The entire Andover Legion Baseball team was fired up for Tim Kalantzakos as he stepped to the plate against Natick. Runners stood at the corners with two outs in a game tied at 1 in the bottom of the seventh.
“He deserves this,” said one teammate to another as Kalantzakos dug in. “This is his game.”
He cracked a ground ball to the shortstop and beat out the throw to first, knocking in the winning run in a 2-1 battle and igniting a wild celebration. Andover’s pitcher, Cedric Gillette, jumped out of the dugout screaming, “My teammate let us win!” at the top of his lungs.
Last Saturday’s game was the first in an eight-team double-elimination tournament between the best teams from District 8 and District 5, with the top two teams earning a spot in the state tournament. Andover beat Natick twice on walkoffs that didn’t leave the infield, but lost twice to a tough squad from Ashland and was eliminated from the tournament Wednesday night, 3-0.
Coach Joe Iarrobino was disappointed that the season ended the way it did.
“We’ll be back next year,” he said. “We’ve got the regular season championship, but we’d much rather be going to Milford [for the state tournament] on Saturday than be going home.”
Bryan Guerrero stuck around the dugout after the season-ending loss. “You really like that bat, huh?” Iarrobino asked his shortstop. Guerrero nodded.
“I’ll tell you what,” Iarrobino said. “You can keep it as long as you bring it back next summer.”
Andover’s magical summer ended two wins short of the state tournament, but Guerrero left the field at Ashland Middle School with his head held high, wearing an ear-to-ear smile.
“There are no words to describe how much I appreciate all the support that he gave me throughout the season,” Guerrero said of his coach.
In the fifth inning against Natick last Saturday, Gillette uncharacteristically struggled with his command and got into a bases-loaded jam. He hadn’t given up an earned run all summer, but it looked like a hard-hit fly ball down the left-field line was going to end that streak.
Instead, Kalantzakos laid out for a spectacular catch, robbing Natick of multiple runs. Gillette was one of the first guys to run into the outfield and hug him.
“Timmy makes plays like that all the time, I think he’s got three diving catches [this summer],” said Gillette, a rising senior who plays baseball, basketball, and football at Andover High School. “When I get in a jam like that and Timmy picks me up, that’s the teamwork in baseball right there.”
Gillette’s scoreless streak didn’t last much longer, as he gave up a solo shot to left the next inning. “He’s such a competitor,” Iarrobino said of his ace, who racked up 44 strikeouts and just five walks in a 5-0 regular season.
After Gillette gave up the lead, Kalantzakos — who graduated Andover High and will pitch at Merrimack College next year — picked him up again. The 6-foot-1-inch righthander delivered a shutdown inning in relief to seal the win.
“This season we’ve been a pretty good team so we haven’t been in those situations much,” said Kalantzakos.
The team finished first in the District 8 regular season for the third consective year, this time with a record of 13-2-1. “We just come up in big spots, we’ve won a lot of close games, we’ve won some against good teams, and played great defense,” said Kalantzakos.
Iarrobino is the kind of manager who will let the umpire know if he thinks he missed a call and will bench a kid for not running hard to first base. “This is my 29th year coaching this Legion team,” said Iarrobino, who coached former Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan when he played for Andover Legion. “I’ve had some really good teams, and this is a really good one.”
Iarrobino heaped praise on Gillette and Kalantzakos, but also pointed to other players who stepped up this season. Guerrero, from Lawrence High School, hit over .350, and Iarrobino said he was a huge lift defensively at shortstop. Mike Comeau, another Andover High grad now a first baseman at UMass Boston, hit around .400 this summer.
Iarrobino also singled out Andover High third baseman Michael Reilly, who caught a sizzling line drive at the hot corner and got a clutch hit in the seventh inning in the Andover game.
“Andrew [Selima], who is probably our best hitter, comes and fits right in with the team,” said Kalantzakos. Selima, a St. John’s Prep graduate from Andover who is currently an outfielder and first baseman at Holy Cross, hit over .500 this summer.
“The core of our Andover guys have been playing together since first or second grade, and the Lawrence guys came in and we gelled with them real quick,” said Gillette.
The end of this Legion season was the last time this group plays together.
“These guys like each other, they play for each other, they root for each other,” said Iarrobino. “We’ve got Andover High kids and Lawrence High kids, they’ve come together and they love each other.”
Tom Petrini can be reached at email@example.com.