GLOUCESTER— With its playoff hopes on the line, the Gloucester Fishermen softball team nearly let one slip away in the final inning on Friday afternoon against Lynnfield at Burnham's Field. Clinging to a two run lead, the Pioneers scored twice the 7th forcing Gloucester to bat in the home-half of the inning.
Fortunately for Gloucester, it received timely hitting from Tess Benson in the form of a walk-off single come away with a 6-5 win improving to improve to 5-9 on the year and more importantly, keep its playoff chase alive.
After tying the game, Lynnfield made a pitching substitution in the bottom of the 7th and turned to its ace, All Cape Ann League pitcher Melody Manicinelli. Darien Foley led off the inning with a walk and advanced to third base on two wild pitches. With Foley on third and nobody out, Manicinelli settled down to retire the next two batters on a strikeout after a failed bunt attempt with two strikes and a pop-up. Freshman catcher Benson was up next and the stage was set for dramatics.
Manicinelli challenged Benson with her hard fastball and was able to blow the first pitch by the first-year catcher. Benson, however, got the last laugh over the All-League senior and drove an inside fastball down the third base line. The hard ground ball barely stayed in fair territory as it crossed over the third base bag for the walk-off victory.
Gloucester coach John Nicastro praised the play of his freshman catcher.
"For a freshman to get up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and have the at-bat that she had was pretty impressive," Nicastro said. "To pull the ball down the third base line against their number one pitcher who was throwing gas took a lot of poise and adjustment."
Senior Clare Pleuler was instrumental in giving Gloucester the lead, as she belted two home runs to center field and right center field.
After pitcher Katie Russo worked out of a bases loaded, two out jam in the first, Pleuler provided some immediate run support. Katie Munroe started the game off with a single and two batters later, Pleuler checked in with a two-run bomb. In the fourth, she struck again with a solo shot and was responsible for the Fishermen's first three runs of the game.
Lynnfield tied the game up at 3-3 with two runs in the fifth, however, Gloucester responded with timely hitting of their own. Munroe and Benson both added RBI singles in the bottom-half to give the Fishermen their two run lead back.
Russo pitched a gritty game for Gloucester, as she worked out of jams in the first three innings. She only yielded one run while working out of two bases loaded jams and a 2nd and 3rd situation.
Nicastro thought his team played average, but consistent in their playoff saving victory.
"We did average, which is also consistent," Nicastro said. "We made all the plays we needed to make, had some timely hits and Clare Pleuler had two home runs and 3-RBIs. Average play with big plays from a player always leads to victories."
Even though Gloucester has to win all of its remaining games to make the playoffs, Nicastro is optimistic about his chances.
"I feel good about the rest of the year," he said. "We have some tough games coming up, but if we play the way we did today, we have a shot of getting into the tournament."