NORWOOD — Pittsfield Post 68 jumped out to a big lead, but Norwood Post 70 did not go down without a fight.
Leading by six, Jake Flynn got Brian King to ground out to a diving Mike Downer for the final out, giving Post 68 a 14-8 win in the American Legion Massachusetts state tournament. Pittsfield will play the winner of Shrewsbury vs. Lowell, from late Tuesday night, on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. A Lowell loss on Tuesday will automatically advance Pittsfield to the Regional tournament.
"The guys got to learn that we have to finish strong," Pittsfield coach Pat Bassi said of Norwood's comeback attempt. "I really want to play everybody, but you've got to take care of business too."
Norwood scored five runs in the bottom of the seven, cutting its deficit to 14-5, avoiding a mercy-rule defeat. King added an RBI ground out in the eighth. A leadoff triple from Paul Galvin led to an RBI ground out. Will Bento's RBI double plated Norwood's final run. A single and a walk loaded the bases, before Flynn got the third out.
"[Norwood] put a couple runs up and they kept hitting the ball," Pittsfield catcher Matt Schneider said. "Flynn made good pitches and our defense made some good plays.
"We just hung in there. It was kind of a tough ending, but we're moving on to the final day. That's all that you can ask for."
Despite the tense final three innings, Pittsfield offense provided a cushion for a shaky bullpen. Shane Tierney reached base on an error. One batter later, Brett Murphy also reached on an error, allowing Tierney to score from second. Chade Shade followed with an RBI double. After Abdiel Cotto-Hernandez scored on a wild pitch, Koperniak drove in two with a single, putting Post 68 up 5-0.
The offensive onslaught continued, as Pittsfield scored five runs in the fourth inning and four runs in the fifth. In the fourth, Shade added an RBI single. After Cotto-Hernandez scored on a error, Koperniak turned on a fastball, sending 350-plus feet over the right field fence for a three-run home run.
Cooney drove in two with a single in the fifth. Shade scored on an error and Pittsfield scored its final run as Cooney scored on Schneider's sacrifice fly.
Shade was the catalyst of the offense from the leadoff spot, going 5 for 6 with two RBI and three runs scored. Koperniak went 3 for 5 with five RBI.
The eight runs credited to the Pittsfield bullpen almost negated starter Izaiya Mestre's strong performance. Mestre was in total control of his fastball and both off-speed pitches (slider, curveball), limiting Norwood to just two hits over five innings while striking out five. Schneider said Mestre's ability to locate the breaking balls kept hitters off balance.
Regardless of the outcome of the Shrewsbury-Lowell game, Pittsfield will need to win twice to regain the state title. Ethan Forfa gets the start in the first game today.
"It's never easy," Bassi said. "Izaiya pitched very well. That was the true Izaiya. ... Chad had a big game today. Koperniak had a big game today. ... We hit the ball really well. We played well overall."
Izaiya Mestre (5), Michael Hurley (1 1/3), Jake Flynn (2 2/3) and Matt Schneider. Paul Galvin (3), Michael James (6) and Mike Flynn. W — Mestre. L — Galvin. 2B — P 2 (Chad Shade), N 1 (Will Bento). 3B — N 2 (Denis Drummey, Galvin). HR — P 1 (Matt Koperniak).
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252