As the Pittsfield Post 68 American Legion baseball team gathered in its huddle one last time before leaving Peter Wall Field in Norwood — site of the Legion State Tournament — the players looked drained, having played 27 innings of baseball over the last two days.
Post 68 members were mostly sullen and quiet after losing 9-5 in the state championship to Shrewsbury late Wednesday night, but catcher Brett Murphy took this moment to boost the team's spirit before they left.
Murphy, a rising senior from Taconic, told teammates from rival schools how, initially, he wasn't the biggest fan of them while competing against them in high school. From battling for rebounds in the post with Matt Schneider at Wahconah, to dealing with the quiet confidence of Matt Koperniak at Hoosac Valley, eventually becoming teammates with these players did not seem like something Murphy ever pictured.
However, when he broke the huddle, the team chanted 'family', signifying how close this group of players from six different high schools is becoming. With the team preparing for the Regional Tournament in Bristol, Conn., that chemistry could play a big part in how far they advance.
"It's definitely been different," Koperniak said with a chuckle on his experience with the team so far. "It's been pretty crazy with these guys, but they're a fun group of kids. Everybody comes here for the same purpose, to try and win ballgames. I like their competitiveness and I thought we came and jelled really nicely as a team."
Maybe it's the 26-4 record they've amassed over the summer that has the chemistry so high, or it could be the six days spent together at a local hotel, eating meals together and hanging out before and after games. Coach Pat Bassi said the experience is similar to being a road team in the MLB. That grind has seemingly united the team even more.
"It's been great," pitcher Ross Omelenchuck said. "We have six different high schools on this team and we've all been staying together for the past week, doing everything together. We've really came together as a team and bonded a lot more over the past week."
As Pittsfield's postseason run continues, one issue the nine-inning state tournament format shined a light on is the team's depth — specifically its pitching depth. The loss of Ethan Forfa (personal issues) further complicates that issue, but the team still has capable arms.
Koperniak made his first appearance on the mound against Shrewsbury, retiring both batters he faced in the bottom of the eighth. The Trinity College commit said he's available to pitch again if called upon.
Omelenchuck said he found out 30 minutes before the state championship that he was getting the call to the mound, making his first start of the postseason. He began strong before control issues allowed Shrewsbury to put runs on the board and pull away.
With Izaiya Mestre and Sam Fick emerging as the No. 1 and No. 2 starters, respectively, the mixing and matching of relievers behind them will be interesting. Add in that Schneider has done a majority of the catching, and players such as Murphy, Nate Stump and Mike Downer could provide relief for Schneider behind the plate. Bassi said having players that play multiple positions can alleviate problems created from the longer games.
"We have a lot of flexibility," he said. "Izaiya can play short, Koperniak can play short, Patrick Colvin can play short. Izaiya can move over to third. Simon Nassif can play the outfield very well. ...We have a lot flexibility. I never worry about moving players around."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252