Defending state champion South Hadley baseball gets tourney berth
BELCHERTOWN — The South Hadley baseball team needed every game on its schedule, but the Tigers earned the opportunity to defend its state Division 2 title after a 6-2 victory over Belchertown Monday afternoon.
The Tigers (6-14, 3-7 Suburban) beat Palmer in extra innings Wednesday to create the must-win scenario. With the win Monday, they finished with a .500 record against Division 2 competition.
“With our schedule, sometimes it’s hard to keep morale up, but this is a great testament to these kids,” South Hadley coach Matt Foley said. “They played a really solid game in our biggest game. But we’ve played well the last few weeks, so we took these last two as playoff games.”
Junior Nate Flachs (seven strikeouts) allowed a single earned run in throwing his first complete game of the season. He also knocked in the game-winning run.
“Nate’s been one of our top two pitchers with Joe (Ciolek) all season, and we’re very confident with him,” Foley said. “For him to pick up his first complete game in such an important game was huge.”
Tied at 2-2 in the fourth, Flachs lined a single to center with the bases loaded that brought in Liam Medina (two runs).
“This year I’m been swinging more than usual, I haven’t drawn as many walks,” Flachs said. “He gave me a couple fastballs over the plate there and I put a good swing on it.”
Pat Sears then took a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-2. South Hadley tacked on insurance runs on an error in the fifth and a sacrifice fly by Sean O’Connor in the seventh.
Nick Robert enjoyed a 4-for-4 game, stole three bases and scored twice, while senior third baseman Mike Paleologopoulos had two RBIs and a run scored. South Hadley’s bottom four hitters had seven of 10 hits.
“I feel really good for Mike, who’s been a rock over at third for this team,” Foley said. “He’s the only senior returning starter and he helped set the tone all season. These guys would have been really upset if they didn’t at least make the playoffs.”
Belchertown (4-16, 1-9) clinched its Division 2 tournament spot with a comeback win at South Hadley on May 9.
“It felt good to clinch on their field, especially after they scored four runs in the seventh to clinch at our place,” Flachs said. “So before the last inning, we huddled on the mound and made sure to focus so that wouldn’t happen again.”
Just like last year, the Tigers enter the postseason on a roll, having won four of their last five games.
Senior James Ryan went 2-for-4 and drove in both runs for Belchertown in his final regular season home game. His RBI double in the first scored Nick Leduc (two runs) for a 1-0 lead, the Orioles’ only advantage of the afternoon.
Fellow senior Eric Adzima pitched a complete game. He gave up five earned runs on 10 hits and struck out three.
“I thought Eric pitched pretty well, but our defense wasn’t on its A-game,” Belchertown coach Curtis Orlik said. “We didn’t hit the ball too well and we were a little impatient. But we’ll refocus and get ready for the playoffs.”
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.