Navigant wins Legion title
Post 85 beats reigning champs to earn trip to Worcester
After being forced to play a second title game, Post 85 defeated Upper Deck, 7-5, to win the state title
WESTWARWICK – When Austin Forget was a 13-year-old representing the Navigant Post 85 Junior Legion club, if there wasn’t a conflict in schedules, he would attend the big boys’ games.
There he would stand and watch his heroes playing in the Senior circuit, marveling at their talent, enthusiasm and camaraderie, the traits that helped Navigant capture the R.I. American Legion Tournament championship in both 2012 and 2013.
Forget dreamed back then all of that would be his one day.
That’s why he seemed somewhat dazed on Friday night at McCarthy Field.
He and his mates had just recorded a thrilling 7-5 victory over two-time defending state champion Upper Deck Post 86/14, and he walked along the third-base line staring at the mammoth trophy, then raising it so the crowd could catch a glimpse, then cradle it back to his chest for more intense study.
“I’ve been waiting for this a long, long time, ever since I was 13,” grinned Forget, who following his freshman year at Southern New Hampshire University this spring decided to transfer to Johnson & Wales so he could play baseball. “I saw all those guys winning state titles, so that’s was always the goal. I’m so proud of this, and the way all our guys came together.”
When asked if he could believe what had just transpired, he immediately stated, “I can’t,” but switched gears.
“You know, I can believe it because we worked so hard for this,” he added. “I’m still a little star-struck because the dream finally came true. What an amazing season!”
Offered Chris DiPetrillo, who will be entering his season year at Ponaganset after Labor Day: “This is only my first year on the team, but I loved every minute of it. It’s like a family; we’re all brothers. Everyone sticks by each other, sticks up for each other. We all had each others’ backs.”
Navigant had a previous opportunity to nail down the crown late Friday afternoon, but suffered an almost-embarrassing 12-2 “mercy-rule” defeat to Upper Deck; because Post 85 had yet to drop a game in the tourney and UD was coming out of the losers’ bracket, that forced the “ifnecessary,” winner-take-all championship contest.
“We weren’t as focused or into it as much as we should’ve been,” Forget explained. “We came in thinking it would be a walk in the park because of the way the season had gone. We thought it would be easy, but they came out hot, swinging the bats.
“The difference in the second game was the attitude and energy – everywhere,” he continued. “In the dugout, on the field, we were so determined not to let that loss get us down.”
The guys didn’t, and as a result will not point toward the New England Legion tourney, slated to begin – for them – at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday against the Massachusetts state titlist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. (The event is being hosted by the Shrewsbury, Mass. Post program.
Not surprisingly, Billy Butler – like DiPetrillo a senior-to-be with the Chieftains – earned the David Kenney Jr./David Kenney III Memorial Most Valuable Player Award. In the twinbill’s nightcap, he scattered five hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in seven full frames to garner the win.
He nevertheless helped himself with the bat, going 3-for-5 with a double, three RBI and run scored.
“This is incredible. This is so big,” Butler said. “I came in here as a ‘freshman’ on this team this year, and the whole team was so open and kind; they greeted me like a brother. We did this because of the chemistry and leadership from the guys who have been here the longest, guys like Ben Aleixo, Sam Hunt, Evan Masse, Austin and Joey Barter.
“I can’t believe I won the MVP,” he added. “I thought Ben would win it, with the all the wins he had on the mound. It’s crazy, it’s awesome!”
According to tournament director John Parente, Butler hit .375 during the event, but also went 2-0 and produced a ridiculous 0.78 ERA.
“What makes this so incredible is that Chris and I won the Division II (interscholastic) championship just a month or two ago, and I won the MVP for that tournament, too,” Butler said. “Two titles in that span? It’s unreal.”
Offered DiPetrillo: “My boy Billy is just an animal!”
Offensive standouts abounded for top-seeded Navigant (15-5 overall) in that second game, as Hunt went 2-for-5 with a pair of two-baggers, two stolen bags, two RBI and a run; and Scituate product Sam Owens 1-for-3 with two walks and three runs.
After sustaining the blowout, Post 85 needed little time getting to UD righty starter Alex Levin, notching three in the bottom of the first. Hunt doubled and moved to third when Owens reached on an infield error, and Butler smoked a two-run two-bagger to left-center. Aleixo then rapped an RBI hit to plate Butler.
It was more of the same in the second, as Navigant scored twice. DiPetrillo ripped a hit to right-center, Forget drilled a double and both hustled home on Hunt’s second two-bagger of the night to snag the 5-0 cushion.
UD third baseman Trevor Marques got a run back when he crushed a home run over the rightcenter field fence, but the “hosts” tacked on another in the sixth to push the advantage to 6-1. They did so with two outs.
Owens drew a walk off of reliever Addison Kopack, then robbed second before scoring on Butler’s RBI hit to left.
Lefty Sean Flynn relieved Butler in the top of the eighth and quickly got into trouble. Marques opened the frame with an opposite-field single to left, though Kopack lined out to center. Luis DeLeon and Steve Andrews both walked to load the bags, and Sean Doris grounded out to second to plate Marques.
Nick Larson beat out a fielding miscue by Barter at first, and DeLeon scored with ease to slice the deficit to 6-3.
Navigant, however, slipped in an insurance run in the back half when Owens reached on an error, moved to second on a wild offering and scored on Butler’s bloop hit to shallow left.
It appeared UD might record a comeback for the ages in the top of the ninth, especially after Drew Szafranski reached on an infield miscue and Nate Donovan whacked an opposite-field single to right.
With one down, Kopack lined a hit to left to plate Szafranski, but an error in the field allowed Donovan to scamper to third and Kopack to second.
DeLeon flew out to center, yet Donovan sprinted in on the sacrifice fly to knife it to 7-5.
Andrews then received an intentional pass, and Nick Crowe pinch-ran for him.
Doris proved to be the go-ahead run at the plate, though Flynn whiffed him on a swinging third strike to close it. Flynn earned the save. “Being one of the younger players on this team, I look up to a lot of these guys,” stated Harrison Blais, who just graduated from Woonsocket. “Seeing the way these guys play the game, stay enthusiastic even when we’re down and behind, they still keep trying to fire you up.
“That’s a great thing. We’re really tight-knit; that’s the way it’s been the entire season.” Upper Deck Post 86/14 000 100 022 –5 – 8 – 4 Navigant Post 85 320 001 01x –7 – 5 – 3 Alex Levin, Addison Kopack (4) and Shane Calabro. Billy Butler, Sean Flynn (8) and Sam Owens. 2B – Trevor Marques, Kopack, Sam Hunt 2, Butler, Austin Forget, Ben Aleixo, Justin Mojica. HR – Marques.
After dropping its first postseason game earlier in the night, No. 1 Navigant Post 85 of Woonsocket bounced back Friday to defeat defending state and Northeast champion Upper Deck, 7-5, to claim the 2017 state Legion title at McCarthy Field.