Northampton Junior League All-Stars end district title drought

Last modified: Monday, July 07, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The Northampton Junior League All-Star team saved its season Tuesday by overcoming one-run deficits in consecutive extra innings.

That momentum clearly carried over into Thursday evening’s District 2 championship game, which Northampton won 7-4 over Agawam at Arcanum Field.

Northampton scored two runs in each of the first three innings and tacked on another in the top of the sixth.

“We knew how important it was to get off to a strong start against a team like Agawam,” coach Neil Darragh said. “We were prepared to stay in the game, but it would have been a challenge to fall far behind.”

Despite playing in Northampton, Agawam was the home team based on a coin flip. But having the first shot at the plate proved to benefit Hamp.

“I definitely saw the momentum (from Tuesday) carry over into this game,” first baseman Sam Shelffo said. “We needed that win and got it done, and needed this one as well.”

It was the fourth consecutive win for Northampton (4-1) and second straight over Agawam after opening the double-elimination tournament with a 9-5 loss last Thursday.

“It’s pretty nice to get them back twice,” winning pitcher John Carey said. “That first game we were in it until the last inning, so that loss hurt. I pitched a few innings and they hit me pretty hard. But we were able to bounce back.”

The district title is the first in over a decade for Northampton, coinciding with a baseball merger in the city.

“Last year was the first time we ran the Cal Ripken and Little League programs together,” Darragh said. “Little League is in charge overall, but the Cal Ripken side ramped it up. We instituted a spring training and mandatory attendance. We expect more out of the kids, and brought more of a teaching approach. It’s really Hamp baseball all coming together, and you can see how it’s working.”

Agawam (3-2) made it somewhat interesting with a run in the sixth and three more in the seventh. Both Hamp errors led to runs.

Carey came within one out of a complete game, but had to come out at the 95-pitch limit after 62/3 innings. He allowed just four hits and no earned runs with a pair of strikeouts.

“Everything was working for me,” Carey said. “My fastball was good, my location was pretty sharp and the umpire had a nice strike zone. I just focused on hitting the corners.”

Over five shutout innings, Carey stranded a runner in scoring position in three of them.

“John’s a great control pitcher, he moves the ball around and is really smart,” Darragh said. “He also gave us five shutout innings against Westfield and five more to start this game (Tuesday).”

The righty was assisted by an early lead and a solid defensive performance, led by shortstop Christian Hodgson with six assists.

“We hit well throughout the entire tournament, and we never gave up at any point,” Carey said. “The more runs we scored, the more confidence I pitched with. And our defense was great, they made all the plays.”

Hamp will travel to Worcester for the start of another double elimination tournament Tuesday evening against the District 3 champion.

Shellfo (two RBIs, two runs), Ryan Long (three RBIs) and Ben Gordon Sniffen (two runs) had two hits apiece in the win.

With two outs in the first and Gordon Sniffen on third, Shelffo smashed a triple over the right fielder’s head to give Hamp a 1-0 lead.

“I was just looking to hit the ball hard anywhere to try to get that run home,” Shelffo said. “At first I thought the right fielder had it, but then he tripped a little. After I saw that I knew I had to get going around the bases.”

Shelffo then crossed the plate as Carey reached on an error.

Long delivered a two-run single in the second to score Hodgson and RJ Safron, who had each walked.

In the third, Gordon Sniffen led off with a single and came in on Shelffo’s single to center. Shelffo scored on Carey’s groundout for a 6-0 advantage.

Hamp was extremely aggressive both at the plate and especially on the bases with 10 steals.

“That’s usually how we play, very aggressively,” Shelffo said. “We made that a special point (Thursday) because it’s a championship game.”

Agawam starter Matthew Dube (61/3, four earned runs, four Ks) settled down to throw a scoreless fourth and fifth, but surrendered another run in the sixth as Long singled home Hodgson.

“We were the only team to beat Agawam, and we won against every team in the tournament,” Darragh said. “It was a little scary at certain points, but these kids always pulled through. This is a great group.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.