By Jim Sullivan
---- — Newburyport’s Brett Fontaine has spent the past few years becoming the stuff of local legend in the athletic community. When he wasn’t setting records on the gridiron, he was excelling on the Clippers basketball team, and most notably, closed out the Port baseball team’s 2011 state championship season.
But perhaps his biggest challenge came this summer as part of only four returning starters to American Legion Post 150’s ball club.
“It’s bittersweet knowing that I won’t be back next year,” said Fontaine. “It’s also the last year I will ever play with my brother. But it’s been a good three years, and hopefully we make a little run in this tournament and go out on top.”
At the start of the season, Fontaine, his younger brother, Colt, Pentucket’s Josh Creamer, Amesbury’s Mac Short and Triton’s Richard Fecteau were the only returners for the Nor’Easters. But Fecteau was sidelined by an injury before the season began, and it was up to the other four veterans to pull the team of youngsters together in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Post 150 didn’t just rebuild, they reloaded, winning the North Sectional Championship for the second year in a row Wednesday night. The Nor’Easters are headed to the state tournament once again.
“It says a lot about the kids on this team and the character of these kids,” Fontaine said. “They are willing to play. The coaching has been there. The kids are developing as players. They all have natural talent and they are playing to the top of their ability, and that is what we needed to happen.”
Fontaine, 19, has been with the Nor’Easters for the past three seasons. He was brought on as a second baseman/pitcher. He made five starts, going 3-0 and batting .381 along the way for a team that included such talented pitchers as Ryan O’Connor, Tim Cashman and Charles Nutter. Post 150 eventually went 16-5 that year.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that in every game, you’re the favorite to win,” said Fontaine. “You get to play with so many great players, and you know that you’re going to be in every game. It makes you play better, honestly, being around so many other good athletes challenges you. It makes you a better player over all.”
With another year under their belts, most of that collegiate, last year’s Nor’Easters were a behemoth, going 22-2 and taking the North Sectionals before making their exit in the state semifinals. The crafty righty got six starts, going 4-0 with 21 strikeouts. He allowed only two earned runs, all the while batting .378.
“It was a great experience to be on a team that could win it all,” said Fontaine. “We had great team chemistry. We always had fun joking around with each other, and we were always winning. So we were always happy. It was a lot of fun playing with all those guys.”
Fontaine spent the offseason playing ball and studying psychology in his first year at Wheaton College, then came home and was presented with a young summer ball team where he would be the only collegiate player.
“I had to be a leader,” said Fontaine. “I had to be a guy that they could look up to in any given situation.”
The Nor’Easters came out flat to start the season, going 0-3, the third of which was a heartbreaker to Methuen.
“After the Methuen game, everybody was a bit down,” said Nor’Easters coach Tim Southall. “Then Brett kind of talked to the team a little about what the expectations for playing for Post 150 are. You are in everybody’s cross hairs. Teams always want to beat you. You are always seeing their best. Post 150 is the benchmark, at least recently. It’s always been the top team in District 8. And the guys started to rally around that.”
The next thing they knew, the Nor’Easters were on their way to the playoffs again as Fontaine racked up a 5-2 record on the mound with 35 strikeouts and only seven earned runs.
“It just seemed like we were playing better over all,” said Fontaine. “And, along the way, we didn’t even realize that we kept winning. The (mood) was better than before.”
Having completed a 12-1 stretch in their last 13 games, the North Sectional champs are indeed in great spirits as they start their state tournament campaign against Leominster on Saturday. But for Southall, a sense of melancholy comes with it as well.
“Brett and I have a special relationship,” said Southall. “It’s kind of big brother, little brother. We have a special bond. I love the kid. I love what he brings to the baseball field, and he’s worked really hard for me. He’s done everything I’ve asked him to do. He’s unselfish, and it’s going to be a tough moment when we have our last game and he turns his uniform in.”