‘Small ball’ stuns Shrewsbury baseball, ends Post 397’s season

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‘Small ball’ stuns Shrewsbury baseball, ends Post 397’s season
Shrewsbury’s Brady Shea fires toward home plate. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

WORCESTER – After losing 4-3 to Rhode Island champion Cumberland Post 14 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the American Legion Baseball Northeast Regional Tournament, Shrewsbury Post 397 – the Massachusetts runner-up and tournament host – needed to run the table to become regional champions and head to the American Legion World Series for the second straight year.

But it wasn’t meant to be for Shrewsbury. On Aug. 3, Post 397 fell behind early against New York champion Greece Post 468. Although they valiantly fought back, they could never quite pull ahead. 

Shrewsbury lost 9-6.

Greece attacked right away. Shrewsbury starter Brady Shea quickly surrendered two line-drive singles to open the game, and Post 468 eventually had runners on the corners with one out. 

Greece’s aggressive baserunning caught Shrewsbury napping. Brody Froman – the runner on first – intentionally wandered off the base, and the runner on third sprinted home behind Shrewsbury’s back. The run put Greece up 1-0 early. 

Shrewsbury was unable to adapt. Post 468 used the same tactic in the fourth inning to send another run home. 

Post 397 Head Coach Frank Vaccaro said that the team had anticipated the strategy but failed to execute in the moment. 

“I told them that when it’s first and third, they’re going to try that… play,” Vaccaro said. “But they didn’t listen… I give [Post 468] credit, but, I mean, there’s no way they should score two runs on a pickoff play. They got picked off and we just didn’t make it happen.”

Shrewsbury was also slow to adapt to Greece’s frequent bunt attempts. Post 468 bunted several times and found great success. It was tough sledding for Post 397 even when Greece hit the ball normally; the team had numerous throwing and fielding errors and their defense left much to be desired.

“We made a lot of mistakes. If you make mistakes in these games, you lose. That’s what happened. We’ve been on the other side and we’ve been on this side; the other side is better,” said Vaccaro. “That’s their game. They bunt. They steal. They run. They bunt from one to nine – we had scouted them. To their credit, they did it.”

Greece didn’t just use the small ball. In the fifth, Jeffrey Broadmax smoked the ball over Fitton Field’s left field fence. The home run, which went blistering toward I-290, brought three runs home for Post 468. 

Although the spotty defense and shaky pitching allowed nine runs, the Post 397 offense kept the game close. 

Pat McManus’s second-inning homer – which hit practically the same spot as Broadmax’s – pulled Shrewsbury within one. Post 397 eventually fell behind by three, but McManus’s bases-loaded walk and James Benestad’s two-RBI single evened the game in the fourth inning. 

Down by four in the sixth inning, Jimmy Mitchell’s two-RBI triple brought the game within two and sent the tying run to the plate.

The loss ended Post 397’s season.

“It’s a good group of boys,” Vaccaro said. “I feel sorry for the graduates. I wanted them to get to the [American Legion] World Series. But we did win the zone, we did go to the state finals, and we battled here. Sometimes you win, [and] sometimes that ball doesn’t go your way.”

Vaccaro repeatedly mentioned that although the frequent mistakes were costly, he’s proud of how the team battled.  

Shrewsbury will graduate nine players from this year’s team. Vaccaro was blunt about what needed to change for the team to return to the American Legion World Series next year.

“We have to reload. We have to come back with a different attitude, and… do better with fundamentals,” he said.

“But we will,” he added confidently.

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