Hilltown Tents trying to win Tri-County Baseball League title in first year of existence

Owen Phelps pitches for Hilltown Tents against the St. Joseph Saints on Monday in a Tri-County Baseball game at Frontier.

Owen Phelps pitches for Hilltown Tents against the St. Joseph Saints on Monday in a Tri-County Baseball game at Frontier. STAFF PHOTO/THOMAS JOHNSTON

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 07-04-2024 1:01 PM

The Tri-County Baseball League of Western Massachusetts has undergone numerous changes since its inception in 1929, and this summer, a new area team has emerged. 

With Teddy Bears Pools, the longtime area team, struggling to fill out a roster last year, former Frontier player Sam Schreiber came up with the idea to form a new team. Schreiber reached out to Owen Phelps, a former Greenfield player who now plays collegiate baseball at Castleton University in Vermont, to see if he’d like to coach. 

Phelps took on the role as coach and recruited a strong team to compete in the league. So far, Hilltown Tents have had success and sit in first place in the standings. 

“We didn’t have a team last year,” Phelps said. “Nobody really stepped up. Sam Schreiber reached out to me and said he’d do all the preseason set up and asked if I’d like to coach it and get guys. I told him I would.”

What is the Tri-County Baseball League? It’s an amateur baseball league played in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden County. Players are of all ages post high school. Franklin County had one of the more successful squads in league history until Manny’s TV & Appliance folded following the 2016 season.

This summer, seven teams are competing in the league: Hilltown Tents, Teddy Bear Pools, PeoplesBank, Chicopee Falls Tigers, St. Joseph’s, Bank ESB and the Longmeadow Cardinals. 

Heading into the homestretch of the season, Hilltown Tents look to be serious contenders with an 8-3 record, the best of the seven teams. 

“We have a good group of guys,” Phelps said. “We’re 8-3 now. It’s going pretty well and we’re having fun.” 

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On Monday, Hilltown Tents added to its impressive record with a 4-3 victory over the St. Joseph’s Saints. Phelps pitched a complete game and struck out six while Kevin Baumann, a former Frontier player, hit a double to score Phelps in the bottom of the sixth to give Hilltown Tents the lead. 

After a win and a loss against St. Joseph’s earlier in the year, winning the rubber match will help Hilltown Tents in their attempt to earn the top seed going into the playoffs. 

“This was a great win for us,” Phelps said. “This was the rubber match because they beat us earlier in the year. We split with them and now we’re up 2-1 in the series.” 

Monday’s game against St. Joseph’s was just Hilltown Tent’s third home game of the season, with many coming on the road. Playing at Frontier, Hilltown Tents is hoping to finish strong during its remaining home games, with the regular season set to come to a close next week. 

Hilltown Tent’s roster consists of Phelps, Michael Bassett, Gabe Gochinski, Tyler McDonald, TJ Thibeault, Bryan Baumann, Kevin Baumann, Maleek McMillan, Alex Gochinski, Marshall Ingram, Colin Cloutier, Liam Datres de la Blotier, Tyler Podolski, Zak Duval, Tyler McLain, Kyle Noska, Tyler Dubreuil, Schreiber and Ben Arnold. 

“It’s a lot of local guys,” Phelps said. “This is only our third home game so we’ve been traveling quite a bit. When you are on your home field, it’s definitely helpful.”

With it being the team’s first year, there is the expectation that it might take time to develop chemistry. That hasn't been the case, with Phelps noting the team hit the ground running and quickly developed continuity. 

It helps that the majority of the team comes from the area, with a few members who play with Phelps at Castleton coming up from the Nutmeg State to compete. 

“We have two kids from Connecticut who are my college teammates,” Phelps said. “Once we got together on the first day everyone meshed. It’s been pretty cool to see. It’s like everyone has known each other for 10 years now.” 

With the postseason coming later this month, Hilltown Tents has its eyes on winning the league title and becoming the first champion not named PeoplesBank in over 10 years. 

“Peoples has won it 11 years in a row but we’ve beat them twice already,” Phelps said. “We’re looking for the title.”