Ryan Garrigan took the mound at Peter Wall Field in Norwood Tuesday evening hoping it would not be the last time he would don his Lowell Post 87 uniform.
Facing elimination in the American Legion Intrastate tournament, the 6-foot-1 righthander gave up seven runs in the second inning and left the game in the third with his squad trailing 7-1.
Walking off the mound, the rising sophomore at Bridgewater State University was not satisfied with his performance, but was not worried about the rest of the game.
“We’ve had a ton of games where someone’s had a bad day [at the plate] or a pitcher hasn’t done too well, like today for me,” he said. “But everyone always picks each other up.”
His teammates did just that.
Post 87 battled back, scoring three in the third and tacking on three more in the fourth before producing a seven-run outburst in the fifth as Lowell knocked host Norwood Post 70 out of the tournament with a 14-9 win.
On Wednesday night, Post 87 forced a deciding game against a Milford Post 59 squad that was unbeaten in the tournament with a 5-1 win in the opener. But Post 59 responded with a 5-2 win in the nightcap for its first state title since 2001.
Just advancing to the state final was quite an achievement for a Lowell squad that was 9-5 as of July 14. Playing with desperation, Post 87 won its final six regular-season games to qualify for the sectional playoffs.
Then Lowell ripped off three straight wins in the sectionals to qualify for the intrastate tourney.
First-year manager Mike McLeod said he is astounded by what his team has pulled off this summer, especially with such a small roster.
“I just think it’s very underrated what these guys have done,” said McLeod, also a volunteer coach at Lowell High. “I mean we’ve played against all of these teams and they have 17-, 18-man rosters with plenty of arms. Basically, since [mid-July], we’ve had a 12-man roster with just a couple guys on the bench.”
And every player either attends Lowell High or is an alum. That could be seen as a disadvantage, since other teams are pulling talent from multiple schools, but the Lowell players look at it differently.
“There’s definitely players from other towns that are very talented,” Garrigan said. “But I think that because it’s just all Lowell kids it helps, since we all mesh so well from knowing each other through high school.”
Team chemistry was vital the last few weeks of the season, according to McLeod.
And for four of the players, their final run together was one to savor.
Garrigan, along with Nick Godfroy, RJ Gray, and Mike Hart , are all 19, and this was their final year of eligibility in Legion ball.
“Once it hit reality that we needed to win all these games, we really started playing our best ball because we wanted to make it [to the state tournament] for our last time,” said Gray, a middle infielder at Framingham State. “You’ve got to play all these games like it’s your last, because if we lose, we’re done.”
The four grew up playing the game together. Their final run was quite impressive (see Base Hits).
In addition to the dazzling numbers, the quartet led by example in the dugout, displaying an unusually relaxed attitude for a team that was so close to elimination multiple times.
“The way they keep their composure and their demeanor in big situations . . . ,” said assistant coach Billy Martel. “They’re always picking younger kids up if something’s failing, and they let them know that you can’t have success without failure.”
Hart, who said he hopes to walk on at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this year as a sophomore, said: “We’re not like a normal team. We come in joking around, always happy. Everyone’s relaxed and then when the first pitch comes in, we all just settle in.”
“It’s just a great group of kids and a great team,” said Godfroy, a Middlesex Community College student who hopes to transfer to a four-year college and continue playing baseball.
Unlike his three teammates, Garrigan only played baseball his freshman and sophomore years of high school before deciding to focus on football and basketball.
But after enrolling at Bridgewater State, he did a U-turn, and walked onto the baseball team.
He called this summer his “last hurrah.”
“These guys are going to be some of my better friends for the rest of my life and we’re going to be talking about this tournament forever,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else than the guys on this team.”
jells before tourney
For the second straight year, Newburyport Post 150 clawed through a full summer schedule before suffering an early knockout from the American Legion Intrastate Baseball Tournament.
After beating Leominster Post 151 on Saturday in its first game, Newburyport lost 6-2 to host Norwood Post 70 Sunday night before being eliminated by Braintree Post 86 in a 3-0 loss on Monday night.
Post 150 won the state tournament in 2009, finishing 29-0 overall in Massachusetts before advancing to the regional in Manchester, N.H. Last year, the Nor’Easters were 16-0 in the regular season before falling in the intrastate semifinals to New Bedford Post 1.
This year, Newburyport sported a 15-7-1 regular-season record and went 3-0 in its sectional playoffs, a feat that head coach Tim Southall said he found remarkable: The team only had four returning players from the previous summer.
“We started off slow [1-3] and I think it took a little while to jell as a team,” said Southall, who completed his 14th season at the helm.
“But the guys started to buy into what we were selling and they just worked really hard every day at the ballpark and had a heck of a season.”Taylor C. Snow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcsnow.