By Kevin Stone, Contributing Writer
NORTHBOROUGH – Just a few short years ago, the Northborough Post 234 American Legion team was considered an afterthought in Zone 4.
Milford, Shrewsbury and Leominster were the usual suspects to come out of the Zone 4 tournament and represent the zone in the state tournament. Northborough was never really a threat.
After winning the Zone 4 title for the first time since 1958, though, Northborough rumbled back into the playoffs this summer for an August 3 game. It’s been quite a turnaround over the past couple of seasons.
Manager Ken MacDonald, in his eighth year at the helm of the club, has seen this turnaround coming.
“The kids came in knowing they had a title to defend,” MacDonald said in a recent phone interview. “We’ve got a good mix this year of young talent to go with some returning veteran players who have won a championship before. We’ve been playing our best baseball heading into the playoffs and that’s always the goal.”
MacDonald highlighted Drew Lewis-Keddy, who had posted a .478 batting average with 12 RBIs as of July 27. Lewis-Keddy will play at Anna Maria College next year.
MacDonald also mentioned Sam Hill, who will be heading to UMass Amherst next year. Hill was hitting .500 and had 14 RBIs.
Nick Choate and Nick Poon were also hitting around .500, while Poon had added 16 RBIs. New pitcher Gavin Gatusso of Middlebury had a 4-1 win-loss record with a 0.96 earned run average in 32 innings pitched.
Playing in arguably the most competitive “zone” or “district” in Massachusetts, every single night is a grind. MacDonald has tried to make sure expectations remain high for the program because the level of competition is so high.
Though the team lost that playoff opener on August 3, ending their season, MacDonald was proud of his squad’s progress.
“We play in such a competitive zone and we’ve had some tough close losses,” he said late last month. “It was a late start to the year with high school guys still playing. We had guys miss some games for injuries and other reasons, so now that we’ve had guys coming back, we’re starting to get a full roster and expect to be in every game we play.”
The playoff format was a bit different this year. A berth in the national tournament wasn’t on the table as that belongs to Beverly after a mid-season interstate tournament determined who will represent Massachusetts at the Legion World Series in North Carolina.
Wishing to have gone further, Northborough was in this spot after a late surge shored up their regular season record. As recently as mid-July, the team was still looking to formally punch its ticket to the playoffs.
“I think we’re going to be a dangerous team in the playoffs,” MacDonald said of the outlook prior to the loss. “We played some games earlier in the year with nine or 10 guys, so it’s been a lot easier getting guys back and having an actual bullpen and stuff like that.
“We’ve got good pitching, good defense and we’ve gotten some timely hitting,” he continued. “That’s been the formula that’s worked for us the last couple of years.”