SAUGUS — The Saugus National 12-year-old All-Stars’ road to the District 16 final wasn’t an easy one, but the result is no surprise to manager Buddy Riley and his staff.
“It’s awesome, we’ve said right from the start we can play with anyone,” Riley said. “We’ve been with this group for four years, really. I feel like it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work the whole time at practices. The parents and coaches, we all get along. It’s just a great group to make this run with.”
Sunday’s 10-1 loss to Peabody created a speed bump on the road to the final, but Saugus National fought through the one-loss bracket with a 6-5 win over West Lynn Tuesday to earn a spot in the final.
“I think all these kids like each other and it’s helped us,” Riley said. “They’ve been playing together for a while now. We’re in a small league so everyone knows each other. Everybody knows their roles and what they bring to the table. It’s been what has pulled this whole group together.”
Along with some solid chemistry, a roster full of talent has powered Saugus National and that starts with pitcher/shortstop Luca Sapienza. Sapienza will pitch Thursday’s game and Riley wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He’s our ace,” Riley said. “Hopefully Luca can pound the strike zone and give us a chance to win. We’re going to ride Luca as long as we can and as long as he can go.”
Sapienza doesn’t stop contributing there, bringing a big bat to Saugus National’s lineup. Sapienza has knocked in four RBI in Saugus National’s last two games, including a solo home run against Peabody Sunday.
“He brings a lot to our lineup,” Riley said. “You just know he’s going to make contact when you need it. He’s really the centerpiece of our lineup and when it seems like we need a big hit he delivers.”
Saugus National has other contributors up and down the roster including Dan Zeitz, who laced two key doubles against West Lynn in the semifinal.
“It was good to see Dan get hot and have a great game,” Riley said. “Steven Streeter is another guy we rely on in key situations at the plate. Nathan Soroko is huge too at the top of the lineup. Tyler Riley, Cesar Rollo, really anyone can get it done. But if we can get all those guys going we’re at our best.”
Sunday’s score wasn’t indicative of the effort Saugus National gave Peabody. Saugus National competed until the very last inning. The game was tied at 1-1 going into the sixth before Peabody put together a nine-run inning.
Saugus National has focused on cleaning those mistakes in hopes of avoiding a snowball inning this time around.
“I think it helps the kids mentality,” Riley said. “We said right from the start think we can play with anyone. Peabody has always had a lot of good teams but we haven’t gotten to play them in the past few years. It’s a tough challenge. We know they hit and pitch well, we just have to go out play solid.
“We have to make every play,” Riley added. “That big inning they got some hits but we could’ve cleaned some stuff up. We practice defense day in and day out and we have to be smarter. That’s on the coaching, too. We’ve made some tough decisions.”
Saugus National takes on Peabody in the District 16 final Thursday (5:45) at Wyoma’s Charlie Reinfuss Field. Because Saugus National emerged from the one-loss bracket, it must defeat Peabody twice in order to win the district title.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Riley said. “We talked about this since day one and we’re ready to go out there and battle.”