Seeking a spot in the Massachusetts American Legion State Tournament, Lowell Post 87 of District 5 had been hanging by a thread. Holding that thread in place was Conor Callery .
Sporting a team-high .404 batting average and striking out just four times in more than 50 plate appearances as of Tuesday, the Lowell High rising junior has carried the team’s otherwise inconsistent offense throughout the season.
The offensive production has not been a complete surprise, but his pitching has turned heads in the dugout, as he has earned the team’s closing role.
“I didn’t really pitch him in the beginning of the year,” said head coach Michael McLeod . “We got low on arms, so I brought him in and he started blowing guys away.”
On July 16, Callery — who pitched sparingly for his varsity high school team in the spring — was called to the mound in the bottom of the seventh against Natick. In a 7-6 game, he had runners on second and third with no outs. A single would have likely lost the game for Post 87, and that would have knocked them out of playoff contention.
But the hard-throwing 16-year-old struck out his first two batters, and got the third to ground out to win the game, keeping his team alive and his confidence high.
“I love it; the adrenaline rush is just crazy,” said Callery, who through six innings of relief this summer has struck out six, walked one, and given up one earned run. “I just feel it on my fingertips and I’m always ready to go.”
Post 87, which lost its first two games of the season, eventually won six in a row and clinched a playoff spot. McLeod said he wishes he knew of Callery’s effectiveness on the mound earlier in the summer.
“We lost three one-run games early in the season,” McLeod said. “If I had known he was pretty good in relief earlier in the year, we probably would have won more games.”
Billerica turns its season around
One team standing strong in Lowell’s way has been Billerica Post 268, which started off 3-4, but had since clinched a spot in the playoffs, winning 11 of its last 12 through Wednesday.
Much of its success can be attributed to left-handed pitcher Pat Gallagher , who joined the team five games into the season.
After having some control issues in his senior season for the 9-10 Shawsheen Tech baseball team, the 18-year-old has become dominating, with a 5-0 record, having only given up two earned runs and five walks in 25 innings pitched.
“He had some success in high school, but we weren’t expecting him to do as well as he has for us,” said assistant coach Richard Gearin . “He’s been outstanding every time he’s pitched.”
Gallagher has immensely improved his control and ability to keep his pitch count down, enough so that on July 20 he pitched two games in one day, earning both wins.
He first threw a five-inning. rain-shortened shutout against Reading, tossing just 38 pitches. Then that evening, he got the start against Weston and fired four innings of no-hit ball before head coach Jeff Paquette called it a day for the young pitcher.
Gallagher’s baseball career will be put on hold after this summer. He has enrolled in the Navy, and is scheduled to report to boot camp in Illinois next January.
“I’m just trying to enjoy every moment I have left here,” Gallagher said. “I’ll love it if we make the playoffs so we can play more games. If we lose we’re done, but if we keep on winning, we can keep on playing.”
Port’s Josh Creamer starts to take off
While Gallagher’s baseball career may be coming to a close, Newburyport’s Josh Creamer seems to just be getting started with his.
The shortstop-turned-second baseman played for Post 150 last summer, but came in mostly off the bench, compiling nine hits in 36 at bats, no RBIs, and a .278 on-base percentage.
This summer the recent Pentucket grad is batting third in the lineup and has been on a tear, going 22-for-70 through Tuesday, with 16 RBIs and a .471 on-base percentage.
His breakout summer has earned praise from head coach Tim Southall , whose team last week clinched one of the four District 8 spots for the state tournament.
“He’s always been pretty good at getting on base,” Southall said. “The thing I’m surprised about is how much power he’s hitting with.”
The 145-pound 18-year-old has displayed consistent contact, and hit the first home run of his life — a grand slam — in a 10-5 win over Swampscott on July 18.
While the switch from metal to wood bats often hinders a player’s power, Creamer has adjusted with ease.
“Honestly I would say right now I’m more comfortable with the wood bats, because during the high school season I was struggling with metal,” said Creamer, who will play for Anna Maria College next spring. “I’m just seeing the ball better with the wood . . . not trying to do too much.”
Caporale comes back from wrestling injury
Also benefiting from the wooden bats has been North Andover’s Jake Caporale , who has been the leader of his team, despite playing through a torn right ulnar collateral ligament.
Through Tuesday, the 17-year-old first baseman was hitting .389 with nine RBIs for the struggling Post 219 squad.
Caporale was limited to a handful of times at bat at North Andover High in the spring, largely due to his injury, and manager Scott Whitley has been pleasantly surprised at his ability to come back and play at a high level.
“For a kid that had only [a few] at bats in the spring and sat the bench, to being our best hitter . . . I would say our most valuable player,” Whitley said.
The 6-foot rising senior tore the ligament in January while wrestling for North Andover High. He competed through the injury for the remainder of the winter season, before finding out about the tear in March.
Opting against surgery, he said he hopes the ligament will heal over time while he continues to play ball.
“My arm isn’t really as close to what it was, but it’s still playable,” Caporale said. “It’s affected my cutoffs to home plate and throws to second and third, but it hasn’t affected my hitting at all.”
Caporale said he hopes to assume the starting first base role at North Andover High next spring.
Tournament marks 30th anniversary
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer, the Ray Gallant Baseball Tournament will be held at Stephen M. O’Grady Field at Salem’s Forest River Park, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21.
During that week, local Little League and Cal Ripken teams — with ages ranging from 10-12 — will face off in the double-elimination tournament.
As a commemoration of the anniversary, the tournament will feature wood bats for the first time, as it makes a permanent move from aluminum. The tournament will provide each team a set of 10 bats.
Marblehead, Lynn, Peabody, Salem, and Swampscott will participate, along with new additions Amesbury and Wakefield.
According to Ray Cruddas, the tournament’s vice president, an eight and final spot remains available to a team from another town.Taylor C. Snow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcsnow.