NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. - Northbridge American Legion Post 343 had to settle for second place in the Massachusetts State Tournament on Wednesday, losing to Billerica. But members returned home with heads held high.
In its 27 year history, this was the first time the hometown team made it into the final game of a state tournament; and only its second time participating in a state tournament, the last time going 1-2.
Even with the loss, the team ended the season with a record of 30-10. “We have nothing to feel sorry for. “ It was an awesome season!” said team manager/coache John Demagian.
Before the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader at Paul Walsh Field in New Bedford, Northbridge was short of players. State and local police were checking cars on Route 195 east looking for a possible hijack victim. Not only were team players and one coach locked n the gridlock, many of fans were too. The game began after a half hour delay.
Northbridge faced the host team of New Bedford in the semi-final match of two 4-1 teams in this game, with the winner advancing to the State Finals game following the finish of game one.
Northbridge took to the field with home field advantage and Manager John Demagian gave the ball to Jacob Byrne and Matt Phelan worked behind the plate. New Bedford countered with Ethan Kelley and Nate Lewis.
Both teams went down one, two, three in the first inning and New Bedford did the same in the second. Northbridge plated two runs off a double by Jacob Foynes of Douglas. Gregg O’Donnell and Matt Phelan before him reached on base hits.
Byrne kept the New Bedford batters off the bases again in the third and fourth, as did Northbridge by the New Bedford’s Kelley.
New Bedford started the fifth inning with a base hit by Javier Lozada but was forced out at second base on a fielder’s choice by Jon Finnerly. A fly ball to Northbridge centerfielder Tim Beaudette, followed by another base hit by Jake Souza, was for nothing as the inning ended when Luc Sauvé grounded into a force play at first.
In the bottom half of the inning, Matt Niejadlik banged out a single, was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jordan Smith, and was brought home on a single by Tim Beaudette.
Beaudette was moved over to second on a single by Nate Pajka, who ended the inning when he was picked off of first base for the final out of the inning with Northbridge leading 3-0.
The top half of the sixth inning saw New Bedford make a short rally and score two runs to bring the game closer at 3-2. Northbridge scored another run in their half of the sixth with three singles off of New Bedford reliever Jon Finnerly to make the score 4-2.
Byrne retired the first two batters in the top of the seventh, but an error on third baseman Matt Niejadlik kept New Bedford’s hopes alive. But with a 2-1 pitch count, Luc Sauvé hit the next pitch and sent it to deep centerfield and right into the glove of Tim Beaudette to end the game and give Northbridge the win and the next game with Billerica.
In the second game of the day, Northbridge again had home field advantage.
Billerica gave the ball to Walker O’Connor to start the game for them and Pat Bradanese worked the plate for the Billerica team. Northbridge countered with Nate Pajka to take the mound, and Matt Phelan called the shots behind the plate for Manager John Demagian.
Billerica’s Matt Clifford had a base hit off of Pajka to start the first inning, followed by a walk, a fly ball to the right fielder and then a beautiful 4-6-3 double play ended any threat.
Northbridge started with a base hit by Beaudette followed by a double by Nate Pajka to begin their half of the first, but three strikeouts ended any chance of plating base runners.
At the start of the second inning, while Pajka was taking his warm-up throws, the home plate umpire asked to see Pajka’s right throwing hand. Pajka, who wearing a flesh-colored bandage on his little finger because of a severely cut finger, was told he couldn’t pitch because of a rules infraction even though the opposing manager had no objection to it prior to the start of the game.
Demagian argued to no avail, and was forced to bring in Matt Niejadlik off the Northbridge bench to replace Pajka. Niejadlik retired the side in the top of the second, as was Northbridge by the Billerica opposing pitcher in their half.
In the third inning, even though Niejadlik was getting two strikes on nearly every batter, he couldn’t deliver the punch-out and Billerica’s 13 batters scored eight times to take the lead 8-0 after three complete.
Northbridge continued not to hit O’Connor while Billerica added four more runs between the fourth and fifth innings.
With the 10-run Mercy Rule facing them, Northbridge came to bat in the bottom of the fifth needing at least three runs to continue the game. It wasn’t to be as Jacob Foynes pop-flied to the pitcher and Dylan Jepsen and Jordan Smith each went down swinging to give Billerica the 12-0 win and the State Championship.