Anthony Chiappone had been a starting pitcher throughout his Brewer High School School career.
He had never considered being a closer and wasn’t interested in it.
But Queen City Athletics Riverdogs coach Jon Perry had a deep pitching staff and needed a closer, and Chiappone has answered the call throughout the season.
Chiappone picked up a pair of saves in the championship round doubleheader of the State American Legion Tournament against Bessey Motors of South Paris last Thursday as the Riverdogs triumphed 5-3 in eight innings and 4-1 to earn a berth in the Northeast Regional that begins Wednesday at Fitton Field in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Riverdogs, comprised of players from Hampden Academy and Brewer High School, will take on the Rhode Island champs at approximately 12:30 p.m.
“[Closing] is a lot different than starting but it’s a lot of fun,” Chiappone said.
“You get to come in and throw hard and I like to throw hard. And I like the pressure, that’s for sure,” said the Orrington native.
When he isn’t pitching, he plays first base. He warms up between innings so he can be ready if called upon.
When he is playing first base, he studies the hitters because he knows he could be on the mound facing them later on.
“I make mental notes,” said Chiappone, whose pitches include a live fastball and nifty curve to go with a sinker and an occasional knuckleball.
His two saves helped him earn the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award. He was also 1-0 on the mound and came up with one clutch hit after another in going 8-for-17 at the plate.
He had a walk-off homer in a 4-3, nine-inning win over Bangor in an elimination game and also picked up the win in relief. He delivered the game-winning run with a double in the eighth inning of the 5-3 win over Bessey Motors.
He finished with two doubles, four runs batted in and six runs scored in the tourney.
“I take pride in my hitting ability,” he said. “I think of myself as more of a hitter than a pitcher.”
He had attended Husson University in the fall with the intention of being a pitcher but didn’t play in the spring.
When he played his first game for the Legion team this summer, it was his first appearance in 10 months.
“In my first at-bat, I hit a line drive off the pitcher’s head and it was caught in the outfield for an out,” he said.
Chiappone considers himself the “grandfather” of the Legion team.
His experience and leadership has been valuable to his younger teammates, according to Perry.
“He is our emotional leader. He is a mentor to our young players. He brings a lot of energy to the dugout,” Perry said.
Chiappone was excited to come back and play this summer.
“I’ve known a lot of these kids forever. I expected us to do well but I never could have expected this,” said Chiappone, whose Riverdogs will take a 17-3 record into the tournament.
He said the key to the team’s success is its depth.
He noted that Ethan Phelps, who hadn’t pitched in a month but got the nod for the championship game, threw six innings of six-one-run baseball to earn the win.
“Team camaraderie is a big part of it, too,” he said. “We have guys who will do anything they’re asked to do.”
“Everyone understands and accepts their roles and the way they blend and mesh is impressive,” Perry said.
The Riverdogs have quality pitching depth with the likes of Kaden Beloff, Collin Peckham, Grady Vanidestine and Jed Gilpatrick in the starting rotation with Phelps being the fifth starter.
Peckham, who plays right field when he isn’t pitching; Vanidestine, who plays left and first base; and Chiappone have been the team’s leading hitters along with third baseman Logan Burns. All are hitting between .375 and .475. Slick-fielding shortstop T.J. Llerena, second baseman Gilpatrick and catcher Logan Levensalor are all around the .300 mark.
Speedy center fielder Kam Hale is the stolen base leader and he and Evan Nadeau supply the Riverdogs with some punch at the bottom of the lineup.
Perry has five players who were freshmen this past year who play for both the Junior and Senior Legion teams in Bodie Bishop, Ben Allen, Aidan Hulsey, Kaysen Wildman and Andrew Cote.
Garrett McLeod and Michael Desjardins have also seen some playing time.
Perry and Chiappone are confident the team will give a good showing at the regional.
“We had a real good approach at the state tournament. We’re just going to keep the game simple and do what we’re capable of doing,” Perry said. “We can compete with anybody.”