The Gershkoff Auto Body/Elmwood Sportscenter-Auburn Post 20 Junior Legion team beat previously undefeated Cumberland Upper Deck twice in the state championship series to become the 2017 American Legion Junior Division Champions.
It didn’t come easy, though. Post 20 had to rally in the bottom of the fifth inning of Game 2 to beat Upper Deck by a final of 6-5 on Friday, July 28 at Ray Silvia Field in West Warwick.
Post 20 finished the regular season with a record of 14-1-1.
The team is managed by David Rathbun and his assistant coach is Derek DiMeo.
With the win, Post 20 advanced to the New England Regional in Bangor, Maine, where it attended the opening ceremonies last Friday before playing a night game at Mansfield Stadium.
“It’s an outstanding stadium,” Rathbun said. “We’re looking forward to going there. I think we have a pretty good opportunity. We were in the same scenario two years ago, in regards to coming from the losers’ bracket up.”
The Most Valuable Player award went to Johnston High School senior Dante Parisi, who batted .471 in the regular season and .333 in the postseason. Parisi also had a home run in the winner-take-all contest.
The MVP credited his teammates for their efforts in winning the title.
“I think that we worked as a team, all together,” Parisi explained. “I’ve been a part of teams where when we’re down, we just fall apart. But this team, we were down and we lifted each other up.”
Parisi never questioned whether or not his team would win the state championship.
“I’ve never had a doubt in my mind,” Parisi said. “Even the first game we lost. It’s just the chemistry is too strong with this team. We can come through anything.”
Post 20 beat Woonsocket twice before falling to Newport’s R&R Construction, 3-2, in the Final Four of the double-elimination tournament. After that, Post 20 won four in a row to take the title.
After the loss, Post 20 moved to the losers’ bracket to face off against South Kingstown, which it beat, 8-2. Post 20 followed that with a 7-4 win in a rematch against R&R, catapulting it into the championship series.
Cranston West junior Nick Santurri started on the hill in Game 1 of that series and led his team to an 11-1 thrashing of Upper Deck.
“He pitched extremely well,” Rathbun said. “He came in and did some pitching and then the next game was a half hour after that.”
Cranston’s Cooper Krusz got the start on the mound in Game 2, and Upper Deck jumped on him early, scoring three runs in the first inning. After that, Krusz settled in nicely and held Cumberland scoreless until the sixth inning.
“He did outstanding other than that first inning,” Rathbun said. “Then, we brought in L.J. (Felicio) to close and he did a great job.”
Post 20 didn’t score until the bottom of the fifth inning when it tied the game at 3. However, in the top of the sixth, Upper Deck scored two runs to take a 5-3 lead. Nevertheless, Post 20 answered again in the bottom of the sixth, scratching across three runs to go up, 6-5. Then, Post 20 went to the bullpen and brought in Felicio, who closed out the game out in the top of the seventh.
“It was very difficult to play a very good Upper Deck team,” Rathbun explained. “Especially Cumberland, they’re advancing to the Little League 12s. They always have a great team and their coach Robert Shockey is very good. For us to beat that team twice is a big feat.”
The Post 20 roster ranges from ages 17 and under, and most of the kids are from Cranston, while there are three from Johnston.
The team also has two middle schoolers on the team, Chris Torres of Bain and Caleb Harris from Western Hills.
“They’ve done a great job,” Rathbun said of the middle schoolers. “They’re the youngest of the group. They’ve really stepped up during the season and in the playoffs.”
Rathbun is very grateful for the backing that he received from the kids’ parents throughout the year.
“The parents have been fantastic,” Rathbun said. “They’ve been so supportive through this whole thing and the kids worked extremely hard. It came down to the wire and they wanted the championship. And hitting is a big part of it. Defensively, we’re very solid. If we continue to hit, we’re a great team.”