Chris McLean (right) and Matt Donato (left) pump fists after getting out of a jam in the top of the second.
By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Two of the Bay State Conference’s elite met on Thursday afternoon at Bird Middle School as reigning Division I state champ Needham traveled to square off against Walpole, a team coming off their first Super Eight trip in program history last spring.
Coming off of a tough 2-0 defeat to Weymouth the previous night, the Rebels were in desperate need of a bounce-back. Behind a dominant complete-game shutout by senior Tufts commit Matt Donato, the Rebels got just that, earning themselves a 5-0 victory to improve to 3-1 (2-1), while Needham dropped to 0-3 (0-3).
Donato sent Needham down, 1-2-3, in the top of the first via a groundout to second, a fly to center, and a groundout back to the mound. Jackson Walonis reached second on an error in the outfield to lead off the home half of the first for the Rebels. Walonis advanced to third on a passed ball before Jack Magane ripped a single into right to plate him, giving the Rebels a 1-0 lead after one.
Steve Donovan led off the top of the second for Needham with a single to right. A bunt-single by Tom Chemielewski put men at first and second with nobody out. Magane made a spectacular over-the-shoulder grab on a shallow pop-up in the hole at shortstop to make it one out in the inning. Donato fought back with a strikeout and then got out of the inning unscathed with a groundout to first.
The bottom of the second was when the Rebels did the most damage. A throwing error on a ground ball to shortstop by Pat Falvey with runners at second and third allowed two runs to come in for Walpole. Falvey took second on the errant throw and advanced to third on a passed ball. Magane followed it up with an infield hit that allowed Falvey to score and make it a 4-0 lead for Walpole after two innings.
Donato made quick work of the Needham bats in the top of the third, forcing a pair of groundouts and a pop-up to second to get out of the inning after just eight pitches. A diving stab by Donovan at shortstop and flip to second to get the force allowed Needham to avoid damage in the home half of the third.
Donato continued to roll in the top of the fourth, forcing a groundout to third, a fly out to left, and getting Chmielewski to pop-out to short. Chris McLean extended the lead to 5-0 for Walpole in the bottom of the fourth, ripping a single right to plate Falvey who led off the inning with a single to left.
Donato followed it up with a 1-2-3 top of the fifth and continued to keep the Needham bats at bay, finishing the game without surrendering another hit. The Rebels prevailed by the 5-0 final.
Walpole travels to reigning Super Eight champ Franklin on April 19, while Needham will look to get back on track against Belmont on April 20.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0.