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For Upper Deck Post 14, it's on to Championship Sunday at the American Legion Northeast Regionals

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Plumer

Luke Plumer collected two hits as Upper Deck Post 14 eliminated Essex, Vt. with a 5-2 win at the Northeast Regionals on Saturday. Upper Deck will be back at Fitton Field on Sunday for what they hope is a two-game card against Shrewsbury with the regional title on the line.

WORCESTER – It was a bullpen session in the days leading to the American Legion Northeast Regionals when a pair of Upper Deck Post 14 teammates passed along an important tip to George Sukatos.

“Michael Clapprood and Nathan Kelly saw something with my curveball. It wasn’t breaking great during my last game,” said Sukatos. “I started working the slider more and that definitely helped.”

The improvements also included finding better harmony with the changeup, his go-to pitch. Putting all the pieces together, Sukatos went out on Saturday and demonstrated why his short stint during the state tournament was an aberration. With Upper Deck once again fighting to remain alive in these regionals, the lefthander and rising senior at Bishop Feehan kept Saturday’s opponent – Essex (Vt.) Post 71 – at bay with six-plus innings of two-run ball (one earned run).

Sukatos set the tempo on the mound and Jack LaRose supplied the game’s biggest jolt, a three-run home run as part of a five-run uprising in the fifth inning. Those two players along with the 7-8-9 hitters in Post 14’s lineup were the reasons why it’s on to Championship Sunday of the Northeast Regionals following a 5-2 win at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field.  

Sukatos allowed seven hits while striking out three and walking two. Three times, he ended an inning with Post 71 stranding two baserunners.

“His changeup was really good. When that pitch is working, it makes his fastball appear a little bit more faster than it is. He got ahead of a lot of hitters and pitched a heckuva game,” said Upper Deck manager Matt Allard. “You couldn’t ask for more.”

Added Sukatos, “When my changeup is on … that’s my favorite pitch. It looks like a fastball at 55 feet just before it crosses the plate.”

There was a redemption layer that yielded a smile from Sukatos as he looked back on getting pulled in the second inning of his previous start.

“I really needed this,” said Sukatos. “My self-esteem was a down a bit after the last game. Obviously, it was brought back up today.”

Post 14 and Essex traded zeros until the fifth inning when the bottom third of the Upper Deck lineup set the stage for the game’s biggest blast. No. 7 hitter Luke Plumer followed the one-out single by Charlie Tarara with a base hit. When No. 8 hitter Anthony Martin collected a base hit, it allowed No. 9 hitter Andrew Mastin to come to the plate with the bases loaded.

Mastin worked a walk on a 3-2 count to bring in the game’s first run. Plumer scored from third on a passed ball to make it 2-0 before LaRose turned on a fastball and hammered it off the scoreboard beyond the right-field fence. That same scoreboard is used for Holy Cross football games, hence that should give you an idea of the ride that LaRose gave the baseball.

Understandably, Sukatos was more relaxed upon heading out for the sixth.

“I wouldn’t say I was tense but I was nervous,” said Sukatos. “I did not want to lose this game. I want to keep going.”

Plumer, Martin and Mastin teamed up to produce four hits, three runs, and two walks. Their contributions conjured up pleasant memories of what they compiled during the state playoffs.

“They did what they’ve been doing. They got on base and brought it back for the top guys in our lineup,” said Allard. “Credit to those guys. They grind as much as anyone else.”

Sukatos was pulled after the first two Post 91 batters reached in the seventh. On came Clapprood with the Cumberland High product nailing down the final three outs to preserve the win. He now has a save to go along with a win in the tournament.

Come Sunday at 1 p.m., Upper Deck will face what they hope will be the first of two games against Shrewsbury, Mass. The host Legion has yet to lose in the regional with one of those victories coming at the expense of Post 14 (3-1 this past Thursday night).

“You’re just hope you’re good enough to win that last game,” said Allard.  

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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