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REGION — If there were a report card for Shirley’s first year in District 5 Junior Legion baseball play, the grades would be excellent. The team enjoyed a solid season on the field with an 11-7 record, and picked up a play-off victory over Needham. The roster of 17 players showed dedication and a willingness to work. The team was buoyed by strong support from Shirley American Legion Post 183, and the home field that the team played on was the envy of most opponents. All in all, it proved to be an auspicious debut.

Shirley competed in a league with Malden, Somerville, Newton, Wayland, Weston and Needham and played each of those teams three times in the regular season.

“We brought roughly 12 kids to each game and if a kid came he played,” said Shirley manager Jim Canning. “The system worked well and summer schedules could be planned for vacations. There were no games when we threatened to forfeit. Everyone was told up front what the system would be and it worked out. We were able to rotate kids across games and it allowed everyone to be a part of what was going on.

“Shirley Legion was very supportive and their members attended many of the games,” said Canning. “Commander Bud Decell and Charlie Church were especially supportive. Shirley Youth Baseball welcomed us, and the field was always in great playing condition. We received numerous positive comments about the field and it is a point of pride for the town of Shirley.”

The team’s success stemmed from a talented mix of players which allowed for balance all over the field.

The team received strong catching from the duo of Chris Canning of Pepperell and Bobby Lucy of Shirley.

“We got great catching all season long,” said Canning. “Balls rarely got by them and a number of opposing base-stealers were thrown out. We received intelligent play behind the plate. Chris hit a number of long balls this season, including a home run over the 340-foot fence in Wayland.”

First base was a very deep position for the team as Clayton Galeski of Harvard, Justin Roberts of Pepperell, Jim Basile of Lunenburg and Josh Mihill of Pepperell provided outstanding play.

“Clayton has good size, is a solid defensive player and has a strong bat,” said Canning. “He has a good attitude and a huge upside. He did some pitching for us and with some work on his mechanics he can become a major force. Justin did an outstanding job on the mound for us and offensively his bat was explosive. He works on his game in the off-season and he carries himself like a leader. Jim has a good glove and picked up a number of key hits during the season. Josh has good size, is a strong defender and hits the ball a ton. He was either our third or fourth hitter and hit two balls over 400 feet.”

The second base contingent consisted of Conor O’Brien of Groton, Jamie Breen of Pepperell, and Nick Barry of Ashby.

“Conor has outstanding quickness and speed and is a line drive hitter,” said Canning. “Jamie has very good hands and did a nice job of making all the routine plays. Offensively, he is a contact hitter. Nick also played in the outfield and was a good defender and contact hitter. He was very coachable and was a good teammate.”

The team featured a strong 1-2 combination at shortstop in Ricky Christian of Lunenburg and Matt Russell of Townsend.

“Ricky has excellent hands, is fundamentally sound and gave us great shortstop play,” said Canning. “He is fearless, never backs away from the ball and made a lot of big plays. He has very good instincts, deceiving range and has a strong and accurate arm. Matt is a great athlete who can run and throw and has good instincts. He is a contact hitter who rarely strikes out and he hit a lot of doubles.”

Matt Noel of Townsend and Mike Powell of Townsend gave the team strong play at third base.

“Matt played solid defense and has a strong arm,” said Canning. “Offensively, he runs well and rarely strikes out. He has shown a knack for getting on base and is a threat to steal. His did a nice job on the mound and has a good curve ball that sets up his fastball. He showed the confidence and willingness to throw the curve ball on any count. Mike is a versatile player who also pitched and played in the outfield. He is a phenomenal hitter who went 10-for-14 in one stretch, including five doubles, two triples and a home run. He worked his way to the number three slot in our batting order and his hitting was instrumental when we put together our long winning streak.”

Centerfielder Adam Lamont of Groton was the centerpiece of the team’s outfield.

“Adam is an outstanding centerfielder with gap-to-gap range because of the great jump he gets on the ball,” said Canning. “He was the cornerstone of our defense and took away a number of hits with great catches. He is the fastest player on the team and batted lead-off. He had the ability to manufacture a run with his speed.”

Other players contributing to a strong outfield were Nick Ravanis of Pepperell, Paul Walter of Ashby, and Mark Canning of Pepperell.

“Nick makes all the routine plays and is very sure-handed,” said Canning. “He has the ability to drive the ball offensively and the highlight of his season was a bases-clearing double at Somerville for our first win. Paul is a good defensive outfielder who provided power offensively. He also pitched a number of quality innings for us. Mark led the team in batting average and was able to get on base frequently. He is a steady outfielder with a good arm. He was sure-handed and made strong throws.”

What were the strengths of this year’s team?

“I think our number-one strength was our hitting,” said Canning. “We got contributions up and down the lineup and even in some of our losses we consistently hit the ball hard. These kids love the game of baseball and brought a passion with them every day. They were always willing to work on hitting and fielding fundamentals. The chemistry of the team was excellent and the kids always showed a great attitude. We had a group of team-oriented players who were willing to sacrifice so that everyone was able to contribute.

“We will attempt to have a Senior Legion team next year,” said Canning. “We look forward to a great year next year and any interested players, 17 and younger should e-mail jimcanning@charter.net.”