Friday, August 22, 2008

If Hamilton could craft its perfect scenario for the Intertown League baseball finals, it’s doubtful they’d ask for three straight losses and a sweep at the hands of Manchester/Essex.

That was the reality last week for the Generals, who fell in Game 3 in Essex, 2-0. The Mariners won the best-of-five series, 3-0. But to view only the final three games of its 29-game season would be an injustice, Hamilton’s player/manager, Tom Jones, said. The Generals flirted with first place all season, made their second straight trip to the finals after a more than 10-year absence and had a special field dedication ceremony that drew more than 100 fans to honor Richie Vitale.

“All in all, we had a great 2008 season,” Jones said. “We improved our roster, increased our win total, increased our fan base and have a great starting point for next year.” They were also competitive in finals that saw only five runs separate each team. It was a microcosm of the entire ITL season that saw six teams battle for four playoff spots, with last-place Topsfield being competitive despite being out of the hunt for most of the season.

“The finals as well as the entire regular season was close from beginning to end,” Jones said. “This year marked one of the most competitive seasons of all time and certainly in recent memory. It really made going to the ballpark fun and exciting for the whole year. Good competition brings out the best in everyone. The league really made some great strides this year, as teams seemed to have record numbers on their rosters.”

Hamilton had 20 guys show up every day for the whole season ‑ no small feat for a summer league team where job commitments and vacations often get in the way. “That certainly made my job tough to find playing time for everyone,” Jones said. “We even had to order a bunch of new uniforms just to make sure everyone had one, which never happens. You could see that the numbers of participants was up league-wide this year.”

Jim Maloney led the team with a .448 average, followed by Mark Provost at .373. Jones (.333), Mark Potter (.318) and Jered Stewart (.318) rounded out the top five. The pitching staff was well rounded ‑ Judd Funchion (four wins), Mike Drinkwater (three), Jeff Jensen (three), Jon Jackson (three), Luke Painchaud (three) accounted for most of the team’s wins.
Funchion and Jackson had playoff wins over first-place Ipswich. The Generals were seeded fourth. Jackson led the team in earned-run average (3.29) followed by Painchaud (3.92).

“We were fortunate to bolster up our pitching staff this year, which was paramount to returning to the finals again this year,” Jones said. “Being able to spread out the innings really gave us a lot of options as a team this year. We weren’t dependent on two guys to pitch all the innings.”

In the end, the Generals ran out of answers at the plate. “In the finals we just got outplayed by the smallest of margins, but that made all the difference,” Jones said. “The two teams were evenly matched, but we just couldn’t seem to get the big hits to put us over the top. The team is already looking forward to next year, and everyone wants to return. We’ll all have one more year of experience that we hope to use to push us that one extra step to win it all.”