Mark Saulnier is well versed in the proud baseball tradition in Norwood.
He’s heard the chatter for years, and the high expectations that come with donning a jersey with “Norwood” across the front.
That’s why his slow start this summer, his first season suiting up for the Norwood American Legion Post 70’s senior squad, was so frustrating. But against visiting Canton on Tuesday night, the 5-foot-10 catcher gave a snapshot of the skills that made him a Bay State Conference all-star this spring at Norwood High, when he hit .360.
Saulnier crushed a double to left and later scored Post 70’s first run in the third inning. Two innings later, he drove in P.J. King on an RBI single to push the cushion to 5-0.
Whether he is squatting behind the plate, or at bat, Saulnier is always focused on the pitch fast approaching. It is a focus he has developed through catching in pressure situations and under bright lights.
Last summer, he was an anchor behind the plate as the Norwood Junior Legion team captured the state title with a 4-0 win over Sudbury. The championship came in Post 70’s first season fielding a junior program.
“It hit me really late,” said Saulnier of the title victory. “I woke up two days later and realized we won the state championship. Once it hit, it was a fun realization.”
A year later, eight members of that championship squad make up nearly half of the Norwood senior team that won eight of its first 10 games, and all are eager to replicate their success at the next level.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that far with a program like that,” said Kenny Michael , who was the pitcher of record against Sudbury with a complete game, four-hit performance.
“Playing on the junior team matured me so I could come to the senior team. With the ride we had and how far we went, it taught me a lot about the game.”
The chemistry built on the junior team has led to a seamless transition onto the senior club, with the newcomers contributing right away.
Michael, who hit .455 with 7 homers and 24 RBIs, 32 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases last summer, has added considerable depth to an already dominant pitching staff that includes former Mustang Justin Bussiere , reigning Bay State Herget Most Valuable Player Sean O’Neill , and Tim Duggan , a key contributor to the Division 1 state title run for Xaverian Brothers.
When he is not pitching, Michael (.400 average) starts at shortstop, shoring up the middle of the field with Jordan Davis , also a junior team alum.
Junior grads Pat Foley and Tom Eckhardt have chewed up innings in the bullpen, especially as Post 70 geared up for six games in six days, which runs through Tuesday.
“They don’t take anything for granted,” said team manager Paul Samargedlis .
“They still work hard. The senior team is 8-2 because they have no sense of entitlement. They know they have to work for everything they get, and they’ve handled it great. They’re doing exactly what we’ve asked of them.”
A major proponent of the junior team, Samargedlis wanted to make sure both the junior and senior clubs carried the same philosophy. While managing his duties at the senior level, a position he has held since 2004, Samargedlis worked as an assistant manager for the junior squad.
“I wanted to make sure the junior team knew how we run things,” said Samargedlis. “It wasn’t about me being there for X’s and O’s. We had good baseball guys around the team, but being an assistant coach played into setting the tone for how I wanted the kids to carry themselves and be committed.”
Samargedlis believes success gives way to success, and with an unrivaled amount of playoff experience on his roster — between last year’s junior and senior legion members, as well as those from the Norwood High team that reached the Division 1 South quarterfinals — he knows his team can rise to the occasion.
And this year, that is more important than ever. Under a new qualifying format introduced this season, the state representive to the New England Regional tournament will be decided by the middle of the month. Teams must play 18 regular-season games by July 9. The winner of each zone/district will then square off in a single-elimination tourney, with the winner advancing to the regionals in August. Teams eliminated will return to their regular season slate and be eligible for the traditional state tourney.
The philosophy at Post 70 has not changed. “They’re used to winning,” said O’Neill of his newest senior teammates. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Post 70 has not won a Legion state title on the senior circuit since 1987, when the post captured its third straight title.
“All my coaches, since I can remember, have said that Norwood has a target on our back, so we always have to go out 110 percent,” said Saulnier. “It’s always on our mind that we have to keep [Norwood’s] legacy alive, continuing the legacy of Pete Wall when Norwood baseball was the top of the notch.”
“Since we’ve been there, we want to be there again,” added Michael. “We know what it’s like to get there and win.”
New formula for winning
The Kingston Legion squad allowed over four runs per game last season, but a strong offense helped fuel Post 387 to a 13-6-1 record before falling to Barnstable in the Zone 10 playoffs.
This summer, Post 387 is off to a 4-2 start thanks to a pitching staff that has allowed a total of 10 runs through six games.
Starters Mike Lundin, Zach Schindler, Tyler Tabke , and Kevin Ballerini have provided stability on the mound, while giving the offense a chance to win on a nightly basis. Lundin provided a masterful pitching performance in an 8-0 win over Pembroke, as well as a 2-0 loss to Sandwich in which he allowed just four hits. Ballerini shut down Whitman with a four-hitter in a 9-2 Post 387 victory. Schindler yielded just four hits in a 1-0 loss to Wareham.
“Whether it’s the first batter or the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded, no outs, they’re calm, cool, they keep their head together, and they do what they’re supposed to do; go out there and pitch,” said Kingston manager Joe Colby .
Here and there
After narrowly missing the final Zone 6 playoff spot last summer, Weymouth Post 79 is off to a fast start. Through Wednesday, the squad is a perfect 7-0, but plays two big away games this week against 6-2 Milton and 5-3 Hyde Park. . . . Mansfield’s Rhett Wiseman has started to find his groove for the Brockton Rox of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. In his first five starts, the former Buckingham, Browne & Nichols standout had a .256 average with one run batted in and one run scored. Over his past four games, though, the Vanderbilt recruit has six hits and four runs scored. He has struck out just six times.