- Scott Barboza, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BROCKTON — If at first you fail, try, try again.
Facing the offensive juggernaut of Milton Post 114, which had scored 48 runs in its previous four games, East Longmeadow Post 293 did well merely to limit the club to single-digits on the scoreboard.
Milton was slowed just enough in Wednesday’s first game — a 12-9 East Longmeadow win — of the double-elimination Massachusetts American Legion baseball championship final to force a deciding second game. Post 293 then completed its climb back with an 11-3 victory in the nightcap to claim the title at Campanelli Stadium.
As the first Western Massachusetts team to capture the state crown in 32 years, East Longmeadow’s accomplishment was remarkable enough.
Yet, that only begins to describe the adversity they faced.
The team lost their ace, Holy Cross commit Mike Ahmed, to a season-ending knee injury in the district playoffs against Northampton. But Post 293 was resilient and trudged along with victories over Bridgewater and Brockton, opening the state tournament.
They would only be knocked down again during their first match-up with Milton, a 16-4 thrashing in the state tournament on Monday.
"We knew we gave them a bad inning, seven runs in the third inning and fell behind 11-1,” East Longmeadow coach Jason Shea said. “We knew we just dug too big of a hole. But we knew today it's either win two or come home. We came in third last year at state, and we weren't really satisfied with it.”
Milton was undefeated in the tournament and needed only one win against East Longmeadow to advance to Regionals, which begin at Palmer Field in Middletown, Conn. next Thursday.
The complexion of second game was that of a low-scoring one early; the score was tied, 2-2, entering the sixth inning. That’s when East Longmeadow caught fire against Milton ace Mike Bortolotti.
Robert Mack put Post 293 on top with an RBI single, scoring James Christensen with the first of six East Longmeadow runs in the frame. Mack later came around to score what would prove to be the winning run, swatting the ball out of the catcher’s hand in a collision at the plate on a fielder’s choice.
“The only thing on my mind at that point is that I've just got to get this run,” he said, “and I just happened to go through the catcher. I lowered my shoulder, tried to knock the ball out, and it happened.
"It felt awesome. It was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life, oh my god. And that really got the team going, I think."
Matt O’Neil, who earned the win on the mound in the first game, added an exclamation point to Post 293’s victory with a two-run home run in the eighth.
On the mound, East Longmeadow lefty Steven Moyers kept the potent Milton lineup in check, earning his second win of the tournament.
“I wanted to try to throw strikes early in the count and then work in my off-speed pitches later in the count,” he said.
Ahmed joined his teammates in celebration on the field for the post-game presentation of the state championship trophy, his body slouched over crutches. It meant a lot to the player who Mack called the “emotional leader of the team.” It also meant a lot to the team to have him there.
“He was at physical therapy and he was [text messaging] the bench players [during the 16-4 loss], but he's the heart and soul of our team,” Mack said of Ahmed, who will undergo surgery this week. “I feel bad for him that he had to miss out on this, but he kept us going on the bench. He still was right in the game all the time.
“That might have been the one reason we lost that game, him not being there."
Brendan Hall contributed reports to this story