New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 opened the American Legion season with three straight wins. A fourth straight win didn’t seem to be in the cards Tuesday night at Old Mountain Field. Despite consistently making solid contact, NEFL couldn’t get a ball to land and had just one hit through six innings against South Kingstown Post 39.
Fresh off a nine-run outburst in its last game and a shutdown pitching performance in the game before that, this was a different situation altogether.
But NEFL made it four in a row anyway.
Andrew Bracken worked seven strong innings to keep his team in the game, and NEFL finally broke through in extra innings, scoring three in the ninth to win 5-2.
“We’re 4-0 and we’ve won a lot of different ways,” said NEFL manager Dave McGuirl. “We’ve hit the ball pretty well some games. Other games, it’s been pitching. Today, I didn’t think we hit the ball bad, we just hit a lot of line drives right at people. I’m happy we got the win. I thought it was a well-played game for both teams.”
NEFL fell behind 2-0 in the third but tied the game in the fourth without getting a hit. Shawn Clayton walked and T.J. Boyajian reached base on a fielder’s choice. They both moved up with a stolen base, and when South Kingstown misplayed a Danny Greaves ground ball, they both scored.
From there, neither team could break through. Bracken stranded runners on first and third in the fourth, picked a runner off second to end the fifth and left a runner on second in the sixth and seventh innings.
Bracken struck out five and scattered eight hits in seven innings.
“Great job by Andrew,” McGuirl said.
For all of Bracken’s success, NEFL still had trouble taking advantage. Boyajian was stranded at second in the sixth inning as South Kingstown pitcher Thomas Kazounis ended the inning with a strikeout. In the seventh, Greaves reached on an infield hit – the team’s first hit since the first inning – and pinch-runner Cole Furney stole second and took third on a fly ball. When he tried scoring on a shallow fly ball, though, he was thrown out at the plate.
NEFL got the leadoff man on – and to third base – again in the eighth, as Ben Mann reached on an infield hit and moved up on two ground balls. But he was left at third as well, with South Kingstown reliever Nick Hayes inducing a ground ball to second to end the frame.
Still, the game remained there for the taking. Shane Johnson relieved Bracken in the eighth and struck out two in a scoreless frame.
In the top of the ninth, NEFL got the leadoff man on again – and this time didn’t waste it.
Boyajian ripped a ground-rule double to left to start it off. Mike Mallozzi followed with a bunt and beat the throw to first. He then stole second to put two in scoring position with nobody out.
Furney, who had come on as the pinch-runner, was due up next and he fell behind 1-2. After working it to 2-2, he poked a line drive over the drawn-in infield. Boyajian scored the go-ahead run and Mallozzi raced in after him.
“Ninth inning, we got him in,” McGuirl said. “T.J got the big hit. He’s been struggling a little. That was his first hit in a while. It was good to see. Cole came up with the big hit. He was down in the count, too, and he came back.”
NEFL added another run when Furney raced home on a wild pitch.
Armed with the 5-2 lead, Johnson slammed the door. The former Vets standout needed just six pitches for a one-two-three ninth. He finished with three strikeouts in two innings.
“He can bring it,” McGuirl said.
The win keeps NEFL unbeaten heading into an early showdown with Senerchia Post 74, Hendricken’s club. The teams were two of the best in the state last year and should be in the mix again this year.
NEFL and Senerchia will play Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Hendricken, Friday at 5:30 at Vets and Saturday at 10 a.m. at Hendricken. The three-game series marks the only time the teams will meet in the regular season.
“We’ve got Senerchia Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” McGuirl said. “We’re usually two of the better teams. I haven’t seen them yet so I don’t have any scouting reports. We’ll see what happens.”
NEFL just wants to keep its hot start going.
“I’m happy, but there’s a long way to go,” McGuirl said. “Last year, we were 19-3 but we got tired near the end of the year and things didn’t go our way.”