CUMBERLAND — Nick Zammarelli spent all game looking for his pitch – the one he could drive.
After seeing a steady diet of off-speed and breaking pitches from Cumberland pitcher Eric Murray – in succession, Zammarelli’s previous three at-bats saw him strike out swinging, pop up to shortstop and pop up on the first pitch to second – the Lincoln junior was determined to sit dead-red, i.e. wait for Murray to make a mistake and come after him with a fastball. It was the top of the seventh inning of what was a 1-1 game when Zammarelli dug in against Murray, the Lions featuring two runners aboard.
As if on cue, Zammarelli got a fastball. No doubt, his eyes lit up as the pitch drew closer, an offering that Murray wanted to make sure tailed away from the left-handed hitter.
Instead it caught too much of the outside corner.
The ever vigilant Zammarelli slashed at what proved to be the final pitch Murray would throw, sending it down the left-field line for a two-run double that went a long way in the Lions’ come-from-behind 3-2 win at the Clippers’ expense Wednesday afternoon at Tucker Field. Zammarelli’s two-out clutch knock – one that came on the first pitch of his fourth turn – vaulted Lincoln to a 3-1 lead as Cumberland got one back in the home half of the seventh.
“I was definitely sitting on his fastball. I didn’t want to chase any junk like I had been in the previous at-bats,” said Zammarelli, who has verbally committed to North Carolina’s Elon University. “I knew (Murray) was pitching me away the whole game so I was looking to drive one the other way. Luckily I got a low, outside fastball that I was able to take down the line.”
While it was a fantastic finish for Lincoln – one that lefty Joe Yankee punctuated by nailing down the final three outs en route to tossing a complete game three-hitter – it was pure heartbreak for Cumberland. The Clippers were one out away from nailing down their fifth straight win, one that would have set up an intriguing showdown with unbeaten La Salle Academy Friday morning.
Instead, Cumberland head coach Paul Murphy was only left to wonder what could have been had the defense behind Murray not commit four errors over the first two innings. The miscues – “bad errors” as Murray pointed out – didn’t come back to haunt the home team in the sense that the Lions capitalized on them. Simply put, the dropped flies and balls going the wickets resulted in Murray throwing more pitches, ones that no doubt would have come in handy the deeper the senior progressed into his outing.
“Those take a toll on a pitcher,” said Murphy, his club now 4-2 in Division I-North. “Those four errors, he probably had to throw 20 extra pitches.”
For the longest time it appeared that the Clippers would make the one run they pushed across in the third inning stand up. Junior Jacob Keefe scampered to the plate after Yankee was off target on a fastball, resulting in a wild pitch with one down. The play loomed even larger as the Clipper hitter in the batter’s box (Ryan Harris) lined to center with Greg Joubert following with a swinging strikeout.
Featuring pinpoint control and a sneaky fastball that he located well, Murray took a two-hit shutout into the seventh. At one point the righty retired seven straight Lions on his way to finishing with four strikeouts and one walk. A complete-game effort sprinkled with a gaggle of goose eggs seemed waiting in the wings as Murray set down the first two Lincoln hitters in the seventh, but that’s when momentum changed hands.
Lincoln’s rally started in modest fashion with John Guarino legging out an infield single. His work did not go unnoticed by his teammates.
“That was clutch, especially from a sophomore,” remarked Zammarelli. “Hopefully that will boost his confidence moving forward.”
Still breathing, Lincoln kept the line moving as No. 9 hitter Jeff Sheehan singled on the first pitch. Jumping all over the first pitch proved to be contagious with the next hitter, Kyle Jackson, finding the gap in left-center field to score Guarino with the tying run.
That set the stage for Zammarelli and he did not miss his chance. Lincoln entered Wednesday having dropped its previous three games, two by three runs and one by two. To finally snag a close one, the accomplishment was not lost on the star of the game.
“Confidence-wise, this one was big for us,” Zammarelli said after the Lions improved to two up and four down in league action. “We have a lot of young guys on the team and they have a lot of passion, which is good to see.”
Another key elder statesman on Lincoln is Yankee, who struck out the side in the top of the first. The southpaw issued consecutive free passes to begin the last of the seventh, one of which came around to score on a single by Joe Fine. With the tying and go-ahead runners aboard, Yankee got pinch hitter Dylan Boisclair to flail for the game’s final out.
The punchout served as Yankee’s seventh to go along with five walks.
“He looked more comfortable out there, spotting his pitches,” said Zammarelli. “We needed him to get that first win under his belt.”