Mike DiCato (pictured) and Jared Freni combined on a five-hit shutout, and Johnny Welch’s sixth inning triple was the difference, when the Chiefs edged the Wakefield Merchants 1-0 in the first game of a three team doubleheader to clinch the Intercity League’s 2014 regular season pennant. In the process they secured the #1 seed as well as an opening game bye in the upcoming double elimination playoff tournament that will eventually lead to two finalists that will play a best of five series.
For the Chiefs, it was their second consecutive regular season crown and the eighth since they became the Andre Chiefs in 1989.
Monday night’s games were switched to Morelli Field after a contractor severed a power line in the parking lot that abuts Maplewood Park late in the afternoon, causing all power to the facility to be lost.
The clincher did not come easy, courtesy of Wakefield lefty Kyle McCarthy who threw an outstanding game and frustrated Chiefs’ hitters all night long.
DiCato, the Chiefs’ veteran right-hander, was equally as tough, shutting out the Merchants over the first four innings before giving way to fellow veteran Jared Freni, who blanked Wakefield over their final three at-bats.
DiCato got the Wakefield side in order in the top of the first and the Chiefs’ mounted a mini threat in the bottom of the inning. After two groundouts, McCarthy hit Billy Mottram with a pitch. Welch then singled before McCarthy got Mike Gedman to ground out sharply to second, ending the inning.
The Merchants got two baserunners aboard with two outs in the top of the second when Jon Davison reached on an infield error and Joe Barry followed with a single. DiCato kept it scoreless when he got Anthony Cruz to groundout to Nate Witkowski.
Peter Copa led off the bottom of the second with a single but was erased when Mike Barbati grounded into a 6-4-3 doubleplay.
The Chiefs went the defensive doubleplay route as well in the top of the third when Lou Tarantino led things off with a single but was dispatched when Bobby Lossano bounced into a 5-4-3 twin killing.
The Chiefs got a one out infield single from Mike Burgoyne in the bottom of the third before McCarthy got Paul Yanakopulos to bounce out and then struck out Mottram swinging.
The Merchants had their best scoring chance in the top of the fourth. Scott Searles led the inning off with a single. James Ramsey then flew to Burgoyne in center for the first out before Kevin Mortimer singled to put two runners on with one out. DiCato then got Davison to line to Mottram in left and struck out Barry swinging to send the game to the bottom of the fourth.
Welch began things in the fourth with his second straight single of the night. Gedman then drilled a fly to deep right-center than was tracked down by Lossano for the first out. McCarthy stayed tough and got Copa to ground into a 6-4-3 doubleplay, ending the inning.
Freni emerged out of the Chiefs’ bullpen to begin the fifth inning. He got Cruz to fly to Gedman in right, retired Tarantino on a come backer to the mound, before surrendering a right-center field double to Lossano. He kept the Merchants off the scoreboard when Nick Murray grounded to Welch at third.
McCarthy retired the Chiefs in order in the bottom of the fifth when Barbati grounded out, Mike Andre lined out to Lossano, and Witkowski popped up.
Freni was dominant in the top of the sixth, getting Searles on a groundout, and then struck out Ramsey and Mortimer in succession.
The Chiefs got the game winner in the bottom of the sixth. McCarthy got Burgoyne to line out sharply to right-field for the first out. McCarthy’s only free pass of the night would prove costly when he walked Yanakopulos on a full count. Mottram then struck out for the second out. Welch followed and once again put the Chiefs fortunes’ on his back and delivered yet another game changing hit. With Yanakopulos running on a 2-2 pitch, Welch drilled a line shot over Lossano’s head in center for a triple, easily scoring Yanakopulos. McCarthy kept it a 1-0 game when struck out Gedman on a breaking ball.
Freni came out of the gate with a just a little extra on his fastball and never left the issue in doubt. The big right-hander struck out the side (Davison, Barry & Cruz) in order, to secure the Chiefs’ second straight pennant.
DiCato gave up four hits and struck out three in his four innings. Freni went to 8-2 with the win. He worked three innings, struck out the last five batters he faced, and allowed just one hit.
The Chiefs are currently scheduled for Thursday to play the lowest seed winner of Wednesday’s games. The rainy weather could potentially affect the schedule.
Story by Bruce Tillman for www.andrechiefs.com. Photo by Jim Valente. Allison Goldsberry also contributed to this report.