WORCESTER — With a swing and a miss by Norwood’s John Galvin, Leominster senior Neil O’Connor hurled his glove 50 feet above the mound.
The righthander struck out seven during his complete-game effort, leading the Blue Devils (21-4) to the Division 1 state title with a 6-1 win over Norwood (16-10) in front of a near capacity crowd at Holy Cross on Saturday.
“It’s been a pretty crazy ride, the most fun time of my life,” O’Connor said. “We knew coming into the year that we wanted to win our last game and get to this point. At the end of the day, we’re just out here playing baseball with our friends. No one can take that from us.”
The state championship is Leominster’s first since 1996. First-year coach Rich Barnaby was the starting third baseman on that Blue Devils squad.
Barnaby guided his club to the state crown after Leominster gained some added motivation from being snubbed by the inaugural Super 8 selection committee in May.
“On the bus today, I said, ‘Hey, if we don’t beat this team, the Super 8 was right: We didn’t belong. If we beat this team, maybe next year they’ll consider a Central Mass. team,” Barnaby said. “All year our philosophy was to control what we could control. If we weren’t in the Super 8, we were going to try and beat every team the MIAA wanted us to play.”
The Blue Devils swung the title in their favor with a four-run fourth inning to take a 5-1 lead.
The outburst came after Norwood tied the game, 1-1.
“These guys, whenever they went through adversity this year, they bounced back. That was huge for us,” Barnaby said. “That’s usually what you get with a great senior group.”
Leominster had all nine batters reach the plate during the inning, totaling four singles and scoring one run on a suicide squeeze by senior Brett Corliss.
“We just came out swinging and went back to small ball,” senior catcher Nick Cordio said. “We were able to get some runs across the plate and, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Cordio’s leadoff double to deep right in the third led to the first run of the night. Barnaby inserted junior Mike Lovewell to pinch run for Cordio and he scored two at-bats later on Corliss’s single.
With a sizeable lead, O’Connor finished the game strong. He allowed just four hits and walked two.
He overpowered several batters with a fastball in the upper-80s and kept them off balance with his sweeping curve.
“It takes a lot of pressure off you as a pitcher knowing the bats are hot,’’ O’Connor said. “That momentum swing just really pushed us. It’s just a great moment. I have no words to describe it right now.”