Soon after winning the American Legion baseball state tournament, R.H. Foster coach Zach Sugar started receiving text messages from his players wanting to know when they were practicing the next day.
Sugar told them they had earned some time off, but the players asked if they could get together and practice on their own.
It is that passion and desire to improve that helped produce the Riverdogs’ first state title.
The Hampden-based Riverdogs won all five of their state tournament games to earn a berth in the eight-team, double-elimination Northeast Regional tournament that begins Wednesday in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“They definitely deserve this because of all the work they put into it,” Sugar said. “They’re relentless. They’re a great group.”
The Riverdogs open at 6:30 p.m. with the host team, Shrewsbury Post 397.
“We love the game very much,” said left fielder Derek Gendreau, one of 12 current or former Hampden Academy players on the roster.
The team also includes five players from Hermon High School and Charlie Spiegel from Searsport High.
“We always try to put in extra work,” center fielder Sam Economy said. “[Sugar] works over at Sluggers [Baseball and Softball Training Facility in Brewer] so we try to get over there as much as possible. And a lot of us will stay after practice on our field to take an extra round of batting practice.”
Catcher Adam Rush said another key is the team chemistry.
Ace right-hander Wyatt Harriman went 2-0 and allowed just one run in 13 innings in the state tourney to win the Sid Schwartz Most Valuable Player Award.
“We don’t really have a weakness,” Harriman said.
“Everyone knows their position, and we all accept our roles on the team,” Economy said. “It doesn’t matter who we have up in any situation, they have a good chance of getting the job done.”
Harriman received rave reviews from his teammates and his coach.
“He is one of the biggest leaders on our team,” Sugar said. “He’s not one of the hardest throwers around, but he mixes up his pitches well.”
Right-handers Jacques Labonte and Jackson Thayer have complemented Harriman and supplied Hampden with a solid rotation. Starting shortstop Gavin Partridge has done an exceptional job as the closer.
Gendreau, Partridge and third baseman Keith Pomeroy, each of whom earned an all-tourney berth, have been the offensive catalysts. Gendreau hit .375 in the five games with three runs batted in, Partridge batted .308 (3 RBI) and Pomeroy hit .294 with a team-leading five RBIs.
Rush was the team’s top hitter in the tourney with a .417 average (2 RBI), and No. 9 hitter Nate Allain, the second baseman, started the decisive two-run rally in the 2-1 championship game win over the Trenton Acadians with a leadoff single in the sixth inning.
Thayer plays right field, Nick Lorenzo is the first baseman and Jacob Lorenzo is the designated hitter.
Another plus for the Riverdogs is their tournament experience. Several of them played on the state championship Junior American Legion team last year and competed in the Northeast Regional in Connecticut. Some also played in two Junior League regionals in New Jersey.
“We’re going down there to win every game. I’m confident. But we’re going to have to bring our A game in order to compete,” Harriman said.
“I feel pretty good about it. If we play hard and play our game, we’ll be fine,” Economy said. “We just need to worry about ourselves.”