Manager Dave McGuirl had a feeling it wouldn’t take long for his New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 American Legion team to come together and hit its stride.
And it has taken no time at all.
NEFL rolled past Shoreline 10-1 on Tuesday at Lischio Field to run its league-best record to 10-1. It’s been a busy stretch – NEFL has played more games than any team in the state, all in a two-week span – but the club has navigated it almost perfectly.
“These aren’t kids who don’t know each other and need to jell,” McGuirl said. “They pretty much know each other and they really like each other. They were all looking forward to the summer. I’ve never had a team like each other this much.”
NEFL’s first 11 games have provided some strong evidence of a correlation between that kind of chemistry and team success. NEFL has out-scored its opponents 63-27. Its only loss came by a single run to defending state champion Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 of Cranston.
NEFL is hitting .303 as a team, and its team ERA is 1.47.
“We’re getting great starting pitching,” McGuirl said. “Every pitcher is going five, six, seven innings. You get good starting pitching, everything else kind of follows. We’re playing good defense, we’re getting some good hitting. We’re playing well.”
NEFL kept the good times rolling against Shoreline.
Lefty Ryan Morris made his third start of the summer and had his best showing yet. He allowed just an unearned run while scattering seven hits and striking out four in six innings of work.
Morris lowered his ERA to 1.17, and he now leads the team with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings.
“Ryan’s maturing,” McGuirl’s said. “He’s still a puppy. He’s a young kid. He’s done really well for us.”
The NEFL offense gave Morris an early lead to work with. T.J. Boyajian tripled to lead off the game and trotted home on an RBI groundout by Nick McGuirl.
NEFL went quietly over the next three innings but took advantage of some chances in the fifth against Shoreline reliever Alex Marzilli.
Lee Verrier reached on an error to start the frame and moved to third on a pair of wild pitches. Boyajian walked and then broke for second on a 3-2 pitch to Nick McGuirl. The pitch was a ball, which meant McGuirl walked, but Shoreline catcher Tyler Rains threw to second anyway, and the ball got away. That allowed Verrier to score for the 2-0 lead.
With runners now on first and second, Zach Blanchard roped a base hit down the left-field line to score Boyajian. Branden Hoxsie followed with a bunt back to the mound. Marzilli looked to third to try for the lead runner, but his throw pulled Matt Ricard off the base. That loaded the bases for Ted Dwyer, who hit a single through the left side to score McGuirl for the 4-0 lead.
“We took advantage,” Dave McGuirl said.
Morris gave up his only run in the bottom of the fifth when Adam Nabb singled, stole second and scored on an infield hit and an ensuing error. But Morris avoided further trouble with a strikeout.
After Boyajian doubled and scored on a base hit from Blanchard in the top of the sixth, Morris gave up a leadoff single in the bottom half but picked the runner off then got two more outs to keep it a 5-1 game.
A parade of walks and hit batsmen then broke the game open in the seventh. Shoreline reliever Jake Mansfield hit four batters in the frame and walked two more. Blanchard added an RBI single and Hoxsie had an RBI groundout as NEFL put five more runs on the board.
Colin Douglas relieved Morris in the seventh and got out of a minor jam to finish off the victory.
“That’s a good team,” McGuirl said. “They’ve got some good players over there. It was a much closer game than the final score.”
Blanchard had a big day at the plate, going 4-for-5 with three RBI. He’s now hitting .412. Boyajian had two hits to raise his team-best batting average to .484. He also scored four runs.
NEFL was scheduled to return to action Wednesday against North Providence Post 29, with results unavailable at press time. The team will then take on Providence Post 56 today at 5:30 p.m. at Hope High School before traveling to Keene, N.H. this weekend for a tournament.
NEFL is just hoping for more of the same.
“Keep doing what we’re doing,” McGuirl said. “These kids just come and play. It starts with Teddy Dwyer and Zach Blanchard. Teddy’s more of the vocal leader. He gets everybody fired up. Zach comes in quiet and leads by example and does a great job. Everybody kind of follows them.”