PITTSFIELD — Last season, Pittsfield Post 68 won its first American Legion state title in 55 years.
Fresh off an extra-inning, Western Massachusetts championship victory over Aldenville, this year's team begins its title defense against Wareham today at 4:30 p.m. in Norwood at Peter Wall Field.
At the this point in the season, Post 68's players should be adjusted to Legion ball. However, playing in the state tournament brings an added layer of intensity and longer games, as games are lengthened from seven innings to nine.
And although Pittsfield has a roster with less Legion experience than state runner-up Lowell, every member of Post 68 has played in the postseason with their high school teams. Coach Pat Bassi said a Western Mass. tournament run in high school will be similar to what they should expect tonight.
"The atmosphere is very similar. It really is," he said. "When we played Aldenville there was a big crowd here. Very emotional. Very competitive. ... All our pitchers have big game experience and we're going to need it."
The extra two innings in the state tournament makes the manager's job even more difficult. Correctly managing starters, substitutions and the bullpen can turn into make-or-break decisions. Last season, Alex Carusotto and Steve Witkowski pitched valiantly throughout tournament, eating up innings and allowing relievers Denis Cooney, Ethan Forfa and Patrick Colvin to shut the door.
This year's starters are not as physically mature as Carusotto and Witkowski, so strong performances out of the 'pen are crucial.
Izaiya Mestre will start against Wareham. The starter for game two has not been decided.
"I'm just going there and trying to do the job and get the win," Mestre said of his approach for a nine-inning game. "I'm going to try and throw as many innings as I can. Whatever happens, happens."
Sam Fick, Colvin, Jake Flynn, Michael Hurley and Ross Omelenchuck are also available to pitch out of the bullpen. Fick's been one of Pittsfield's top starters during the season. He said his approach does not change whether he's starting or entering in relief.
"I've just got to come on throwing strikes and let my defense play behind me," he said. "We've got great bats, so I know we're going to be able to hit the ball on the other end. For me, it's just like I'm starting a new game."
Throughout the season, Post 68 has supplied its pitchers with plenty of run support. Bassi said the team's batting above .400 overall, with Matt Koperniak leading the way with an average near .700. He added that Matt Schneider, Chad Shade and Jack Cooney are all batting over .400 as well.
The powerful lineup should instill confidence in the entire team, allowing them to know that no deficit is insurmountable.
"We're all on the same page and they're used to my style of ball," Bassi said. "They're playing loose. They know they're not going to get screamed and yelled at if they make an error. ... If you play nice and loose, there's no pressure."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252