BRISTOL. CONN. >> Brattleboro Post 5 could not overcome a rocky start in the opening game of the American Legion Northeast Regionals, falling 6-1 to Massachusetts state champion Shrewsbury Post 397 on Wednesday afternoon.
The loss sends Brattleboro to the losers' bracket of the double-elimination tournament, where they will face the loser of Wednesday night's final opening-round game between Cumberland, R.I., and Bristol Post 2, the host team. That game will be played today around noon and can be seen live on sportingnewsct.com.
While Brattleboro's roster is a good deal younger than Shrewsbury's, Post 5 manager Eric Libardoni was not ready to chalk up the skittish start to his team's relative youth.
"We might have been a little bit tentative and we didn't come out as confident as we needed to be. But we battled all nine innings. We had plenty of chances to score," he said.
The trouble started for Post 5 right away, as Brattleboro starter Leif Bigelow hit leadoff batter Adam Twitchell with a pitch. Twitchell then advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Luke Gorham's sacrifice fly.
Bigelow struck out two in the second as Brattleboro settled down in the field. But in the third, the top of Shrewsbury's order jumped on Bigelow's fastball, scoring three runs with aggressive baserunning that consistently pressured Brattleboro's defense. Three straight steals of second base kept Shrewsbury in scoring position, and Gorham, Nicholas Martin and Matthew Bonolio all drove in runners from second with RBI singles.
"That's our game," Shrewbury manager Frank Vacarro said. "If we get a spot where we can take advantage, we're gonna try."
When Shrewsbury hit two hard singles off Bigelow to start the fourth inning, Libardoni decided on a change of strategy, bringing in Chayse Cunniff to pitch, moving Bigelow to short, shortstop Christopher Lasch to catcher and Tanner Bell to right field.
The defensive moves helped Post 5 limit Shrewsbury to two more runs, as Cunniff and Sam Ognenoff shared the pitching the rest of the way.
"After the first inning we played very well defensively," Libardoni said. "We've done that all year long, but we've got to get some more hits if we're going to beat a team like that."
Post 5 broke through in the seventh, as Stansky was lifted for Twitchell after walking Cunniff and giving up a single to Ognenoff.
Cunniff scored on a Lasch RBI fielders' choice, and a single by Tanner Bell loaded the bases. But Twitchell got Kassidi Ramirez to pop out with the bases loaded to end the threat.
"(Stansky) was good but we didn't strike out a lot against him after the second inning," Libardoni said. "We put a lot of good at-bats together and he had to throw a ton of pitches. We just didn't come up with the big hit."
Now facing a win or go home scenario, Libardoni says his team will take it a game at a time. But he's certain of one thing — Post 5 belongs at this level.
"There's not a team here we can't compete with," he said. "That's one of the best teams here. We played with those guys toe to toe for most of that one."
Vaccaro agreed with that assessment.
"We should have been able to win (going away) but they kept fighting back," he said of Post 5. "They didn't make it easy."