South Hadley baseball gets past Hampshire Regional in Hartford: ‘it’s almost like the big leagues’ (PHOTOS)

South Hadley pitcher Matt Drobiak (7) throws against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn.

South Hadley pitcher Matt Drobiak (7) throws against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The South Hadley dugout celebrates after Gavin Carpenter (9) scores against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Donuts Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

The South Hadley dugout celebrates after Gavin Carpenter (9) scores against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Donuts Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional’s Mikey Thompson (10) hits against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional’s Mikey Thompson (10) hits against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley pitcher Matt Drobiak (7) throws against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

South Hadley pitcher Matt Drobiak (7) throws against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley baserunner Logan Carpenter (3) celebrates after scoring against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

South Hadley baserunner Logan Carpenter (3) celebrates after scoring against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley second baseman Ryan Netkovick (11) throws out Hampshire Regional baserunner Mikey Thompson (10) in a rundown at third base while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn.

South Hadley second baseman Ryan Netkovick (11) throws out Hampshire Regional baserunner Mikey Thompson (10) in a rundown at third base while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) lunges to tag out South Hadley baserunner Jackson Keller (2) while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn.

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) lunges to tag out South Hadley baserunner Jackson Keller (2) while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley pitcher Matt Drobiak (7) throws against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

South Hadley pitcher Matt Drobiak (7) throws against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley shortstop Griffin Soderbaum (13) scoops a grounder for an out against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

South Hadley shortstop Griffin Soderbaum (13) scoops a grounder for an out against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional pitcher Will Hogan (3) throws against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional players line the dugout during their game against South Hadley at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn.

Hampshire Regional players line the dugout during their game against South Hadley at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Conn. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional shortstop Liam Pond (2) reels in a pop fly for an out against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional shortstop Liam Pond (2) reels in a pop fly for an out against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional third baseman Riley Florek (11) throws to first for an out against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional third baseman Riley Florek (11) throws to first for an out against South Hadley while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Memphis Huertas (6) hits against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

South Hadley’s Memphis Huertas (6) hits against Hampshire Regional while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Hampshire Regional catcher Zach Phakos (24) tags out South Hadley baserunner Caiden Drohan (5) while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hampshire Regional catcher Zach Phakos (24) tags out South Hadley baserunner Caiden Drohan (5) while playing at Dunkin' Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, on Thursday afternoon in Hartford, Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 05-09-2024 9:05 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. – As the South Hadley baseball team exited the handshake line with Hampshire Regional and ran toward their team meeting in center field, Tigers players yelped with glee, flung their gloves into foul territory and smiled wide. 

They had just finished seven innings of baseball at Dunkin’ Park, home of the Colorado Rockies’ AA affiliate, the Hartford Yard Goats – scoring a 3-1 victory.

“It was electric,” winning pitcher Matt Drobiak said. “It’s almost like the big leagues.”

“I can’t even explain,” added right fielder Jackson Keller. “We’ve been waiting for this game, we know they’re a good team, and this was probably our toughest matchup and we played well.”

Both teams had been looking forward to Thursday afternoon’s matchup since the beginning of the school year. After Hampshire seniors Liam Pond and Jack Boyle played at Dunkin’ Park in a showcase over the summer, they asked Raiders coach Mark Baldwin if Hampshire could play a game there during the 2024 season. Baldwin OK’d it, got pricing info from the Yard Goats, and recruited longtime friend Matt Foley to bring his South Hadley team as the opponent.

Thursday’s game marked the 25th consecutive season Baldwin and Foley’s squads have faced off.

“I do thank Mark,” Foley said. “He really got the ball rolling here and got it going and we’re going to try to make this an annual event with Hampshire and us. We’ve talked about that already, so hopefully we’ll be back next year.”

To cover the $3,200 cost of renting the stadium for 2.5 hours, Hampshire and South Hadley split the fundraising. Both teams had organized trips to Cooperstown in previous years, but neither had played at Dunkin’ Park. The Tigers hit the mark by going door-to-door in South Hadley and selling gold cards, which serve as tickets and discount coupons for games. Hampshire fundraised through an app and raised so much money that they had extra to spend on new equipment.

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“We raised kind of a lot of money,” Baldwin said. “It was really easy.”

Though the teams weren’t allowed to practice on the field before the game, they were allowed to use the Yard Goats’ batting cages. With two tunnels instead of just one, the Raiders got as much batting practice as they usually get in an hour, Baldwin said. Each player got a dozen swings in the cage.

“The cages were amazing,” Keller said. “Ton of balls, everything you could imagine for batting before a game.”

Each player received a pregame introduction over the public address system and their headshots ran on the Jumbotron for each at-bat. Keller called running to his spot in right field for the first inning “amazing.”

The game itself was a competitive pitchers’ duel. Neither team moved a runner past second base for the first two and a half innings, before South Hadley found some holes in the Hampshire infield and strung together five consecutive baserunners in the bottom of the third. Memphis Huertas, Logan Carpenter and Gavin Carpenter all scored to put the Tigers up 3-0.

Hampshire got one back after Zach Phakos doubled and scored in the sixth, but the Raiders didn’t advance another runner past second for the rest of the game. Drobiak kept a lively Hampshire lineup relatively quiet in seven innings of work, allowing just three hits and three walks while striking out seven.

Hampshire pitcher Will Hogan also had a strong outing. He threw a complete game on six hits and a walk and struck out six. 

Though Hampshire hit a few balls hard, Drobiak never truly got into any sort of jam.

“(Playing here) makes you play harder, the stakes are higher I feel like,” Drobiak said. “Everything just feels bigger.”

South Hadley moved to 12-2 with the win and has now won 12 straight after starting the season 0-2. Hampshire is 9-6. As both teams head back to Western Mass. to finish up their final few games of the regular season, they couldn’t emphasize enough how grateful they were to play in a professional ballpark.

“It was a great opportunity,” Drobiak said. “I feel like not many kids get this. I was just happy to play. Great field, great teams.”