By Conor Walsh
---- — ROCKPORT -- With a veteran squad, Rockport baseball coach John Parisi expected his team’s defense to be one of the Vikings’ strengths.
When the Vikings hosted Amesbury at Evans Field to open their season yesterday, though, their team defense was nothing more than a liability.
The Indians didn’t hit Rockport starting pitcher Conor Kuykendall hard at all, but seven errors and four hit batsmen was too much to ask any pitcher to overcome.
Ultimately, those errors did the Vikings in. Amesbury rode a six-run third inning -- all six runs were unearned -- and solid pitching from juniors Zach Fitzgerald and Andy Ready to cruise to an 8-3 victory over Rockport.
“If it wasn’t for the six-run inning it’s a 3-2 game,” Parisi said. “I didn’t expect that. I expect one of our strengths to be defense, and we just didn’t make the plays that we’re going to make all year. I know we are.”
Yesterday’s game was typical of an early-April New England baseball game. With cold temperatures and the two teams still far from midseason form, the game had a sloppy feel from the beginning.
Errors, walks and base-running mistakes were there from the start.
Each team, though, got good early-season pitching. Kuykendall and Fitzgerald each struggled with command at times, but they were each able to keep opposing batters off balance and prevent much solid contact.
The difference, though, was that Fitzgerald’s teammates made the plays behind him.
With the Vikings leading 1-0 after an RBI single from center fielder Adam Balzarini in the first inning, the Indians (2-0) got a stroke of luck in the top of the third inning.
After Kuykendall fanned the first batter of the inning, the next two batters reached on errors. The next was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for cleanup hitter Shane Bannon, who stroked a one-run single.
Next, DH Matt Napoli was hit by a pitch to plate another run, followed by the two big blows: a Devlin Gobeil two-run double and a two-run error on a Fitzgerald grounder.
Just like that, the floodgates had opened and a tight game had been blown wide open.
“Against a good team like Rockport, you have to manufacture a few runs,” Amesbury coach Gene Burnham said. “You have to have innings like that where you put up crooked numbers, because they’re going to fight until the end and they always do.”
Rockport didn’t go away, as the Vikings scraped together runs in the fourth and sixth innings -- Balzarini scored after an error in the fourth and catcher Caleb Tanson plated Kyle Nelson with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Amesbury’s pitching, though, never allowed the Vikings to climb back into the game. Balzarini’s two hits and a single from Conor Douglass to open the game were the Vikings’ only three hits on the day, and with the Indians’ defense making all the plays it needed to, there wasn’t much Rockport could do.
The Vikings were dealt a tough hand with ace pitcher Tucker Meredith sick and unable to play. The pitching combo of Kuykendall and Julian Flavin was far from the problem yesterday, though.
Much of it can likely be attributed to first-game jitters and early-season rust.
For Parisi, the hope is that that doesn’t last.
“I didn’t know what to expect in Conor’s first start and he did a great job,” Parisi said. “He kept the ball down and they only had one or two hard-hit balls. We’ll be fine. We’re just going to shake this off and we’re going to move on and get ready for Georgetown on Tuesday.”
agateHed:Amesbury 8, Rockport 3
agateText:at Evans Field, Rockport
agate_MLB_box:Amesbury: Cullen ss 4-1-1, Connors 2b 3-2-1, Short c 2-1-1, Bannon dh 4-1-3, Napoli 3b 2-0-0, Gobeil rf 4-1-1, Fitzgerald p 4-0-0, Chewey 1b 4-0-0, Ivancic cf 4-1-1. Totals 31-8-8.
agate_MLB_box:Rockport: Douglass lf 4-0-1, Scatterday 2b 3-1-0, Tupper ss 2-0-0, Balzarini cf 3-1-2, Nelson rf 3-1-0, Tanson c 1-0-0, S. Ryan 1b 3-0-0, D. Ryan 3b 3-0-0, Flavin dh/p 3-0-0. Totals 25-2-3.
agate_MLB_box:Amesbury (2-0): 006 002 0 | 8
agate_MLB_box:Rockport (0-1): 100 101 0 | 3
agate_MLB_box:RBI: A Bannon 2, Napoli 2, Gobeil 2; R Balzarini, Tanson.
agate_MLB_box:WP: Fitzgerald; LP: Kuykendall.