Post 81 dumps Westfield, 3-1

Greenfield Post 81 has a chance to sweep through the WMass American Legion Baseball tournament.

Ben Ruddock turned in seven strong innings and Mark Buck hit a big third-inning RBI triple as Greenfield opened the best-of-three championship series with a 3-1 victory over Westfield Tuesday night at Bullens Field in Westfield.

The two teams will meet in Game 2 tonight at 7:15 at Veterans Memorial Field in Greenfield. Should Greenfield win, it will have gone 5-0 in the WMass tournament and will punch its ticket to the State Tournament beginning Saturday. A loss will send the series back to Bullens Field Thursday night for a decisive Game 3. If tonight’s game gets postponed due to forecast thunderstorms, the two clubs will meet for a doubleheader in Greenfield Thursday to complete the series because Friday is a no-play day across the league.

Ruddock had another solid outing on the mound for Post 81, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning before it was broken up by a two-out line-drive single by Cam Robitaille. Ruddock surrendered an unearned run in the sixth inning when Brent Hule drove in Chris Riga with two outs, but Greenfield had a 3-0 lead at the time and Ruddock got through the seventh with no former damage to end the complete-game effort. Ruddock wound up striking out six and walking three, while allowing just two hits.

“(Catcher Jake Elwell) called a great game behind the plate, had them off-balance the whole time,” Ruddock said. “I was able to mix up my pitches and hit my spots.”

The win could have been made much easier for Ruddock had Greenfield capitalized on more of its opportunities. In recent weeks, there has not been a hotter offense in all of western Mass. than Post 81, but the team struggled to drive in runs against Westfield starter Matt Irzyk despite plenty of opportunities. Irzyk allowed six hits and six walks in 51/3 innings, while reliever Rob Sullivan allowed three more walks, as Greenfield finished with 17 baserunners but left 13 of them on base and had another gunned down at home. Post 81 left the bases loaded three times.

“Lately we’ve been cashing in on those opportunities but we left a lot of men on base tonight,” Greenfield skipper Tim Capuano said. “But the guys were doing the right things to get on base, so we were happy with that.”

Greenfield was able to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Niko Ames, who walked in all four of his plate-appearances, worked a one-out walk and back-to-back two-out singles from Brody Markol and Luke Bakker loaded the bases. Sam Downes then lined a single up the middle that plated Ames, but a strong throw from Westfield center fielder Sullivan cut down Markol at home to end the inning with minimal damage.

After Greenfield left the bases loaded in the second inning and then went in order in the third, the team added two its lead in the fourth with some two-out magic. Jake Elwell reached on a two-out error by Westfield third-baseman Riga, sending Buck to the plate. The Post 81 leadoff man has been in a bit of a slump of late and had struck out in each of his first two plate appearances Tuesday night. But he got revenge in his third attempt by taking the first offering and blasting it to deep center for an RBI triple. He then scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0.

“I know I’ve been struggling, and a lot of it’s mental,” Buck said. “So I went up to the plate with the approach that I was not going to wait, I was going to be aggressive and calm. And he threw me a first-pitch fastball.”

That would be the final runs for Post 81, despite the team loading the bases in the sixth and seventh innings. Irzyk suffered the loss, striking out eight and walking six.

Elwell also had a huge game behind the plate for Post 81. The catcher picked a runner off first base in the second inning, then made a big diving play on a throw in from center field in the sixth that could have resulted in runners advancing. He finished by gunning down Robitaille stealing to end the game.

Greenfield now will try to finish off a sweep of the championship series and finish the WMass Tournament a perfect 5-0.

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