Sheffield Post 340 clinches top seed in Junior division with win over East Longmeadow
LENOX — When Tom Fielding, Jesse Carpenter, Jeremy Shepardson and Gabe Blanchard decided to try and bring American Legion baseball back to southern Berkshire County, they had the typical concerns of coaching summer ball: getting enough kids to show up regularly and keeping those nine-plus who did arrive at the ballpark engaged.
Less than a month after starting their season began, though, Sheffield Post 340 has torn through the Junior Division of Western Massachusetts Legion and on Monday clinched the No. 1 seed in the postseason tournament.
"When you start something like this, you're hopeful," said Carpenter. "I think what has really helped is these guys all get along. They're committed."
With 14 players in the dugout at War Memorial Field, Sheffield dispatched of East Longmeadow 14-3 in a mercy-shortened four-and-a-half innings. Post 293 played the game with just eight fielders.
According to Carpenter, Post 340 — which improved to 12-1 — hasn't gone into a game with fewer than 11 players this summer.
With one regular season game to play — home against Longmeadow Tuesday — Sheffield's lead for the division title is insurmountable. The team won its ninth consecutive game behind an offensive onslaught that featured five extra-base hits, taking full advantage of East Longmeadow's two outfielders.
"We just wanted to bring Legion back," said coach Carpenter, who played for South Berkshire under Tom Young as a kid. "We were hoping to get through the season, not have any issues, have enough kids, and it turned into a really special team. It's exciting."
Jackson Blanchard, John Fielding, Jack Carpenter and Josh Hunter all doubled, while backstop Cooper Shepardson hammered an opposite field drive to the corner in right and circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park homer in the third inning.
Shepardson's homer came one batter after Blanchard plated two with a double to his opposite field, left, polishing off a five-run third that turned a 6-3 lead into an 11-3 blowout.
"I think we kept getting better as we went along," said the starting catcher. "It's getting to know each other and being comfortable with everybody. Becoming more of a team emotionally."
Sheffield only needed four sets of at bats and scored at least three runs in each frame.
Blanchard reached base and scored in all four of his plate appearances as Post 340's leadoff man. Behind him, Shepardson scored twice and drove in five runs, while the No. 3 hitter Fielding matched him with five RBI and went 3 for 4. Carpenter had three hits as well out of the cleanup spot.
"I saw the group of kids we had together and thought we had a good chance to win some games," said Cooper Shepardson. "Didn't really know what the competition would be, but I think we came together really well."
Kenny Zucco and Nate Armstrong scored two runs a piece. Zucco got the ball to start and went four innings, allowing three earned, all in the second. Zucco struck out five, but walked four.
With a 3-0 lead after one, East Longmeadow got a leadoff walk from Kyle Fisk, and Jacob Paschetto followed with one of his two singles. Both players scored, one via balk and one via passed ball. Kyle Birks had a RBI single to score another run in the inning.
Anthony Cuccovia started the fourth with a double to right field, but he was cut down trying to stretch to third. Peyton Doyle fielded the ball in right, got it to Carpenter, who fired to third base for the out. Luke Patella flashed some leather in center field as well, coming up with a diving catch to start the fifth and set up Marco Buffoni for a scoreless inning of relief with two strikeouts.
"They've come together nicely. You can see it today, we made some really nice plays defensively and we hit the snot out of the ball," said Jesse Carpenter. "I don't think any of us would have said we'll finish the season 13-1, but at this point it's just all come together."
As the top seed, Sheffield will open postseason play on Thursday against the No. 8 seed at War Memorial in a double-elimination bracket.
E. Longmeadow 030 00 — 3 4 4
Sheffield 335 3x — 14 11 0
Evan Boutin (3 1/3), Kyle Birks (1 2/3) and Connor Birks. Kenny Zucco (4), Marco Buffoni (1) and Cooper Shepardson. W — Zucco. L — Boutin. 2B — EL (Anthony Cuccovia); S (Jackson Blanchard, John Fielding, Jack Carpenter, Josh Hunter). HR — S (Shepardson).
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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