It doesn’t take much sometimes to break out of a hitting slump.
For Shea Whalen, all it took Friday was a ground ball that found its way down the line, and the RBI that came with it turned out to be huge.
Whalen went 3 for 3 on the day, driving in two runs, and the Hollis Brookline High School senior also struck out six and allowed four hits in 62/3 innings, as the Cavaliers held off Milford 3-2 in an important Division II at Keyes Field. The game was originally scheduled to be played at HBHS, but was moved to Milford due to the rain.
The win helps HB (11-2) keep pace with division-leading Goffstown (14-2), which also won on Friday, and gave the Cavs a bit of revenge for the Spartans’ 6-4 come-from-behind win earlier in the season.
“We’re fighting for a top spot,” Whalen said. “We lost to them earlier, and that hindered us. It was a good win for us, especially getting our bats going earlier, which we don’t usually do.”
The early run proved to be just enough, as Milford scored twice in the top of the seventh, and put the winning run on first with two outs. HB’s Tommy Grant was able to get the final out to pick up the save and get the Cavs the win.
“Every time going on out is kind of a big game for us,” HB coach Ryan Coulter said. “We felt like we had a good pitcher going, and we felt like we were playing good defense, that if we could score a couple of runs for him, we’d be in good shape.”
Ryan Britton took the loss for Milford (9-5), as he allowed three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out five in five innings. Bryce Walker pitched a scoreless sixth inning to keep the Spartans within striking distance; Walker was also 2 for 3 with a RBI.
“We played pretty well, but we unfortunately started a little late,” Milford coach Steve Claire said. “Whalen was sharp and he had very good command. He had our guys off-balance a little bit at the beginning of the game. Our attitude and effort was great, and to come back to make it a close game, I was proud of them.”
It was the fifth one-run game of the season for the Spartans – they’re 3-2 in games decided by a run – and the outcome could have swung the other way with a few bounces.
Britton walked Emmett Craggy to open the bottom of the fifth, and the HB senior made it to third on a sacrifice and a groundout. Hugh Devlin then ripped a ball down the third base line that came within inches of hitting Craggy, stayed inside the base and just avoided the glove of a diving Walker.
Craggy scored and Devlin ended up at second, scoring on Whalen’s single to centerfield, his third hit of the day. Britton struck out Joe Spohn to get out of the inning.
“It feels good,” Whalen said. “I’ve been in a slump for a while now, and getting out of it with that little dinker down the line (in the first), I’ll take anything to get out of it.”
Coulter was happy to see Whalen get his bat going.
“He hasn’t been hitting the ball real well this year,” he said. “The last three or four games, he’s been getting hits, so it’s good to see him getting it back. We definitely need him.”
Milford’s Jesse Roode (2 for 3, RBI) led off the top of the sixth with a single, but Drew Jepson ground into a double play to clear the bases. Devyn Pioli followed with a fly ball to right that got by John Beckett for a two-base error, and Pioli was stranded there when Britton popped out.
“It turns momentum a ton,” Whalen said of the double play. “Their offense has some momentum and then our defense comes in and shuts them down, it’s great. We get solid ground balls and that’s all we need.”
“They’re very tough to overcome,” Claire said. “I think each team played equally well, but they had a few more groundballs that made it through than we did. Ryan pitched very well, but that (sequence) kind of turned the game around.”