WORCESTER, Mass. -- Some would say it wasn’t supposed to happen. They would say team that came into the game with a losing record wasn’t supposed to beat the team that was in its fourth state championship game in the last five years.
But that’s exactly what happened Saturday. The Tigers beat Plymouth North 5-0 in the Division 2 State Championship game at Fitton Field, for the first baseball state championship in the school's history.
“It feels great, I’m still in shock,” said South Hadley starting pitcher Jordan Page. “The defense definitely picked me up. They hit a lot of balls hard, but it was a team effort to get it done.”
Page went the distance, allowing only six hits without being particularly dominant. He only struck out one batter, but pitched to contact to get himself out of jams.
“My offspeed was working early, and then my fastball came late,” he said. “I was able to spot my fastball late in the game. When they were expecting offspeed, I was able to get the fastball by them.”
South Hadley (12-13) got on the board first with a Patrick Sears RBI single off the Plymouth North (18-8) starter Jake Stearns.
Stearns did not last on the mound very long. On top of the RBi single, he hit two batters in the inning and had to strike out two people to get out of a one-out, bases loaded jam.
After giving up a another run in the second inning, Plymouth North coach Dwayne Follette was forced to go to his bullpen earlier than he wanted. He brought in right-hander Alex Rozak, who pitched 6.2 innings of one-hit ball three days earlier.
Rozak’s last two starts had each been on three days rest, so he was not expected to be able to contribute a heavy workload Saturday. He ended up pitching the remainder of the game for North.
“I hated going to him early, but we had to hang on,” said Follette. “He’s our horse. He kept them close. We had two errors, but Rozak did a great job. If you don’t score a run, you can’t win. We had a few innings prolonged, had a couple hits, then we’d hit into a double play. If you don’t score, you can’t win.”
South Hadley stretched its lead to 5-0 with a three-run fifth. Thomas Spring and Joe Ciolek opened the inning with singles. Luis Agrait laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over, but Pat Morgan overthrew the shortstop covering third and Spring scored.
Another fielding error on a Nathan Flachs grounder allowed the other runs to score.
“It’s not like we lost a 1-0 game in a heartbreaker,” said Follette. “We got beat today by a team that played much better than us.”
Poised Page: While North was scrambling to stop the bleeding with its pitching, Page just plugged along, inducing groundballs and allowing his defense to put in the work behind him. That efficiency kept his pitch count under 100 and gave him the ability to go the distance.
“I’ve been a ground ball pitcher, I’m not overpowering,” he said. “I get ground balls on a lot of my junk pitches. It was the D picking me up. I was just happy I was able to go the distance. We’ve got a tough D behind us.”
South Hadley coach Matt Foley never had a doubt about his starter.
“Jordan’s up on that mound, and he wants that ball,” he said. “He doesn’t want anyone to take the ball away from him. He pitched 8 innings in the first round of the playoffs, 7 innings in the Western Mass. Final, 7 innings in the state final. He’s a kid that doesn’t have a 95 m.p.h. fastball and he just goes out there and competes.”
Emotional Post-Game: Follette thought his team was going to do something special Saturday.
“This is hard, it’s tough, it’s very emotional,” he said, visibly holding back tears. “I honestly thought it was meant to be. But we got beat by a better baseball team. There’s more important things in life. We’ve got 13 kids going off to college. We’ve got a quality program, and I’m coaching quality kids, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Without Fear: South Hadley came into the sectional playoffs with a 7-13 record due to a schedule filled with a majority of Division 1 opponents.
Since the team seems to have constantly been in an underdog roll, it would make sense if they were playing with a sense of nothing to lose. That wasn’t the case, at all.
“We don’t play scared ever, we never play scared,” said Foley. “In 2010, when we went and played Northbridge (in the state semifinals) we had a nothing to lose mentality. We won Western Mass. for the first time in school history, and we had guys that, after that, that was it.”
“That was the first time in school history,” he added. “I don’t think half of them knew there was a game after that. With this team, a lot of these guys were called up on that team and they knew there was another game. So we weren’t afraid of any team, and I think that facing D-1 pitchers, those guys were as good as (Plymouth North) pitchers.
“To have these kids have the mentality, to have seven wins coming into the playoffs, and have the confidence and mentality to win this thing, it’s commendable to them. It really is. You could be a senior and school’s over and say, ‘Well that was a fun baseball season,’ and be done with it. But they aren’t like that.”