WORCESTER, Mass. -- They came from all points _ great distances and near _ for the sole purpose of playing one final baseball game wearing their respective school colors.
While baseball took center stage, the scene during Sunday's Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association Central/Western Mass. Senior High School All-Star Game went far deeper.
Players who only recognized the names on the front of the jersey got to know the person inside it. Rivals during the regular season turned into friendships inside the dugout as war stories were being told and traded. All of it coming within a span of three hours.
As for the game itself? It became an afterthought once the final out was made. For the record, Western Mass. won 4-1. But none of it seem to matter as to who won or who lost. At game's end, all you could see on the diamond at Tivnan Field were congratulatory hugs, plenty of well-wishes and the occasional photo op by family and friends.
"This game is a great experience for all of these kids here today," said Western Mass. and Westfield head coach Rich Discenza. "It brings together kids from Division 1, 3 and 4 with some of these kids having played against one another at the varsity level and some who have never played against one another before. While they may not make lasting friendships they do have friendships for at least the rest of the summer which I believe expands their universe a little bit."
For all of these seniors, it marked the last time to represent their respective high schools before making the jump to the college level.
"This was a great time today," said Chicopee Comp pitcher Mike Bombard, who struck out three in his one inning of work. "It's was fun to come out here and play against players you've never played against before. They're good players, we're good players it was a good game."
The 6-2 righthander will take his talents to Elms College next season.
Seven Western Mass. pitchers combined to scatter just three hits (all coming after the sixth inning) and allow an unearned run in the victory. Western Mass. went up 2-0 in the third inning. With Springfield Cathedral teammates Kevin Hassett and Andrew Noonan standing on second and third against Central Mass. pitcher Sean Engel (Tyngsboro), the lefty uncorked a wild pitch to plate Hassett. Two batters later, Westfield's Brent Houle singled Noonan home.
While the Western Mass. pitchers were doing there thing, so too, was the defense. One player in particular was Athol's Bradley Bousquet. The Brandeis University-bound shortstop was nothing short of stellar, displaying outstanding footwork, a vacuum for a glove and making several put outs along the way.
"It seemed like a lot of balls were hit to me today," Bousquet said. "It's good to know that I could make the plays to help my team. Wearing this uniform for the last time means a lot. I thought my last game (in the Division 3 Western Mass. semifinal) when we lost to Monument Mountain would be the last time I would wear it.
"But I got the call from Coach Discenza to play in this game and I was thrilled to be able to put it back on again. It was exciting coming out here and getting to see what the talent level is like from other players from other schools."
In the Western Mass. fifth, Pittsfield's Ryan Grande opened with walked and Bousquet followed with a single. A pass ball advanced both runners into scoring position before Joe Ciolek (South Hadley) hit a deep fly to right scoring Grande to make it 3-0.
Central Mass. got a run back in the bottom of the sixth when St. John's P.J. Browne, who walked, scored later on an error. But Western Mass. answered with a run of its own the next frame. Amherst's Alec Snyder-Fair laid down a one-out bunt single. With Holy Name's Josh Riley on the mound, his attempt to pick Fair off turned disastrous when the ball sailed well-past Leominster first baseman Brennen Cuddahy allowing Fair to move up two bases. Fair would score moments later on a Matt Baron (Chicopee) ground out. Western Mass. finished the game with seven hits.
"It's always nice to see these kids who compete against one another throughout the course of the year to actually come together and be on the same team," said Central Mass. and Assabet Valley head coach John Silk. "It's nice to see them end their high school careers together as opposed to playing against each other.
"I had eight kids on this team who played a Legion game this morning. They all hustled to make it here on time. It just goes to show you what baseball means to them. Those kids could've easily said no but it was important for all of them to play in this game. Today's game brings the innocence back for a day. All of these players, on both sides, came out here today and enjoyed the game as if they were little kids again. That's what it is all about."