NATICK — It was getting late and the mosquitoes were biting, but the baseball team from Hudson’s American Legion Post 100 was in no hurry to leave Mahan Field.
By beating Natick’s Post 107 squad Tuesday, 10-5, Hudson had its sixth win in as many nights and was basking in the glow of its 7-0 start. Players joked with one another as they sauntered in and around the visitors dugout, slowly picking up equipment and looking like they could stay for another few innings.
“I still look forward to coming every day,” said Sam Ashline . “That hasn’t always been the case.”
Hudson has not had a winning season in the nine years that manager Blair Brissette has been on the bench. But with three college players leading the way, a pitching staff rife with talented arms, and a batting that has warmed with the weather, the team is sitting atop the standings in District 5 and enjoying every second.
Contrast that with the mood in years past, when it was not always easy to play night after night, returning players admit. They found themselves in holes early in games, and losses piled up. Even after a confidence-building win, the momentum did not last long.
This summer, with the team enjoying some early success, the players arrive at the field energized.
“They’re showing up early for things,” said Brissette, who has 11 players back from last year’s team. “If we tell them to be here at 5 o’clock, they get here at 4:15 or 4:30 to get extra swings. They’re veterans, they’re older, so they know how to handle themselves. They know how to win, really.”
Scoring runs in bunches has helped. Post 100 is averaging 8.1 runs per game behind a middle-of-the-order trio that has honed its skills in the college ranks. Twins Jake and Ryan Wardwell — Hudson’s third and fifth hitters, respectively — played as freshmen for Framingham State this spring. Ashline, Hudson’s cleanup hitter, finished his first season at Bentley.
As of Wednesday, Ryan Wardwell already had two home runs and seven RBIs, including a two-run, slow-rising shot against Natick that cleared Mahan’s 362-foot marker in center field and disappeared into a mess of downed trees beyond the outfield wall.
Ashline’s average sat at .583 to go along with five RBIs, and Jake Wardwell used his quickness on the base paths to score nine runs in the team’s first seven games.
“We have a lot of team speed,” Jake Wardwell said, but added, pointing at his brother and Ashline, “it’s nice having these guys drive us in. We don’t have to steal bases because they drive gaps all the time.”
Right fielder Kyle Sullivan (.438, five RBIs) from Hudson High and first baseman Kevin Connelly (.381, six RBIs) from Nashoba Regional have also chipped in to make Post 100’s lineup a persistent threat, even after an early-season stretch that was packed with games.
“They may be a little tired, but they’re on the ball,” said Natick coach Jeff Ward . “They’re seeing the ball well and they’re hitting the ball well. This is probably one of the best teams we’ll see in our zone.”
Even on the rare occasion that its offense does not cross the plate in droves, Hudson’s pitching has been strong enough to win games.
Dan King of Hudson pitched a complete game against Natick, lowering his ERA to 0.87 through 11 innings. Nick Borsari of Nashoba Regional had 17 strikeouts in nine innings to start the summer, and crafty veteran righthander Mike Bohane has given Post 100 valuable innings.
During its undefeated start, Hudson had allowed just 16 earned runs over the seven games.
Thanks to its work on the mound and at the plate, Hudson has put itself in a position to consider a run at the Northeast Regional.
Because of a change to the American Legion playoff format in Massachusetts that was introduced last season, the top teams in each of the state’s eight districts will take part in a single-game elimination tournament next month. The winner will advance to the Northeast Regional in early August.
Having hosted the state tournament in the past, Hudson has received automatic berths for postseason play. This season, they know they could get there based on the merits of their regular-season record.
“Our guys that have been around for a while know how important it is,” Brissette said of his team’s early winning streak. “The kids are really excited about the prospects by having a hot start. We’re kind of putting ourselves in a position where we can do something with this.”
Milford players add pop to Thunder team
There was never any doubt that they would keep playing.
Two weekends ago, Milford High’s softball team won its second consecutive Division 1 state title.
The very next day, three of the Scarlet Hawks’ best players headed back to the field to play in a triple-header for their summer team, the Central Mass. Thunder, based in Plainville.
“They love it so much,” Thunder coach Mark Hernandez said. “It’s become a huge part of their lives, and they’re committed. They don’t think, ‘I need some time off.’ They think, ‘I make us a better team. I want to go play.’ ”
Third baseman Caroline Fairbanks , outfielder Rachel Levine, and infielder Sam Bonvino all joined Hernandez’s squad and started in the Bay State Thunder Father’s Day Classic in Braintree. The Thunder won the tournament, of course.
“When we showed up on Sunday, we played two teams we’d lost to the day before,” Hernandez said. “Their coaches said, ‘This isn’t the same team we played yesterday.’ ”
The three Scarlet Hawks are joined on the team by fellow area standouts like shortstop Lauren Keast of Holliston (attending Bryant University in the fall), outfielder Becca Seifert of Franklin (Wheaton), King Philip Regional rising senior Jordan Shaffer, and her older sister Breanna (Bridgewater State University).
Fairbanks will play at Wheaton next season, and Levine is headed to Boston University. Bonvino will be a senior playing for Milford High coach Brian Macchi next spring.
The Thunder had a record of 8-4 heading into this weekend’s Tradition Showcase tournament in Wallingford, Conn.