By Conor Walsh
---- — BEVERLY — As the regular season winds down, certain games take on added significance.
Friday’s meeting between the Beverly and Gloucester baseball teams was that kind of game.
For two squads that have met in the Division 2 North tournament in each of the past two seasons and again appear among the section’s top contenders, any late season meeting is going to carry some weight. It came as no surprise, then, that Friday’s game at Cooney Field had a tournament feel to it — the kind of game that could hinge on a single play.
A week after Gloucester ripped the cover off the ball in a win over the Panthers, Beverly got its revenge behind a stellar performance from Cam Rogers. Rogers held a prolific Gloucester offense to just three hits and allowed just one runner to reach second base in a complete-game, shutout effort to pace the Panthers’ 1-0 win.
“First of all, to shut those guys out is really something,” Beverly coach Dave Wilbur said. “They can hit. They really hit the ball. Cameron was immense today. He really hit his spots. He had his fastball in, had his fastball out, threw his curveball for a strike, kept them off-balance. They hit the ball hard a few times but he really was masterful. One thing about Cameron is that he knows the situation. He knew it was 1-0 and he couldn’t give up a run. He’s just really mentally tough and a great competitor on the mound.”
In the bottom of the third inning, the Panthers appeared primed to blow the game open. An inning before, a Craig Hall single plated Luke McDonald, who had led off the inning with a double to left field, for what proved to be the game’s winning run.
But after an Anthony Diorio double in the third, though, it looked like it was about to get a lot worse for the Fishermen. Starting pitcher Sean Gillon left the game with an injury, clutching his side as he walked off the mound, and coach Joe Orlando was forced to go to his bullpen early.
Reliever Conor Harris, however, was borderline unhittable. He fanned Alex Toomey and Kevin Cuneo, Beverly’s fourth and fifth hitters, to strand Diorio on second, and dominated from there.
Harris allowed just one base-runner in 3 2/3 innings of work and never allowed a runner to reach second base.
Unfortunately for the Fishermen, Rogers was just that much better. Up against a Gloucester offense that entered the game averaging more than seven runs-per-game and had lit the Panthers up nine days earlier, Rogers was in control early and never took his foot off the gas.
“Conor came in and did a great job for us,” Orlando said. “We just didn’t hit the ball. We didn’t get anything past second base today. We just couldn’t get a run across.”
The game had the feeling that any mistake could swing the outcome. Neither team, however, gave the other an inch. And as is so often the case come tournament time, a pitcher stole the show.
“This is our third 1-0 game and our fifth or sixth one-run game,” Wilbur said. “You’ve got to be able to play under those conditions and not panic and understand the nature of the game. Winning or losing these kinds of games battle-tests you, gets you ready. It was nice to get this one today.”
The win capped off a huge week for the Panthers (11-4), who have now won four straight games since losing to Gloucester last week — and, in that span, have beaten a previously-undefeated Peabody squad, a red-hot Saugus team and now the Fishermen.
For Gloucester (9-5), the loss delayed what appears to be an inevitable return trip to the state tournament. On Monday, the Fishermen ran up against another dominant pitcher in a nine-inning, 1-0 loss to Lynn English and star pitcher Ben Bowden.
At the very least, the Fishermen can be confident that they’ve seen some of the best when they inevitably punch their tournament tickets, a feat they hope to accomplish Monday against a Marblehead team they beat 17-0 earlier in the year.
“I’m pleased with where we’re at,” Orlando said. “We need one more to make the tournament. This conference is tight this year, really tight, and it seems like every game you hear about is a close game. I’m happy with where our boys are. They’re playing good baseball and we’ll see what happens come tournament time. I wanted to get 13, 14 wins to get a home game (in the tournament), but I just want to get the next win right now.
“Hopefully we’ll get the win up in Marblehead,” he said, “and get the monkey off our backs.”