CUMBERLAND – On Monday night, Upper Deck Post 14 skipper Matt Allard and his assistants conducted the club’s final practice before partaking in the American Legion Northeast Regional Tournament, which begins – for them – at 11:30 today at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, and Allard indicated the mood was light and breezy.
“We started at 6 p.m. and went to about 7:20, and the kids were very upbeat and excited; they’re ready to go,” he stated shortly afterward.
“The kids were playing music while we had some batting practice and went over some defensive situations. Nick Larson brought his boom box with huge speakers, and – well – let’s just say it was current high-school music.
“They’ve actually done that all year during BP, and we (as coaches) don’t mind if we see results, which we have,” he added. “Nothing’s going to change at this point because we’ve been successful. We like the kids to play loose and have fun, and if that’s what they like to do, we’re going to do it.
“It’s a really fun bunch to be around, and that’s the way we coach. They’re not worried about batting average, ERA or making an error. It’s just kind of a ‘go-with-the-flow’ team.”
That same approach helped second-seeded Upper Deck roll to the state crown with an 11-6 title-tilt victory over top-ranked Gershkoff/Auburn Post 20 last Thursday night; it’s also why it will face Maine state champion Portland this morning.
“I don’t know anything about them, except they won their state championship game, 4-3, over South Paris last Wednesday,” Allard confessed. “I haven’t made any phone calls to any coaches I know (about Maine’s strengths, etc.). We’re just going to roll in there and see what they’ve got.
“Winning the state title has begun to sink in, and the fact now we’re headed up to regionals. We gave the kids Friday and Sunday off because of the emotional and highly-intense week of play at states. We actually had a meeting at Upper Deck on Saturday morning for the players and all the parents to discuss the schedule for the upcoming week.”
It was there Allard told his troops that they would be staying at the team hotel throughout its tenure in the tourney, despite the fact national American Legion rules will only pay for such if a team has to travel 50 miles or more. UD didn’t qualify, but he indicated the ownership of the baseball academy (Brad Dean) “graciously decided to put us up.”
Allard believes that will only help the players become even more tightly knit, and also provide each with lifelong memories.
He also mentioned the team wouldn’t be where it is now (21-10-1 overall) without the guidance of General Manager Jim Mello, or fellow coaches Mike Calabro and Mike Murphy.
“They’re great baseball minds; I mean, we all played at St. Ray’s at different times, and we all learned under another great baseball mind, Tom Sorrentine, and other coaches,” said Allard, who after graduating in 1996 played for Jay Grenier at the Community College of Rhode Island. “Let’s put it this way: Coach Cal played for ‘Saar,’ then was the starting catcher at Bryant (University) for four years.
“This is his first year with us, and he’s been the perfect fit as a third-base coach and a mentor to the guys. He hasn’t missed a beat, and we’ve all been on the same page. Then there’s ‘Coach Murph,’ who played with John LaRose at Johnson & Wales for four years. We’ve got a lot of experience on this staff, and that includes Jim (Mello) and Brad Dean.”
Allard said he will send southpaw Sean Doris, a sophomore-to-be at Lasell College in Boston, to the hill against Portland today. (He actually will be joined at Lasell by first baseman Steve Andrews and center fielder Drew Szafranski, recent grads of Lincoln and Cumberland highs, respectively).
“His record is deceiving,” Allard noted of Doris’ 3-4 mark this summer. “He also took the loss to Gershkoff in the ‘championship game’ last Thursday afternoon, but we didn’t help him with how we kicked it around (errors). His record isn’t indicative of how well he’s pitched for us, but his ERA is 1.89, so that is. He’s had 51 strikeouts (and 18 walks) in 48 innings.
“It’s all because he’s a lefty who knows how to hit his spots,” he added. “He’s got a nice change and curveball, and he can throw all three pitches whenever he wants without fear. He knows they’re going to be strikes.
“He actually was the closer for Lasell – as a freshman.”
As for his defense, which had its fair share of problems in the state event – 10 in its last four tilts alone – Allard claimed it’s not a concern.
“That doesn’t bother me because we’ve been pretty consistent all year with the gloves,” he offered. “However, we’re going to have to play near-flawless ‘D’ at this level; we can’t kick it around like we did at states. If we do, it’ll be a short week for us.”
When asked for his finest memory of the week at states, Allard immediately began describing UD’s 6-4 triumph over New England Frozen Lemonade Post 14 in the Final Four opener at McCarthy Field on July 30.
“If you want to stand a chance, you have to win that first game, and we threw Kyle DeLuca out there on the mound; he’s only going to be a junior at La Salle, and he was making only his second start of the season for us, but he was spectacular,” he said. “He went 6 1/3 innings, gave up six hits, just two earned runs and a walk and struck out four.
“He also gave us a big bat all week,” he continued. “For the summer, he hit .311. Addison Kopack led us in states with a .450 average, and Steve (Andrews) was huge for us in the playoffs. He hit three home runs, and he’s not hitting .391, while Drew is hitting .357.
“Nick and Connor Sheehan also have been consistent for us. Connor’s only batting .266, but he’s had some huge hits for us. He’s been instrumental for us; he’s not hitting like he once had, but he missed his entire high school season and all of last summer with us (because of a torn ACL).”
He also admitted being extremely impressed with the consistency of shortstop Shane Calabro and outfielder-turned-catcher Tyler McNulty.
“They’ve been instrumental to where we are now,” Allard stated. “Shane has come up with some clutch hits; in fact, he’s third on the team in RBI with 16 (Andrews leads the pack with 19), and Tyler’s second with 17. He just finished his junior year at Lincoln (High), so he’s young, but he’s done a phenomenal job for us at catcher.
“We had lost the services of Reuben Hancock at the start of the playoffs, so he had to take over those chores, and he’s done super,” he added. “He’s really an outfielder; in fact, I think he starts there for Lincoln.”
While Allard indicated Doris has been his ace, he stated that soon-to-be Lincoln senior Corey Mayer has been Upper Deck’s most accurate hurler. His 1.52 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 41 frames backs that up.
“Our hopes are to win it all, then go back to Shelby (N.C., site of the Legion World Series) like our program did two years ago,” Allard said, adding that squad finished third in the country that summer. “Our mindset is only to face Portland (today) and take it one pitch, one inning and one game at a time. I really want the kids to enjoy this experience because it doesn’t happen often, that’s for sure.
“It’s really tough to get into this position, but these guys earned it, no question.”