Legion baseball: Three Hampshire County programs excited for big summers

Belchertown Post 239 baserunner Jacob Smith (34) slides into home plate to score against Westfield Post 124 during the 2023 American Legion baseball District 1 championship.

Belchertown Post 239 baserunner Jacob Smith (34) slides into home plate to score against Westfield Post 124 during the 2023 American Legion baseball District 1 championship. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-11-2024 6:50 PM

The American Legion Baseball season kicked off on Monday, with all three of Hampshire County’s senior teams in action on the diamond.

Northampton Post 28 earned a 6-5 victory in eight innings, Easthampton Post 224 fell short in an 11-5 loss to Sheffield and Belchertown Post 239 edged Wilbraham, 4-3, in a 10-inning nailbiter.

With the season now underway, and each team returning to the field on Wednesday for another set of games, here is each team’s outlook for this summer.

Belchertown Post 239

All but two of the 16 players on Belchertown’s roster have played on the same team at some point in time throughout their baseball careers, and Post 239 head coach Todd McDonald has coached nearly every single one of them.

To find a team with that much continuity at the American Legion senior level is rare, yet despite coming from Belchertown, Hopkins Academy, Amherst and Williston, this legion team has it.

And it could potentially give them a leg up on its competition this summer.

“Perhaps it gives us an advantage, because I think any time you can be consistent with how you operate your program, then sure it might,” McDonald said. “When we talk about not even so much about a bunt defense or a first and third situation, but how we prepare and show up to play, those are the things that we like to think give us an edge.”

That connection showed up on Monday, when Post 239 won 4-3 in 10 innings to begin their summer campaign. McDonald said the team’s ability to be consistently fundamentally sound was on full display in those 10 innings.

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Post 239 made just one error all night, and a timely run late pushed them over the top to improve to 1-0.

“It was a great baseball game,” McDonald said. “It was a lot of fun. Wilbraham played very well, but we just got that one extra run late in the game. It could’ve gone either way. Last night we made only one error. That’s what helps win ballgames.”

While every competitor at this age group certainly wants to win games, McDonald stressed that his goal for the season is to progress his players to help them get to the level they want to be at.

And with the rising level of competition in this year’s American Legion Senior Division, those participating are sure to get a lot out of a jam-packed summer schedule.

Belchertown has former Hopkins stars Patrick Fitzgibbons (Assumption) and Cody West (Rivier), who now both play college baseball, former Belchertown ace Brady Perkins (Framingham State) and future collegiate stars Jake Smith (Williston) and Beau Elson (Hopkins, Fordham commit) to name just a few of their many talented players.

“Our expectation is to compete every single game, regardless of who is on the field,” McDonald said. “There is some really good baseball to be played in western Mass. and we have some great teams in Legion ball. Also, does everyone wanna win games? Of course. But part of our goal is to develop every one of these players to prepare them for what’s next, whether it’s their next high school season or beyond.”

Easthampton Post 224

Head coach Erik Fickett wasted no time sitting down his Easthampton Post 224 squad – the first one that’s been fielded in a handful of years – during its first week of practice to help his players understand what American Legion baseball is all about.

Sure, the teenage kids with big baseball dreams are there to get better and play the sport they love in the offseason, but there is more to it than that.

“This represents more than just baseball, and I made sure to tell that to our players,” Fickett said. “We’re out there to play a fun summer league, but we’re also there representing our veterans. This is what American Legion baseball is. We’re representing the vets that gave us our freedom.”

Easthampton has players from five different high schools and one college, including Easthampton, Hampshire, Smith Vocational, Williston, Holyoke and Boston College.

During Post 224’s season opener on Monday against Sheffield, they fell behind 7-1 after just two innings. But during its next plate appearance, Easthampton rattled off four straight runs to get back in the game. Fickett admitted it might take a few games to get everyone on the same page, and although they lost 11-5, the early signs of perseverance were promising.

Connor Capshaw (single) and Brendan Capshaw (triple) each had hits at the plate while Will Hogan struck out five in three innings to lead Post 224 on Monday.

“We have five different schools represented on our team,” Fickett said. “It’s hard the first couple of practices and games, you’re just feeling it out and trying to see how everybody plays together. Everybody is adapting to the style and level of baseball we should be playing at, and it’s hard when you come from different schools and different divisions. All of the kids are making the appropriate adjustments. We took a tough loss [Monday], but overall I have high hopes for this season.”

Hogan and Drew Thompson – two Hampshire Regional players – are expected to contribute at a high level for Fickett’s group, as are Connor Capshaw (Boston College) and Riley McDonald (Williston).

Easthampton’s next game is Wednesday at West Springfield at 5:45 p.m.

“We have a lot of really talented kids when they put their minds to it,” Fickett said. “We have a great pitching staff, a lot of talent in the infield and the outfield is covered as well.”

Northampton Post 28

Second year Northampton head coach Adam Krol brought back nearly the same core of players he had last summer.

Post 28 has nearly double (10) the schools represented that Easthampton had, as they have players from Northampton, Amherst, Smith Vocational, Hopkins, Wilbraham Monson, Smith Academy, St. John’s Prep, Easthampton, Hampshire and UMass Dartmouth.

But despite the lack of continuity, they’re a close-knit bunch considering they already have a year under their belt with one another.

“We’re fortunate because a lot of these guys played together last year and a lot of our core has returned,” Krol said. “We added some new pieces as well which is excellent. It’s really about the guys spending time together. At this level and in this league, the goal is to win. And I think the guys understand that, so they root for each other. Each guys has a sense of responsibility to the guy next to them. That alone creates a good chemistry.”

Liam Flynn (Hopkins), Griffin Smiarowski (Smith Academy/UMass Dartmouth) and James Lavallee (Smith Voc) are three players capable of tossing gems on the hill while also bringing electric bats to the plate.

In fact, Krol said most of Northampton’s roster consists of guys who can play both sides of the diamond – giving him the dream predicament for any baseball manager.

“Our strength is that we have a lot of guys that can contribute both on the hitting side and on the pitching side,” Krol. “It makes my job difficult in a good way because I’ve got a ton of guys who deserve to be on the field. It’s my responsibility to find the best lineup and put the right guys out there to give them the best chance to succeed.”

Smiarowski tossed five innings in Post 28’s 6-5 extra-inning win on Monday in their season opener, with Aiden Zera closing things out in relief. Aiden Keeling-Lococo drove in the game-winning run in the top of the eighth to help start Northampton’s season off on the right foot.

Even better for Krol, he also came away seeing plenty of areas where his team can improve moving forward.

“I’m glad it worked out in our favor, and we have a lot of learning opportunities we can take from that game,” Krol said. “It’s good because we have room to grow, and it’s good because we won.”

Northampton returns to action against Longmeadow on Wednesday at 5:45 p.m.