Shrewsbury Post 397, with its roster of childhood friends and former rivals, will head back to the American Legion World Series for the third time since 2017 after winning the Northeast regional title on Sunday.
The push to win an elusive title continues Thursday in Shelby, N.C., with first pitch against the Mid-South champions from Troy, Ala., at 1 p.m.
Shrewsbury has hosted the Northeast regional for the past six years at Holy Cross’ Fitton Field, giving families and friends the opportunity to support the team. Winning it in front of a home crowd made it that much better.
“For these young men,” head coach Frank Vaccaro said, “they’ll have a memory that they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”
The team, comprised of players from the area, has been close for years — many grew up playing together in travel leagues or high school. They’ve already learned how to set aside the Shrewsbury and St. John’s rivalry.
“We all knew each other in town playing together,” said pitcher Ryan Sande, who graduated from Shrewsbury High School in 2021. “Playing against the St. John’s guys, there was a big rivalry and always great games and great players.”
Shrewsbury lost to Milford to end the district season. They were only able to compete in the regionals as the host. And it was a wake-up call.
“Getting knocked out in districts was kind of a slap in the face,” said first baseman Zach Amero. “We had to work hard the next couple of weeks and got ready for the big tournament.”
Getting sent back to the drawing board might have been the final piece of the puzzle. The team’s determination was vindicated by their dominant performance.
“We had to reinvent ourselves for about 10 days,” Vaccaro said. “The kids got it, they were very hungry and got into this tournament, swept through in five straight games with dynamic pitching defense and key hits at the right time.”
Sande was one of the youngest players on the 2019 team that made it to the Legion World Series and delivered the final pitch to earn another berth. Players rushed to the mound, spraying rosin and water in a frenzy of adrenaline and joy.
“It was surreal,” Amero said. “Once we got on a roll we didn’t think anybody could beat us, everybody locked in.”
The victory was about more than advancing.
Before the season, an assistant coach’s family member — someone who supported the team at every game in previous seasons — died. Shrewsbury set out to win the region in his honor.
“We dedicated the season to him,” Amero said. “We promised to make the World Series and upheld our end of that agreement.”
Sande echoed this message: “We are proud to say we made it down to Shelby for him.”
Shrewsbury ALWS schedule
Thursday: vs. Mid-South (Troy, Alabama), 1 p.m., ESPN3
Friday: vs. Western (League City, Texas), 4 p.m., ESPN3
Saturday: vs. Southeast (Camden, S.C.), 7:30 p.m, ESPN3