HAVERHILL — The oohs and ahhs from the hundreds of spectators on hand at Haverhill Stadium intensified as Sebastian Keane delivered each pitch.
For six innings, North Andover sophomore lefty Brendan Holland had silenced the St. John’s Prep bats. But when the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year relieved Holland in the bottom of the seventh, the moment arrived.
Trailing, 2-0, the Prep threatened Keane by loading the bases with two outs. However, in the midst of the stressful jam, the recent Boston Red Sox draftee rose to the occasion, freezing Brady O’Brien on a full-count fastball to end the inning.
Keane reverted back to his dominant self for the final two innings and Knight freshman Trevor Crosby broke open the game with a bases-clearing double in the ninth as eighth-seeded North Andover captured the Super 8 title with a 6-0 win over second-seeded Prep on Tuesday night in Haverhill.
The Knights (20-4) became the first No. 8 seed to win the Super 8, while the Prep (21-5) fell in the title game for the fourth time in five years.
“The first inning I came in I was sweating a lot,” Keane said. “When the bases were loaded I was like ‘oh my god.’ The last pitch felt good off the fingertips and when the ump made the call my emotions felt good after that.”
Added catcher Jack Morin, “I think if you’re a North Andover fan and you didn’t have a heart attack right there you don’t like baseball. Those are the moments you live for and Sebastian came through in the perfect moment.”
North Andover took a 2-0 lead on a pair two-out doubles. Keane ripped a fastball into the right-center gap, scoring Thomas Finn from second in the first. Then, Eric Whitehead roped an opposite-field RBI double in the sixth for a 2-0 lead off Prep starter Max Gieg (6⅓ innings, 2 runs, 7 strikeouts).
Holland, a lanky lefthander, allowed just three hits in six outstanding innings of work, before handing over the ball to Keane (3 innings, 3 hits, 5 strikeouts). “I was just pounding the strike zone and Morin did a great job,” Holland said. “It feels amazing. This has been a great season.”
After Keane escaped the jam in the seventh, the Knights added a four-run ninth inning on Crosby’s double and Brett Dunham’s RBI single.
“The last two years we got knocked out in the first round,” North Andover coach Todd Dullin said. “After the Super Bowl win, Jake McElroy [senior captain] told me, ‘We are going to win the state championship in baseball, I promise.’ He just reminded me. It’s just unbelievable. I couldn’t be more happy and proud of them.”