There are no more trophies to win this year in American Legion junior baseball. Sandwich Post 188 has them all.
The local team, made up of players mostly from Sandwich, Bourne, Mashpee, Falmouth and Martha’s Vineyard, swept through the New England Regional Championship Tournament this past weekend in South Windsor, Connecticut, to finish the year off with its first-ever regional championship. The victory came on the heels of last week’s Massachusetts state title that the team earned in Natick.
After dropping the first game of the state tournament, the 188 team caught fire and never lost again. They swept through the states and then won all three games they played in Connecticut to take the championship. There is no national tournament for the junior Legion level.
Coach Larry Shell said losing the opening game of the Massachusetts tournament helped the team to focus and rally.
“We lost a game before this year; we went on a nice roll. We’re going to take one game at a time, try to win every pitch, win every inning. I said I needed complete effort from everyone on this team one through 18, and every coach, and they gave it. We came out on fire from that point on; everybody contributed, everybody,” Shell said.
That level of grit continued in the regionals as Post 188 won the trophy by fighting back from behind to overcome undefeated Danbury, Connecticut, in the title game, taking it by a 5-3 score. Danbury entered the game with a 35-0 record. Post 188 trailed by a 3-1 score as the game entered the late innings, but a three-run sixth-inning rally gave them the lead, and a big insurance run in the seventh helped them slam the door.
Down 3-1 in the sixth, the last man in the order kickstarted the surge by leading the frame off with a hit as James Hereford lined a single to left on the first pitch he saw. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and took third on a groundout, which set the table for Robert Ryder to drive him home. Ryder grounded one to second base, and rather than take the out at first, Danbury’s second baseman tried to cut Hereford down at the plate. The throw was late, and the difference was down to one run.
Big bats Connor Hennigan and Luca Finton each singled to load the bases up. Tobey Roberts then knotted the score at 3-3 by lifting a sacrifice fly to left that was deep enough to get in Ryder with the second run of the inning.
With two outs and the game tied, Jack Braga came through with the go-ahead knock for Post 188. The first baseman—who came in as a pinch hitter—produced his biggest hit of the year by drilling a double to center that chased home Hennigan to put Sandwich ahead 4-3. The next batter grounded out, but 188 was on top.
“We were pretty confident at the plate. We know we can put good bats together,” Shell said. “From that inning, we just started hitting the ball and scoring runs. They were positive the whole time, even when we were down. We were real confident; the kids responded.”
Things got a little scary for 188 in the bottom of the inning. Two of the first three batters in the inning singled against Roberts, but the pitcher responded with some big outs. He fought back to get a line out to second and then a groundout to second to end the inning with the lead intact.
Post 188 tacked on a big run in the final inning. Josh Turcotte led off the inning with a single, and with one out Chris Klueber singled to right to put men on the corners. Ryder then followed with a hit to right that brought home Turcotte to make it 5-3 and give his team some breathing room.
In the bottom of the seventh, Roberts finished things off pretty quickly. The first batter for Danbury hit the opening offering of the inning to Ryder in center for the first out. The next batter struck out. After a single, Roberts induced a fly ball to Ryder in center field for the last out of the season, and the celebration began for 188.
Post 188 had a thrilling walk-off win in the semifinals to reach the championship game. Trailing 5-4 after Whitestown, New York, had plated two runs in the top of the inning to take the lead, 188 went right to work and pulled off the victory in the bottom of the frame with a two-run rally of its own.
Connor Hennigan got things going by leading off the bottom of the seventh with a single on a 2-1 pitch. Luca Finton then walked to put two aboard. Hunter Johnson followed with a fielder’s choice that put runners on the corners. Tobey Roberts then lined the first pitch that he saw up the middle to tie the count at 5-5. A walk to Colin Buckley then loaded the bases up for Josh Turcotte. Like Buckley before him, Turcotte jumped on the first pitch that he saw and laced it to left to bring in the winning run and give 188 a spot in the title game the next day.
In the first game of the tournament, Post 188 beat South Windsor, Connecticut, by a 5-2 score. Sandwich got two in the first and led by a 2-0 score most of the game. Finton drove in a run in the first with an RBI single and Brody James followed with a hit that made it 2-0.
With Chris Klueber keeping South Windsor off-balance from the mound, the score stood pat until the sixth. In the top of the sixth Sandwich rallied for three runs to take a commanding 5-0 lead. Buckley forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk to make it 3-0 and then Turcotte single for the second run of the inning. With two down, Ryder walked with the bases loaded to give his team a five-run lead.
South Windsor got to Klueber for a run in the bottom of the sixth and another in the bottom of the seventh. James Hereford came on with two down in the bottom of the seventh and the bases loaded. He hit the first batter that he faced, which forced home a run—which was charged to Klueber—but then struck out the next batter to finish off the game and pick up the save.
The 188 team relied on players from all over the Upper Cape. Representing Bourne were Luca Finton, Chris Klueber and Josh Turcotte. From Falmouth were Jack Braga and Connor Hennigan. Mashpee was represented by Brody James and Robert Ryder. Sandwich players included Colin Buckley, Joe Coughlan and Asher and Zaren Graff. The Vineyard contingent was Axel Abrams, Hunter Johnson, Wyatt Loughman, Grady McCracken, Tobey Roberts and Micah Simmons. The final spot on the team belonged to Harwich’s James Hereford.
Post 188 varsity Head Coach Brian Tomasini said Shell’s leadership was key for the junior program and a big reason that the team consistently contends at the top of the state.
“Larry and [Assistant Coach) Arthur [Jolin] have been instrumental in not only the junior legion team’s success but the success of the entire Post 188 program,” Tomasini said. “The countless hours these guys give up to run practices, work out individually with players, work with college coaches and also just helping these kids become young men is invaluable. It’s hard to find people like Larry and Arthur who care so much about these players and the communities that they come from.”