Shrewsbury Post 397 wins American Legion baseball zone championship

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Shrewsbury Post 397 wins American Legion baseball zone championship
Members of Shrewsbury Post 397 celebrate their championship win. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

LEOMINSTER – This one was all Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury Post 397 dominated every facet of the game on Thursday night to claim the American Legion Massachusetts Zone 4 championship. Shrewsbury defeated Leominster Post 151 by a score of 10-1 in the title game. 

Shrewsbury started scoring nearly immediately. Jimmy Mitchell’s RBI single brought the game’s first run home, and an error by Leominster’s catcher eventually allowed Post 397 to pull ahead 2-0. Leominster’s Tristan Dance struggled to find the strike zone early in the contest, and Shrewsbury took full advantage.

With the bases loaded, Shrewsbury’s Ryan Walton made contact with the ball and sent it flying over Doyle Field’s fence. The grand slam capped off Post 397’s six-run first inning.   

“The kid is a hell of a player. We’re blessed. He’s a team player,” Shrewsbury Head Coach Frank Vaccaro said of Walton after the game. 

The slam was Walton’s second game-changing hit in as many days. Less than 24 hours earlier, Walton stepped up to the plate and practically saved Shrewsbury’s season with his three-RBI, go-ahead triple. Shrewsbury – which was down to its last out prior to Walton’s heroics – won 6-5 on Wednesday night to force a rematch on Thursday.  

Leominster and Shrewsbury were well-acquainted with one another by the championship game. The two teams had played once more earlier in the double-elimination zone playoff bracket. Shrewsbury lost that contest 5-0. 

“When we lost that game to these guys 5-0, we were in a tough situation,” Vaccaro said. “We have the depth, we have the pitching depth, and we have the kids who came together as a group… I can’t be any prouder of us.”

Shrewsbury’s David Escobar was dominant on the mound, allowing one run, three hits, and striking out six batters over his four and two-third innings of work. The one run that did score reached on an error, and the threat was quickly ended when Tedy Cove fired home to catch an overaggressive Leominster runner looking to score an extra run. 

“He’s an exceptional pitcher. Escobar can shove it, man,” Vaccaro said.

Leominster twice loaded the bases but couldn’t push any runs across the plate. Shrewsbury’s Colby Coghlin provided two and one-third innings of scoreless relief. 

Heading into the seventh inning with all the momentum, Shrewsbury didn’t need any more run support, but the bats came alive again nonetheless. Three straight two-out singles helped Shrewsbury score another four runs, extending their lead to 10-1; Shrewsbury was hot, Leominster was not. 

In addition to Walton’s big hit, Andrew Peris (3-4, 2RBI), Mitchell (2-4, RBI), and James Benestad (2-5) all had big nights offensively. 

As Coghlin closed out the bottom of the seventh, securing the zone championship for the Shrewsbury squad, Post 397 players swarmed the field to celebrate.

After losing to Leominster early in the playoff tournament, Shrewsbury strung together five straight wins – including three wins in the span of 24 hours – to become zone champions. 

“We haven’t won the zone in a while – it’s been a couple years. We were fortunate to host the regional, but there’s something special about the zone because this is a tough zone to win,” Vaccaro said. 

Shrewsbury moves on to the state tournament, which involves teams from Fall River to Belchertown. Shrewsbury’s first game will be in Natick on Saturday night; Walton will take the ball for Post 397.

“We started off slow, but you’ve got to keep playing [and] you can’t make excuses,” Vaccaro said. “We’re lucky, but we’ll take luck. Confidence breeds success.”

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