Upper Deck geared up for 2nd half
CUMBERLAND – When Upper Deck Post 86/14 skipper Matt Allard received the request to attend the prestigious Army Military Services American Legion Tournament at West Point, N.Y. earlier this year, it took him mere moments to send back his RSVP.
“We went last year, and we finished 0-2-1 overall; we only played three games because of rain late in the week, but it was a fantastic experience,” he stated. “Just being on the campus is phenomenal. You see the history of it in its buildings, and its sits there right on the Hudson River. You’ve got to witness the beauty of that campus to believe it, and it was our privilege to go again.
“Seriously, playing the games is a bonus,” he added. “Playing on Doubleday Field, which overlooks the river, and it’s Army, so it’s a (NCAA) Division I school, it’s such an honor. It’s one of the nicest fields you’ll ever see.”
Naturally, the UD squad made the trek for the July 6-8 event, and returned home with mixed results. Still, according to Allard, his club is better off and a tighter unit because of it.
Upper Deck finished the tourney with a 2-2 mark, coming ever so close to a berth in the championship final.
“There were two pools of four teams, and we played each team in our pool once; the two pool winners would advance to the championship game,” Allard noted. “We actually finished tied for first in our pool with two other teams at 2-1. However, because of the tiebreakers, we lost out on playing for the title by one run.
“That was disappointing.”
In essence, Post 86/14 gave up one more run than the Anaconda Indians of Schnectady, N.Y.
Allard’s rundown of the occurrences at West Point explains UD’s ups and downs. In the tourney opener against Chillicothe, Ohio Post 757, La Salle junior Ben Hale scattered seven hits (without a walk) and fanned four in a 3-0 triumph.
“What a pickup he was for us this season,” stated Allard of Hale, a Cumberland resident. “He’s going to be a real good one.”
Offensive stalwarts included Cumberland’s Addison Kopack (3-for-3, RBI) and Drew Szafranski (2-for-4, run) and LHS graduate Steve Andrews (2-for-4, RBI, run).
Game Two provided UD with perhaps its most important win of the season so far – a 6-4 verdict over defending Connecticut state champion Stamford, which had captured 19 of its 21 games so far this season.
The two foes were tied at 3-3 entering the seventh, but Cumberland
junior-to-be Shane Calabro hammered a one-out, two-run triple, and Lincoln sophomore Nick Toro followed with another three-bagger to the left-center gap to plate Calabro for the 6-3 lead.
Kopack earned the win in relief of starter Cory Mayer. He went the final 2.1 frames, yielding three hits, two runs (both earned) and three passes while whiffing five.
“That kid (Toro) is amazing; the ball just sounds different coming off his bat,” Allard said. “As for Cory, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he kept battling through it; that’s why he didn’t give up an earned run. He still played a role in the victory.
“This was a signature win for us,” he continued. “If you win the Legion championship in Connecticut, you’ve got a very gifted team; Stamford went to the Northeast Regionals last year and won a couple of games, and were one win away from the finals, so what does that tell you? I talked to their coach before the game, and he said he had most of his kids back. Plus their closer was clocked at 88-89 (mph).
“When I saw the kids’ reaction, celebrating as a team, that’s when I looked at (assistants) Mike (Murphy) and Coach Cal (Mike Calabro) and said, ‘Now we’re a team. We could be a pretty special group.”
What followed was not what Allard and Co. had expected. UD dropped a 3-2 decision to Anaconda of Schnectady, due mostly to the fact it only racked up three hits and committed three errors.
“We were sloppy; I thought it was because we just came off that really emotional win, and we had to wait around after that one for about three hours to play them,” he stated. “(Lincoln grad) Sean Doris was going, and the kids all have confidence in him. We knew if we won, we’d qualify for the final, but we just didn’t play well.”
In its fourth contest – call it a consolation – Kingstown, N.Y. Post manufactured a 5-2 triumph, but Allard mentioned his entire squad played, and that recent Lions’ graduate Brandon Kelly pitched a full seven innings of six-hit,
six-strikeout ball. In addition, he allowed only two earned runs.
“We’ve played very well defensively so far this season, but we kicked it around the last two games, and you’re not going to win doing that,” Allard offered. “Those (miscues) cost us both games.”
He hesitated, then perked up. “I’m excited for the rest of the season,” he added. “Right now, we’re 11-5 overall, but we’re 6-0 in (state Legion Senior Division) league play, and we’re going to keep that going when we play a doubleheader at South Kingstown (Post 39 tonight at Old Mountain Field). That starts at 5:30 (p.m.).”
As for how the New York excursion helped his club jell, Allard mentioned he actually witnessed it happening.
“We do a trip every summer, and it just helps bring all the kids that much closer together,” he stated. “Legion is a grind; you’re only playing together for about two months, or a little more than that. All of these kids from Cumberland and Lincoln know each other from playing with or against each other, so there’s the natural rivalry.
“You know a lot of them don’t think much of each other doing the high school season because they’re both in D-I and they want to win; they especially don’t want to lose to the other,” he continued. “Now, when they’re teammates playing Legion, they have to root for each other; they have to sort of ignore the rivalry.
“In that win over Stamford especially, you could see the rivalry kind of disappear. When we got those two hits in the top of the seventh, and the whole team knew how good that team was that we were playing, they all jumped up and celebrated as a unit. You could tell then, ‘We’re a team.’
“Last summer, we lost the state championship game to Woonsocket after forcing the if-necessary game (with a 10-2 win). That left a bad taste in our mouths after the success we’ve had the last four or five years (three state crowns, one New England title and berth in the Legion World Series).