American Legion: Ryan Schneider powers Belchertown Post 239 past Westfield for District 1 title (PHOTOS)

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 07-20-2023 11:48 PM

WESTFIELD – Thursday night’s American Legion District 1 championship game between Belchertown Post 239 and Westfield Post 124 had more drama in it than a daytime soap opera. 

Multiple innings with bases loaded, heroic diving saves, blasts to the outfield fence and a mounting tension between both teams as the night wore on set the stage for a epic finale in the district tournament.

In the end, Ryan Schneider played hero for Post 239, blasting a bomb to center field for a triple in the top of the fifth inning with the bases loaded to break open a 3-3 tie game. Schneider gave Belchertown a 6-3 lead with his hit, and then plated himself on an Andrew Fijal single to make it 7-3 Belchertown through four and a half innings. Post 239 held on to that lead and picked up a 9-3 win to advance to the state tournament.

Belchertown will play its first game in the American Legion Senior Division State Tournament on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Mahan Field in Natick against an opponent to be determined. The tournament is double elimination.

A man of few words in the dugout, Schneider let his play do the talking for him on Thursday. 

“He brings experience. He's one of the few that were on the team last year,” Belchertown head coach Todd McDonald said. “You can see that he was feeling it. Every time that we needed something to happen, we kind of turned to him. Now he's not a real vocal leader, but whether he's pitching or delivering with a big hit – and that was a huge hit – he came through, gave us a little bit of breathing room.”

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Schneider finished the game 2-for-4 with four RBIs; his second hit of the night was a big double that drove in the team’s ninth and final run to help ice things in the top of the seventh. After their four-run fifth inning, Post 239 added two more runs in the seventh from Jacob Smith and Tyler McDonald to pad their lead. 

Things got a bit testy during the contest – one of Westfield’s players stepped out of the batter’s box during a hit for the third out in the bottom of the fifth that otherwise would have been a single, and there was contact made between two players on a tag play at the plate, sparking some disdain from both dugouts and fans in the bleachers. Despite emotions flaring, Belchertown did its best to remain composed throughout the game. 

“A little bit (of tension). We were really just focused on doing our game, what we've done all season,” Schneider said. “So we didn't let that get to us.”

Ryan Decoteau started the game on the mound for Post 239, recording two strikeouts and walking seven in 3 2/3 innings of work. He struggled to find the plate in the fourth inning, and Schneider came on in relief. He was ultimately credited with the win, striking out two and allowing two hits. 

The fourth inning was when things really started to open up for both teams – Belchertown scored twice, adding to a run it had scored in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. Westfield answered right back with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning. 

Post 124 is a team known for its hitting ability. More than anything, Belchertown needed to rely on its defense to shut down any attempts at a comeback effort. They were more than capable of doing that, particularly the outfield – Andrew Fijal and Cooper Beckwith both made diving catches at crucial moments, and Fijal made another spectacular double play when he caught a ball in center field and fired it straight home in time for a tag by Smith in the bottom of the fourth. 

“We saw the same thing against Wilbraham in South Hadley, our center fielder Andrew Fijal makes a big throw to end that game. He made a couple big throws today. We know we can count on his arm,” McDonald said. “The range that our entire outfield has – we know when a ball goes in the air, the odds are it's going to be caught.”

The win was especially meaningful to some of the returning players like Fijal and Schneider, who fell in the District 1 championship game last year to Greenfield. Picking up a win and advancing to the state tournament in their final season of Legion play was a special moment.

 “Coming off a loss last year in the district championship, it's good to come out here with a different group of guys, some of the core from last year, but I think we've all gotten pretty close,” Fijal said. “We’ve just gotta keep going getting some wins.”

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.]]>