Shrewsbury legion baseball loses heartbreaker in state final

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Shrewsbury legion baseball loses heartbreaker in state final
Ouch! Colby Coghlin gets hit by the pitch. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

NATICK – It was one of the best games all season, but it did not belong to Shrewsbury.

After an intense, back-and-forth contest, Franklin Post 75 edged Shrewsbury Post 397 by a score of 6-5 in the Senior Legion State Tournament championship game. Franklin’s three-run seventh inning lifted the team to their second-straight state title.

Pitching was the key early in this one. Both starting pitchers – Shrewsbury’s Ryan Walton and Franklin’s Alfred Mucciarone – kept the opposing offenses off-balance. Walton, who threw 104 pitches over 6.1 innings, retired seven of the first eight batters he faced to open the game. Mucciarone was just as stellar, striking out nine over his 5.1 innings on the bump.

Although both pitchers started strong, they began to crack as the game progressed. After his leadoff single in the top of the third inning, Andrew Peris surprised nobody when he stole second base. Peris’s baserunning prowess – which Shrewsbury fans have become accustomed to – resulted in the game’s first run; Peris opened the scoring on Jimmy Railsback’s RBI groundout. With little offense up to that point, Peris provided the spark Shrewsbury needed.

“[Peris] is a great player,” said Shrewsbury Head Coach Frank Vaccaro. “Man, he’s been terrific. Can’t complain about anything he has done… [he’s one] hell of a player.”

Franklin would start to do damage against Walton in later innings. After scoring one run in the third inning and another in the fourth, Franklin led 2-1 and seemed to have control of the game heading into the top of the sixth inning.

“I thought it’d be a pitching match. I think [Walton] actually pitched extremely well. I left him in there; he wanted the ball,” Vaccaro told the Community Advocate after the game. “His arm was fine, [and] he’s going to pitch the opening game of regionals… He’s been one of our best players the last couple years.”

Shrewsbury legion baseball loses heartbreaker in state final
Ryan Walton fires the ball toward home plate. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Then the game got crazy. Of the 11 runs produced in this contest, eight – four by each team – were scored in the final two innings. The offenses had finally arrived.

Three straight singles – by Jimmy Mitchell, Tedy Cove, and Brady Collins – helped tie the game in the top of the sixth. The score was now 2-2. However, Franklin didn’t blink, hitting three straight singles of their own to score another run. Post 75 entered the final inning up 3-2.

Shrewsbury had to rally – and they did.

Shrewsbury legion baseball loses heartbreaker in state final
The Shrewsbury team gathers before rallying in the seventh inning. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Aided by three Franklin errors (including one unfortunate miscue by Franklin’s right fielder), Peris’s second single of the game, and Pat McManus’s leadoff hit-by-pitch, Shrewsbury scored three much-needed runs and led 5-3 going into the bottom of the seventh.

The Franklin defense was in shambles, but – unfortunately for Shrewsbury – their offense was able to pick up the pieces in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, the bases loaded, and the game tied, Franklin’s Dominic Caccavelli tapped the ball back to Brady Shea, who pitched in relief of Walton. Shea’s throw to first was errant, and Franklin would win 6-5.

Caccavelli’s walk-off fielder’s choice started the championship celebration for Franklin, the now back-to-back state champions.

Shrewsbury legion baseball loses heartbreaker in state final
The Shrewsbury infield works together to secure an out. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

As Franklin celebrated their win – posing with the trophy, banner, and blasting Queen’s “We Are the Champions” – the Shrewsbury team, reeling from the heartbreaking loss, sat in right field. Vaccaro spoke to the team for nearly 15 minutes after the game.

“I’m very proud of them. They’re a great bunch of young men and we’ll be back,” Vaccaro said. During his speech, Vaccaro told the team to keep their “heads up and go from there.”

Although the loss was no doubt disappointing for Shrewsbury, the team’s season is not over. Both Franklin (MA champion) and Shrewsbury (tournament host) will compete in the American Legion Baseball Northeast Regional Tournament at Fitton Field in Worcester. Franklin will face the Connecticut champion on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.; Shrewsbury will compete against the Rhode Island champion immediately following that game.

Ever the optimist, Vaccaro said that the loss to Franklin can only help his team going forward.

“I think it’s inspirational,” he said. “If they can’t be motivated after losing like that, they don’t deserve to play in the regionals. I think they’ve got it; I think they’re hurt now, but they’ll come back smoking [in the next game].”

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