A sigh of relief hit JP Pollard and the rest of the Austin Prep baseball team as they celebrated on the first base line at LeLacheur Park in Lowell on Saturday afternoon.
During a season that featured a redemption tour after last year’s early postseason exit, a quest for an undefeated season, and an impending move from the MIAA to NEPSAC, peace finally set in for the Cougars.
Top-seeded Austin Prep captured the Division 3 state title and capped a perfect season with a 2-1 win over No. 10 Newburyport, delivering the program its second state title since 2018 in its final season as an MIAA affiliated school.
“You talk about an elephant in the room, we had an elephant exhibit,” Pollard said. “We had the No. 1 ranking, then the national ranking, then the move out of the MIAA to NEPSAC. It kept putting pressure on us but we didn’t get distracted.”
The No. 1 team in the Globe’s rankings since early April, Austin Prep (25-0) thrived behind a vaunted pitching staff led by Virginia-bound lefthander Evan Blanco and Jack Iannibelli.
Saturday was Iannibelli’s turn to shine as the lefty headed to Stonehill tossed a complete game, allowing three hits, one unearned run, and striking out nine.
Iannibelli faced one jam all afternoon when Jack Fehlner led off the second with a double and scored on a fielder’s choice. But the lanky southpaw allowed just two singles the rest of the way and finished off the complete game with a pair of strikeouts as he threw his glove into the air and was dogpiled on the mound.
Austin Prep pitching finished the season with 13 shutouts and 16 total runs allowed.
“We only control what goes on on the field and that’s what we did,” Iannibelli said. “It’s a big sigh of relief and there’s no other way to go out.”
Austin Prep needed every ounce of Iannibelli’s masterpiece because Fehlner was equally impressive for Newburyport. The Cape Ann League MVP was tagged for an early unearned run in the first and then retired 17 of the final 21 batters.
In the fourth, Fehlner was close to finishing off another clean inning when Brendan Walsh lined a curveball to center field. The ball sailed over the center fielder’s head, rolling to the fence by the 400-foot sign, which allowed the speedy Walsh to race around the bases for an inside-the-park homer and a 2-1 lead.
Iannibelli did the rest.
No. 10 Newburyport finished its upset-filled run through the tournament at 18-7.
“We’ve come up short the last few tournaments,” Walsh said. “There was a learning curve and we had to look in the mirror. We learned. We got better and ultimately prevailed for a title.”
Division 4 State
Manchester Essex, Seekonk 0 — Everything, as far as Vaughn O’Leary was concerned, was the same for Saturday’s state final.
Back at LeLacheur Park three years after facing one batter as a freshman for the Manchester Essex baseball team in the 2019 championship game — a win over Tahanto for the program’s first title — O’Leary took the mound for the fifth-seeded Hornets against No. 7 Seekonk.
Facing 24 batters in a complete-game effort, the 6-foot-4-inch senior lefthander allowed two hits and a walk while striking out 13.
“That experience let me prepare for this game,” O’Leary said. “It’s just a game. Everything’s the same, the field is the same, the dimensions are the same, it’s just a bigger stadium on a bigger stage but I don’t let it get to me.”
Junior Henry Otterbein provided the game’s only offense, delivering a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the fourth for the Hornets (15-9).
O’Leary, who plans to pitch at American International College, walked the first hitter of the game, Connor Flynn, before retiring the next 10, , including three first-inning strikeouts.
“I was just excited to be here and have the opportunity to pitch,” O’Leary said.
The Warriors (13-12) advanced one runner as far as third, when Kevin Crowe singled and stole both second and third in the top of the fourth. O’Leary responded by striking out the next two batters, allowing just one more baserunner the final three innings.
“They refused to lose,” ME coach James Weed said, referring to his team as the ‘Junkyard Dogs.’ “The seniors that were freshmen three years ago watched the leadership we had and they took it upon themselves this year in the offseason to make it a point to win it again. We had some ups and downs this season, but whoever took the ball refused to lose.”
Jaden Arruda pitched well for Seekonk, which was making its first state final appearance. The seniorgave up two runs on five hits, walking two and striking out six over six innings.
Division 5 State
Mt. Greylock 3, Hopedale 1 — Despite finishing with no hits, the third-seeded Mounties scraped together enough offense to hold off the top-seeded Blue Raiders and win the state title at Hanover Insurance Park in Worcester.
Jack Cangelosi scattered four hits and one walk for Greylock while striking out 12, and also walked and scored a run. Derek Paris delivered a sacrifice fly as the Mounties scored twice in the third, and also scored a run in the sixth.
Will Parker struck out 13 over seven hitless innings for Hopedale, allowing one walk as all three runs were unearned. Parker also went 1 for 2 and scored the Raiders’ run in the bottom of the first inning.