By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – There’s just no place like home when a Zone 4 Samko American Legion Championship Series title is on the line, players and coaches of the Shrewsbury Quaranta Post 397 team unanimously agree.
Top-seed Shrewsbury found out that home cooking is what it’s all about as the team defeated visiting second-seed Northbridge, 7-3, on July 19 to capture the coveted championship, its first since 2011. Shrewsbury now advances to double-elimination State competition in Norwood on July 23 versus to-be-determined Section 8 champions.
Each team advanced to a third and decisive games by capturing wins on their respective home fields. Shrewsbury emerged victorious in game one on July 17 with a 3-1 triumph in which Adam Twitchell tossed two shutout innings to close out the game. Shrewsbury traveled to Northbridge on July 18 where they came up short on a 1-0 score. Both teams locked horns in a classic Legion pitchers’ duel, but it was Northbridge that broke a scoreless tie with a walk-off victory in the eighth inning.
But 24 hours later it would be an adrenaline-pumped Shrewsbury that took to the SHS field before a huge crowd seeking the title and some degree of vindication for the defeat in Northbridge. Team members were visibly amped up for the challenge and would not disappoint.
“I’ve been blessed. I’ve got 13 guys that could start on most teams,” said manager Frank Vaccaro, whose team’s season record stands at 25-5. “I’ve never had that privilege before. I’ve always had good players and good guys and these guys truly like each other so it’s even more so.
“I got a little scared yesterday. I’m not going to lie. You lose 1-0, and you worry how the team’s going to respond the next day and they were fearless so I’m extremely proud and pretty happy. This is a very special team. We’ve got great parents and great support from everybody. It’s quite exceptional.”
“We’ve been fighting all year. Nobody got down after last night,” said leadoff batter and centerfielder Adam Twitchell, who banged out four hits on the night as well as three the previous day. “I know it was a tough loss (Monday) but we got right back after that game and we showed it here today.”
“Coming in today, we slowed each other down and we said that this was baseball,” added catcher Nick Martin, who collected two hits on the night. “We all know how to play and we’re just going to go out there and play the way we know how.”
Shrewsbury got on the board with a single run in the first inning on three base-hits including a shortstop error that made it 1-0.
But it was the third and ultimately game-deciding inning where all the damage to Northbridge would occur. Three consecutive singles by Twitchell, Tyler McKeon and Martin accounted for one run before Dillon Zona and Luke Gorham cracked RBI singles. The deepest wound would follow when Matt Jackson, who Vaccaro describes as the “best number eight hitter in the League”, belted a 2RBI double to the deepest part of left field to put Shrewsbury up 6-0.
While the offensive fireworks were underway, it was St. John’s High graduate and St. Lawrence University’s lefty Alex Black shutting down Northbridge over five innings yielding three runs while battling a nagging blister. Connor Gaudette entered to close it out with four strikeouts and the euphoric on-field celebration was underway.
“They definitely have some good hitters, but I went in with the same attitude that I go in every game,” explained Black as to his approach to his mound responsibilities. “I just have to get ahead of batters and make sure they don’t get to me too hard. A couple of times they were able to get to me, but I just kept doing my job and got us into the sixth inning.”
“Alex had a little blister and it kind of threw him off a little bit,” said Vaccaro. “Alex did everything I could have asked. His last four starts he pitched three shutouts and he wants the ball. He’s a gamer.”
Vaccaro also had praise for his centerfielder for his leadership on and off the field. “Twitchell doesn’t get rattled. He steals bases like I’ve never seen a kid steal bases. He doesn’t get a great jump all the time. He just has great speed. Tonight he was on his line-drive swing. What you saw tonight is him. He’s at his best and is an incredible centerfielder, one of the best I’ve coached. He’s a special kid.”
Next up is even tougher competition, the entire Shrewsbury team knows. Facing some of the state’s top Legion teams will be a challenge, but don’t expect the team to dwell on its Zone championship and forget the bigger picture.
“I know one thing. We’re going to play hard. I’ll tell you that,” said Vaccaro. “These guys will have a day off then back to work Thursday.”