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Post 81 pulls one out, 5-4

GREENFIELD — Things could not have gone much worse for Greenfield Post 81 for much of Thursday evening.

After dropping a 3-2 decision in the ninth inning of the continuation from Game 1 of the best-of-three Hampden County American Legion Baseball District Playoff against Agawam Post 185 to start the day, Greenfield found itself in a 3-0 first-inning hole of decisive Game 3. After digging its way out to tie the game at 3-3, Greenfield then watched Agawam score a run in the top of the seventh inning to move to within three outs of eliminating Post 81.

Then Tanner Jillson kicked Post 81 into gear.

The second baseman quickly quieted the Agawam bench by blasting a leadoff triple in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Tyler Charboneau ended things with a fielder’s choice to short to plate Garrett Hudson with the winning run as Post 81 advanced with a 5-4 victory at Veterans Memorial Field.

Post 81 advances to the double-elimination Department Sectionals, which open at Vets Field against Palmer Post 130 Sunday afternoon at a time to be determined. Greenfield is the top seed in the four-team Bracket A of the Central-West Sectional. Greenfield will also host a game on Monday that will start no later than 5 p.m. per Legion regulations.

With the season hanging in the balance, Jillson came to the plate in the seventh to lead off against Agawam relief pitcher Joe Viens, who relieved Zach Jendrysik (six strikeouts, three walks) after the starter had thrown over 100 pitches. Viens quickly fell behind Jillson 3-1, and when he tried to sneak a fastball over the plate, Jillson jumped all over it, driving the ball to deep right-center field. Jillson got on his horse and motored into third with a stand-up triple.

“I was just sitting fastball, looking for something to drive and get on base,” Jillson said of the at bat. “When I hit the ball, my first thought was a triple. I knew I wanted to get into scoring position right away. Honestly, I just swung as hard as I could.”

That brought Garrett Hudson to the plate. Hudson was already a star for Post 81, coming on in relief with two outs in the first inning and pitching 61∕3 innings of four-hit, one-run ball to give Post 81 a chance to get back into the game. Hudson delivered at the plate as well, when he sent a high fly ball to shallow left that fell into no-man’s land for a hit. Agawam left fielder Anthony Ingham attempted to dive and catch the ball, which dropped and left Ingham prostrate on the ground, allowing Jillson (holding at third base) to score the tying run.

Greenfield wasn’t done yet, though. Hudson moved to second base on a wild pitch, then moved to third when Tom Malooly hit a slow grounder to short for the first out of the inning. That brought Tyler Charboneau to the plate, and the third baseman had redemption on his mind after twice coming up empty on chances to drive in runs. In the first inning, he batted with runners on second and third and one out but struck out swinging. Then in the fifth, he came up with the bases loaded and one out and again went down swinging. He did not let the third chance escape him, as he hit a sharp grounder up the middle with the Agawam infield in. The ball was hit so hard that it forced Post 185 shortstop Tyler Lyne to stumble as he tried to make the play, and Hudson was able to easily beat the high throw home, where he was mobbed by euphoric teammates.

“I just shortened up my swing because I thought I was overswinging those first two at-bats,” Charboneau said. “I wanted to cut down on my swing and put the ball in play, and I did. It was exciting and nerve-wracking, especially after my last at-bat.”

While everyone was celebrating the winning rally after the game, the unsung hero was Hudson, who came on with two outs in the first inning and three runs already in. The Post 81 ace was working on three days rest after striking out 13 Agawam hitters over eight innings on Monday when Game 1 was suspended. Hudson picked up right where he left off, striking out Nick Destefano with two runners on to end the first inning, then stymieing the Post 185 hitters over the next six full. Hudson did not allow a hit until a bunt single by Jendrysik to lead off the fifth. He allowed one more hit in the sixth before giving up his only run in the seventh, when Jendrysik hit a one-out triple to deep center and scored on Tyler Lyne’s single up the middle. Hudson got out of the jam and finished the game with 10 strikeouts and three walks, running his two-game strikeout total to 23.

“I didn’t plan on pitching this much,” Hudson said afterward. “I planned on (starter Sam Tillona) going a little bit longer. My arm was throbbing (on Wednedsay) and Coach asked me if I could pitch an inning and I said, ‘Sure.’ Today it actually felt good and I told him I was comfortable throwing just about anything. I told him I just didn’t want to start the second game, but I basically did. I get that little rush when I’m asked to pitch and the pain just goes away.”

Top-seeded Greenfield entered the day with a 1-0 lead in the series after winning Game 2 on Wednesday night. The teams had to then turn around and finish off Game 1 on Thursday afternoon after it was halted due to darkness on Monday night with the two teams tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Greenfield came to the plate with a chance to win it upon resumption but was set down in order by Agawam pitcher Zach Jendrysik. Post 185, which was playing without six starters on Thursday due to having a prior engagement, took advantage as Trevor Lyne led off the top of the ninth with a double and later scored on a one-out ground-out by Brendan Garvey. Post 81 put a pair of runners on in the bottom of the ninth but Jendrysik got Tillona to ground out to second for the final out and force the third game.

It was a tough evening for Tillona, who took the loss in the first game, then started Game 3. The game change did not alter his fortune on the bump. Agawam jumped on him in the top of the first inning, albeit it with some seeing-eye hits. Trevor Lyne led off the game with a bouncer in front of the plate that Tillona was unable to field cleanly, and Jendrysik followed with a bunt single down the third-base line. Tyler Lyne then hit a single between third and short to score the first run of the game. Tillona came back to record two straight outs but Nick Massarelli hit a two-out, two-run single to center for a 3-0 lead. Tillona followed that by walking Garvey on five pitches and fell behind Destefano 2-0, which prompted Greenfield skipper Ryan Tatreau to make his way out of the dugout for the second time of the inning, which meant Tillona was done. Tillona did not wait for Tatreau to reach the mound, storming off toward the dugout and prompting Tatreau to halt the pitcher near the third-base line, where the two had a brief discussion before Tillona headed to the dugout. There he threw his glove and headed to the locker room. Hudson then struck out Destefano on three straight pitches to end the game.

Greenfield began to chip away at the deficit and it was shortstop Niko Ames who was highly responsible. Ames led off the first with a single, moved to second on a Jillson single, and later scored on a wild pitch. He again set the table for a Post 81 run in the third by leading off the inning with a triple to right-center and making a heads up baserunning play, when Jillson followed with a ground ball to first. Agawam first baseman Garvey looked Ames back to the bag, but Ames didn’t go all the way back and when Garvey turned his back to run to first, Ames ran home and scored well ahead of the throw. Greenfield tied the score in the fifth inning by loading the bases with two outs before Liam Datres de la Blotier hit a grounder to short that went through the legs of Tyler Lyne for an error.

It was Ames who said prior to the seventh inning to a crowd of his teammates, “I’m not ready to be done playing baseball this summer,” and they responded, capping off a wild day of baseball.

“We all wanted to come here today and be done in five minutes, so we might not have been mentally prepared when the second game started,” Ames said of the slow start. “But we just worked hard to play catch up and we’re still playing.”

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