The story of this American Legion baseball season so far is the first-year Manchester Union Underground team. They polished off their regular season on Tuesday evening at St. Peter’s Field with a sweep of Rutland, 13-3 in five innings and 13-2 in six innings.
The sweep pushed their Southern Division record to 11-7.
“I had no idea what to think (about the season), playing with a whole bunch of new guys. But we all came together,” said Joe McCoy who won the nightcap with a complete-game performance in which he retired the first 10 batters to face him.
Manchester has put itself in a great position to earn one of the top three spots among the Southern Division teams who will qualify for the State Tournament.
Manchester coach Ed Lewicki had a feeling his first-year entry could be a surprise.
“I knew from the high school team (at Burr and Burton) that we had a lot of talent,” Lewicki said.
But the talent is young and guys who were only high school freshmen and sophomores this spring have matured quickly.
“We have a lot of talent but we are young and make young mistakes,” Lewicki said.
Rutland Post 31 occupies the cellar of the division but it will be in the tournament field as the result of being the host team for the event.
Rutland coach Mike Howe is hoping for an attitude adjustment from his team before the tournament arrives.
“We aren’t playing with passion,” he said.
Manchester came to St. Peter’s Field leading 12-3 in the fourth inning of a game that was suspended in Manchester.
They ended it quickly when Max Brownlee drew a walk with the bases loaded, scoring Sam Steinman to end the first game on the 10-run rule after five innings.
Rutland’s Griff Briggs and McCoy was a promising pitching matchup in the second game but the night ended early for Briggs. He took a hard line drive off his leg in the fourth and was taken to the emergency room. He hopped off the field on one leg.
Fraser Pierpont relieved him, inheriting a 3-0 deficit and a base runner.
When that fourth inning ended, Manchester was sitting atop a 7-0 lead.
That was a lot more support than McCoy needed. He went all six innings, gave up four hits, struck out six and walked two.
He threw hard but also had the hitters off balance with a sweeping curve.
“Joe throws hard and throws a lot of strikes. But Rutland likes the fastball so Joe was using his curve a lot,” Lewicki said.
Manchester got the jump on Post 31 with two runs in the first and an unearned run in the second.
Then came Manchester’s power surge with five straight hits, the last three being doubles.
Coleman Reece and Jack McCoy singled and then Joe McCoy, Will Addington and Sam Steinman crushed doubles, all in the left-center gap.
Rutland broke through in the fourth when Alex Polli doubled down the left field line and scored on Taylor Therriault’s fielder’s choice.
They closed it to 7-2 in the fifth. Pierpont drew a walk and Cam Rider legged out an infield single. Pierpont was able to score on Polli’s fielder’s choice.
Manchester put it away with a huge sixth inning, scoring six runs. They banged out six hits in the frame with Jack McCoy driving in two runs.
Lewicki got prolific production from the top five hitters in the order. Addington and Steinman, hitting in the 4 and 5 holes, had three hits apiece and each had a double. Reece, Jack McCoy and Joe McCoy had two hits apiece and each drove in two runs.
There was some outstanding defensive plays, the best turned in by Manchester first baseman Trevor Greene with a spectacular diving catch of a foul ball.
Rutland left fielder Rider turned a double play, making the catch and rifling a throw to nab the runner trying to get back to first.
“Bellows Falls and White River still have a lot of games to play but I feel good about what we have done to get one of those three playoff spots,” Lewicki said.
“We are a young team but this team has gotten better.”
“We have kind of grinded it out and got big wins when we needed them,” Joe McCoy said.
“We have the tools but we need to fix some things,” Howe said. “We have got to play with passion right now. We don’t care enough.”
NOTES: Joe McCoy and his brother Jay report for preseason football camp at Hobart on Aug. 9. ... Briggs returned to the field after visiting the emergency room and expects to hear results of the X-rays on Wednesday.