The clincher was nearly as impressive as their perfect 15-0 start, a 9-1 win over host North Andover Tuesday night for the Newburyport Post 150 American Legion baseball team.
Recent Triton Regional grad Blaise Whitman of Salisbury was in command, yielding just one earned run and showing the promise that attracted the attention of the baseball staff at the University of Rhode Island. He struck out six and allowed five hits.
First baseman Ryan O’Connor , limited to seven games (shoulder) as a freshman at Bentley University, belted a home run and a triple while driving in five runs.
The victory vaults the Nor’easters into the state national bound tournament and a quarterfinal matchup against Zone 5 representative Sudbury Post 91 Monday (4 p.m.) at Eiras Park in Rowley. The semifinals and finals are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday at Worcester Academy. The winner will represent the state at the Northeast Regional tournament in August. The seven teams that bow out will return to their regular-season schedules.
How good is this Newburyport squad?
Mike Quinn , who founded the Newburyport franchise in 1997, believes this is the best Post 150 squad since the state championship team in 2009. Only five players did not return from last summer’s team.
“They’ve got real pitching depth and experience,” said Quinn, a three-sport athlete and three-year varsity player at Triton, where he first made opponents and his own teammates take notice with a one-hitter against Reading as a sophomore.
“For him, this proved to the older kids on the team that he could play,” said his mother, Debbie Whitman.
The 18-year-year-old righthander credits a lot of his ability and competitive attitude to his father, Jeff, who played collegiately and roomed with future Major Leaguer Bobby Thigpen in Seminole Community College in Florida.
“He’s always worked hard to motivate me and encourage me,” said Whitman, who is sticking to a strict workout schedule in preparation for his freshman season at URI.
“He’s got much more command and maturity than he did last year,” said Quinn. “He’s always thrown hard, but didn’t have command. Walks were his problem, but he’s fixed that.”
“We have high hopes for him,” said Jim Foster, the head coach at Rhode Island, which is coming off a 33-25-1 season.
“He is starting to make strides in baseball, in ability and maturity. He’s got a fire inside to get better.”
O’Connor, one of six players who returned to Post 150 after their first year of college, blasted a three-run homer in the top of first inning to spark the attack.
“Halfway through the year [during his Bentley season], I injured my left shoulder, the side of my throwing arm, and I thought it would be good to come back to Legion [ball] for another year,” he said. Before suffering a muscle strain, O’Connor appeared in seven games, starting three, and racked up 15 strikeouts in 23 innings with a 6.46 ERA.
O’Connor “stepped in right away during the third game of the season, and showed great poise,” said 44-year Bentley coach Bob DeFelice .
“I think he has all of the ingredients to be an outstanding ball player. We think he just got tired, physically. It wasn’t a real serious injury, but, we did not want to risk anything.”
O’Connor is playing first base this summer to aid in the healing of his shoulder.
He and Whitman are three-year members of the senior team; they were on the junior team when Newburyport won the state title in 2009. That club fell two wins shy of reaching the American Legion World Series, losing in the Northeast Regional.
“They’re familiar with what it’s like to see a winning team,” said Tim Southall, at the helm of Post 150 since 1999.
The other collegians on the roster include pitcher Newburyport’s Charles Nutter, who appeared in six games as a freshman at Amherst College. He allowed just one run in his last start, a 14-1 mercy-rule win over Danvers.
“I came back because I wanted to have one more season where I could hit, and also play with my friends one last time,” said Nutter, who has teamed up with a few of the players since he was 9.
John Collette (Suffolk), Dylan Cain (Methodist University), Tim Cashman (Bunker Hill Community College), and David Cusack (North Essex Community College) are the other collegians.
The pitching staff also includes Brett Fontaine , who pitched Newburyport to the Division 3 state title in 2011, Ryan Browner , who led Georgetown to the Division 3 state crown in June, and Alex Ministri of Pentucket Regional.
Here and there
Wakefield Post 63 (10-4) earned a 2-1 walkoff win over Lexington on Tuesday night on a single by Brett Barbati (3 hits), who leads the club in RBIs (15) and is tied for second in hits (19).
Justen Laffey (2.00 ERA), a pitcher from Bunker Hill Community College, has been a force on the mound. Meanwhile, Wakefield sits in second place in Zone 5B and on a four-game winning streak.
In its bid to represent Zone 5 in the national bound state tourney, Billerica (11-2) fell to Sudbury Post 91, 13-3, on Monday night.
Terri Ferranzani (North Reading) blasted a two-run homer and Danielle Moran (Lynn) was on base twice as the Northeast scholastic girls’ softball team toppled Coastal, 5-2, in the gold medal game of the Bay State Summer Games Wednesday in Waltham. Northeast went 5-0 in the tournament.