Post 81 marches to states, 5-4
GREENFIELD — Greenfield Post 81’s Luke Bakker got to experience the lows and the highs of baseball Thursday.
After a fluky play in the top of the sixth inning bounced over the head of the first baseman to plate the tying run, Bakker blooped a two-out single to left-center in the bottom of the inning to put Post 81 ahead and Greenfield held on to win the District 1/2/3 Championship with a 5-4 victory over Westfield Post 124 at Veterans Memorial Field in Greenfield.
Fourth-seeded Greenfield (19-4) finished off a two-game sweep of the best-of-three championship series over third-seeded Westfield and completed a perfect 5-0 run through the western Massachusetts playoffs. Greenfield won the WMass title for the first time since the 1990s and advanced to the Final 8 State Tournament, which begins Saturday and is hosted at Frank Feeley Field in Sudbury. Post 81 last played in the state tournament in 2000 when it hosted and got an automatic bye. Greenfield will open up the double-elimination tournament against Kingston Post 387 at 4:30 p.m. Kingston won the District 10 championship Wednesday with a 12-6 victory over Barnstable Post 206. For a complete rundown of the state tournament, see the Scoreboard on Page B2.
The game-winning run was scored by Liam Datres de la Blotier, who lined a one-out single to left field and moved to second when Brody Markol grounded out to second for the second out of the inning. That brought up Bakker, who had been on base twice already but he fell behind Westfield relief pitcher Matt Plasse with a 1-2 count. Bakker fought back to a full count, and when Plasse tried to throw a slider on the outside part of the plate, he reached out and flicked a blooper into left-center. Datres de la Blotier raced home from second base and was greeted by many of his Greenfield teammates, who raced out of the dugout, nearly bowling over home-plate umpire BJ Guerin in the process.
“(Plasse) was throwing a lot of sliders and they were great pitches and I knew he was going to throw it at 3-2. It’s his go-to pitch,” Bakker said. “I knew the umpire was giving him the close calls, so I knew I needed to swing 3-2.”
The game-winning run came minutes after things took a turn in the wrong direction for the hosts. Greenfield held a 4-1 lead after four innings but Westfield chipped away to tie the game, scoring twice in the fifth and once in the sixth. The game-tying run came when Westfield’s Connor Sas was hit by a pitch by Greenfield reliever Sam Downes to lead off the sixth. A sacrifice bunt by Sam Blake moved Sas to second but Downes, who was throwing heat, struck out Matt Irzyk for the second out. That brought up Nate Barnes, who had entered the game in the fourth inning. The move paid off as Barnes roped a loud double to right-center. This time he hit a ground ball that appeared to be the final out of the inning until it took a vicious hop off the lip of the infield grass and bounced well over the head of the shocked first baseman to score Sas.
“Tyler Charboneau had gotten hit in the face earlier this season on a ball that hopped off that lip, so we knew it was there, we just didn’t know it was that bad,” Bakker said. “I think it took everybody by surprise.”
The game was resumed following Wednesday night’s suspension brought on by dangerous lightning. Westfield had batted and went down in order in the top of the first inning, while Greenfield leadoff hitter Mark Buck had reached on a walk before play was stopped with nobody out. That’s where the game started Thursday evening and Greenfield took advantage of the runner when Buck stole second and scored on Datres de la Blotier’s RBI single to left. That was not the end of the inning, as Bakker hit a grounder to second that went for an error, and Downes then hit a chopper to third that he beat out for an infield single that scored Datres de la Blotier and put Greenfield up 2-0 after one inning.
Westfield got a run back in the third on a two-out RBI single from Chris Riga, but Greenfield answered in the bottom of the frame with two more runs, both coming on Jake Elwell’s two-run single up the middle. That put Greenfield up 4-1 but that lead was challenged in the fifth inning.
Greenfield pitcher Nick York, who had allowed three hits and one unearned run in the first four innings, walked leadoff hitter Irzyk and then allowed a double to Barnes, putting runners on second and third with nobody out. That’s when Greenfield manager Tim Capuano made the move to bring in reliever Downes, and he was greeted by No. 9 hitter Plasse, who hit a loud shot to short. On the play, Barnes hopped over the hard-hit ball and the entire sequence resulted in a difficult play for Post 81 shortstop Niko Ames, who was unable to field the ball cleanly, allowing both runs to score. Downes came back to strike out three of the next four hitters (allowing a double in the process), and got out of the inning without any further damage.
“It was definitely my fault because I threw a slider to the No. 9 hitter (Plasse) when I didn’t learn until the next inning that they couldn’t touch my fastball,” Downes said. “After learning from the mistakes I made, I knew I just had to pound fastballs, and it resulted in more strikeouts (six) than I thought.”
The win was even sweeter for Downes and Capuano, who were both part of the Post 81 team of 2012 that was on the verge of qualifying for the states but suffered a late meltdown in a play-in game against Pittsfield and blew a large lead. Downes was a first-year player on that team, while Capuano was an assistant coach.
“Only me and a couple guys, including coach Cap, were on that team,” Downes recalled. “Secretly we wanted Pittsfield but got Westfield, and we knew we weren’t going to go out as easy as we did against Pittsfield. Westfield is a team that made our offense look silly in the beginning of the year, but we are a new team from when we played them early in the season.”
It continues to be an unexpected ride for a team short on superstars but long on players who not only have talent, but want to be out on the field, something that is not always the case with player this time of the year. Greenfield will now give it a go against the best teams in Massachusetts for the right to represent the state at the Northeast Regionals being played at Palmer Field in Middletown, Conn.
“We didn’t expect to be in the state tournament at the beginning of the season,” Downes concluded. “But it’s really exciting for us as a team. We have real depth, and we know going forward with our offense we can pound any team.”