HAVERHILL — All week since North Andover last took the field with a 6-0 win over Walpole to punch its ticket to the Super 8 championship, coach Todd Dulin was back and forth on who would get the ball in Game 1 against St. John’s Prep.
On one hand, you have senior Sebastian Keane, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and Red Sox draftee. And on the other hand you have sophomore Brendan Holland.
Dulin was torn, but a few days ago he walked into Holland’s classroom and told him, “You are starting.”
“We went back and forth a bunch of times,” Dulin said. “But I think if you are hedging, you start Holland, and if we are up we bring Keane in. If not, we have Keane for tomorrow. That was kind of the idea.”
That trust couldn’t have been placed in a more perfect candidate for the Scarlet Knights.
Holland kept St. John’s Prep off balance at the plate all night under the lights at Trinity Stadium in Haverhill. His six shutout innings and four strikeouts were the bridge to getting to Keane in the seventh, where the Northeastern commit did the rest.
“The first game of the season, [Coach] brought me in because he trusted me,” Holland said. “It felt amazing, and I just never forgot that.”
Holland was a key component to North Andover’s Super 8 success even before Tuesday’s title-clinching victory. In two games in the tournament, he pitched 14 innings with six strikeouts and only one walk. Even more impressive, the 6-foot-2 southpaw didn’t allow a single earned run on eight hits.
“With the exception of me leaving him too long against Chelmsford, [Holland] has been pretty nasty this year,” Dulin said. “He just hits spots, and, I don’t know, he was just awesome t
Keane entered the game in the bottom of the seventh inning with a two-run cushion. Coming on in relief was an unfamiliar position for the right-hander, and ran into some trouble with the bases loaded and two outs.
A 3-2 fastball on the black, though, to Prep junior Brady O’Brien got Keane out of the inning unscathed, and he cruised his through the next six outs, striking out six en route to the save.
“The first inning I didn’t feel as good as I wanted to, but I went back in the second inning [and] stretched a lot more and stayed in rhythm,” Keane said.
“I actually had a Northeastern orientation last night, so I was kind of exhausted, so [Dulin] knew I wasn’t going to start. He put Brendan Holland in, and it couldn’t been a better choice.”
Karl Capen can be reached at email@example.com