and a run scored and threw out three runners on the basepaths, including the potential winning run on third base in the 12th inning.

The Canton coaches said Vartanian and Bires’ defense proved to be the difference in the game as Jerrier and Powers combined for only two earned runs over the 13 innings.

“It was the craziest game I have ever witnessed,” Scott said, “and I give lots of credit and praise to the Canton players who persevered and hung in there and played extremely hard right to the end and had enough class to congratulate the Greater New Bedford team.”

“This team never quit and played hard the entire season,” Scott added. “They are a classy group of ballplayers, a very respectful group. This season put us back on the map. We have a lot of juniors coming back and we hope to be back in the playoffs next year. The seven seniors were a big part of the turnaround too.”

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