Strong start to state tournament for Shrewsbury legion baseball

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Strong start to state tournament for Shrewsbury legion baseball
The Shrewsbury Post 397 team gathers before taking the field. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

NATICK – Different stage, same dominant team.

The Senior Legion State Tournament kicked off on Saturday as eight teams from around the state competed in the double-elimination playoff bracket. Under the lights at Mahan Field, Shrewsbury Post 397 – the Zone 4 champion – walloped Natick Post 107 – the tournament host – by a score of 12-2.

Strong start to state tournament for Shrewsbury legion baseball
James Benestad loses his helmet while sprinting around the bases. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Shrewsbury wasted no time getting on the board. James Benestad (3-4, 2RBI, 1BB), the first batter of the game, smoked the ball into center field, sprinting to third before scoring on an error. Benestad’s hit was just the start of an action-packed first inning; Jimmy Mitchell’s (2-4, 2RBI) double, Brady Collins’s (3-5, RBI) single, one hit by pitch, and three walks helped Shrewsbury quickly pull ahead 4-0.

Strong start to state tournament for Shrewsbury legion baseball
Jimmy Mitchell signals to the dugout after his first-inning double. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Like they had done throughout the zone playoffs, Shrewsbury scored early and often.

“We know that if we can get ahead and people are chasing you, we’ve got a shot at winning,” Shrewsbury Head Coach Frank Vaccaro told the Community Advocate after the game. “When you fall behind – and we have fallen behind sometimes – it’s a tougher game to play. Pressure mounts, and I’d rather be ahead.”

The scoring didn’t end in the first inning. Tedy Cove’s (2-3, 2BB) RBI single and Colby Coghlin’s RBI double scored two more runs in the second. In the third, Mitchell’s second double of the game plated two more. Post 397 led 8-0 after the top of the third inning.

Strong start to state tournament for Shrewsbury legion baseball
Ryan Walton prepares to deliver a pitch. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Shrewsbury starting pitcher Ryan Walton was mostly strong, allowing two runs and striking out six over his 3.2 innings pitched. Walton ran into some trouble (bases loaded, two outs) in the fourth inning, but Shrewsbury reliever Brady Chenevert subbed in and ended the threat with just one pitch.

Chenevert was impressive all night, providing 2.1 innings of scoreless relief and striking out four batters.

“We went up early, they didn’t quit, and we’ve just got to keep going,” Vaccaro said. “The key to winning is pitching and defense, so if we’ve got our pitching and defense going, we’ve got a real good shot of winning this thing.”

With an impressive 8-2 lead, Shrewsbury didn’t necessarily need additional run support, but the offense provided anyway. The rout was on. In the fifth, Benestad doubled into right field and was almost immediately brought home by Jimmy Railsback’s single. An error brought home another run later in the inning, making the score 10-2.

Strong start to state tournament for Shrewsbury legion baseball
A Natick Post 107 player dives back to first. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Shrewsbury still wasn’t done. After Andrew Peris walked, he stole second, made it to third, and sprinted home after the ball skipped past the catcher. One inning later, Brady Collins annihilated the baseball, sending the no-doubt home run over the left field fence. The homer put Shrewsbury up 12-2.

“We’re starting to play as a team… the camaraderie is absolutely terrific,” Vaccaro said. “They all like each other, and now they believe they can win. I believe the heart is there now. That’s the key. If the heart is there, they have a chance to win.”

Shrewsbury will face Beverly Post 331 – the Zone 8 champion – on Sunday at 7 p.m. Beverly won their first matchup of the tournament over Walpole Post 104.

“The message to the team after the game was don’t rest on your laurels,” Vaccaro said.

“We’ve got to keep on trucking.”

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