AGAWAM – Shoehei Ohtani … Brendan McKay … Josh Wagner.
Westfield Little League Baseball Majors All-Stars ace pitcher and top slugger Josh Wagner delivered a big league effort at the plate Wednesday night on the mound that conjured up images of some of the game’s elite two-way players.
Wagner tossed a four-hitter, striking out nine batters and also blasted a three-run home run to lead Westfield past Agawam in the first game of the District 2 championship 7-3 Wednesday night at Memorial Field.
A winner-take-all game will now be played Thursday night at Ralph E. Sanville Memorial Field on Cross Street in Westfield at 6 p.m.
“I think we played really well today,” Westfield’s Will Fruwirth said after the victory. “We’ve really got to pull it in tomorrow because tomorrow is the game that matters.”
Westfield’s focus was evident from the outset against Agawam.
Ethan Connors wasted no time, jumping on the game’s first pitch for a single to right field for Westfield. Tyrus Traska hit into a force out at second base on the next play, but soon advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Wagner’s hit to center field. Nick Gauger walked and Joe Maffia singled to right field to load the bases, but Agawam pitcher Lavelle Owen came back to strike out the next batter to get out of the jam.
Agawam bounced back in a big way.
Parker Bean and Vinny Montagna opened up the home half of the first with consecutive doubles, the second of which scored a game-tying run. Aiden Pisano advanced Montagana with a single. A passed ball and fielder’s choice made it 3-1 Agawam.
Then it was Westfield’s turn to spin the tables in its favor.
Patrick Willard and Josh Drumm singled to lead off the Westfield half of the second. With two outs, Wagner hit a 3-run home run that skipped off the top of the right field fence to make it 4-3.
“I just swung and it happened,” said Wagner. It was the Westfield All-Star’s second homer of the tournament and third of the season.
After yielding three early runs, Wagner settled down on the mound, retiring nine straight batters until the fourth inning when Lavelle Owen reached on an infield error. Owen advanced to second base on a passed ball, and moved to third on a wild pitch, but Wagner managed to strike out two batters to end the inning – and the threat.
Wagner’s dominance continued in the fifth inning, retiring the side via strikeout, fly out, and ground out.
Westfield tacked on some insurance in the top of the sixth. Willard, Connors and Traska singled, the third of which resulted in a run. Wagner appeared to ground out in his fourth at-bat but Agawam’s second baseman decided to go home with the throw. The ball sailed on him and two more runs scored to make it 7-3.
Wagner retired the first two batters of the final inning, and nearly completed a majestic outing when he came up with a stop on the next play, but fired an errant throw to first base. He reached his pitch limit and was replaced by Traska.
Traska walked the first batter he faced but struck out the next batter to end the game.
“In the first inning,” Wagner said, “I was feeling a little stressed. Then we started making our plays. We just dialed it in.”
Now, Westfield just needs to dial up a few more numbers for the scoreboard Thursday night to bring a title to the 01085.
POST 124 BEATS EL, BATTLES FOR PLAYOFFS
EAST LONGMEADOW – Fighting for its playoff life, Westfield Post 124 played one of its best games of the season – and certainly its best inning – on its way to a 9-2 win over East Longmeadow Post 293 at East Longmeadow High School.
The Western Mass American Legion Baseball League is divided into three divisions. The top two teams from each division automatically qualify for the postseason. After that, all the other remaining teams are combined and the two next best teams advance as playoff wild cards, for a field of eight teams.
After Wednesday night’s results, Westfield sits in third place in Division 3A (behind Agawam and Aldenville) and in third place in the wild card standings. Northampton and Greenfield have identical 10-4 records and are good bets to make the playoffs, one as the number two team in their division and the other as the likely top wild card team. That leaves one remaining wild card spot.
Battling to be that final playoff team are Wilbraham Blue (6-7/.462), Westfield (5-7-1/.423) and East Longmeadow (5-7/.417). Westfield has games remaining Thursday at Monson, Friday at Jachym Field vs. East Springfield (a home game for East Springfield, which have been unable to reschedule an earlier rain-out at their home field in Springfield), and a home-and-home doubleheader vs. Longmeadow on Saturday. Monson, tied for first place in Division 3B, is on target to qualify for the postseason. East Springfield and Longmeadow are well off the pace to qualify.
Against East Longmeadow, starter Colby Gazda pitched a complete game three-hitter, giving up a pair of unearned runs in the fourth. He finished with five strikeouts, none bigger than the two in sixth. Protecting a slim 3-2 lead, Gazda got in trouble quick when the leadoff batter reached on a throwing error and, one out later, a single put runners at first and third. A stolen base later East Longmeadow had two runners in scoring position with one out. Gazda struck out the next two hitters to strand the runners and protect his one-run lead.
In the top of the seventh, Westfield broke open the game, sending 11 hitters to the plate and scoring six runs, putting the game well out of reach. Alex Lacourse walked and Josh Lis reached on a bunt single. Paul Shibley singled to load the bases. Spencer Cloutier was hit by a pitch to force home the first run of the inning, and Steve McKenna followed with a triple to clear the bases. McKenna later scored on Devin Baker’s bases-loaded walk. The final run scored on a Lacourse single.
Logan Krol finished with a pair of hits, an RBI and one run scored. Baker had a pair of RBI on two hits. Lacourse had two hits and reached base three times. – John Blake/Westfield Post 124