Forty-seven years ago, Ashland won its first state title in baseball in 1966, then followed it up with a second state crown a year later.
That back-to-back stretch was a classic run by a high-octane nine that won with talent, class, and a disciplined coach. One of the major contributors in that mix was Earl McLaughlin Jr., the second baseman who could hit, field and turn a double play in an instant.
The 62-year-old McLaughlin, who’s lived in Franklin for 33 years, still has fond and vivid memories of those championship seasons and, as the years have passed, he realizes the enormity of the achievements. More so than when he was competing.
“We had good talent at every position,’’ McLaughlin said. “At that time, winning back-to-back state titles in baseball had never been done before but we didn’t see that as a huge accomplishment. We expected to win. Fans saw the championships as a much bigger deal.’’
What followed for the young Clockers were trophies and banquets. Lots of excitement permeated Ashland, a blue-collar town that embraced the success of its boys of spring.
“Clem Spillane was our coach and we were able to give him his first state title in baseball,’’ McLaughlin said. “I look back now and realize how fortunate I was to be with great players, quality teammates and a demanding coach.’’
Ashland defeated Norton in 1966 for its first state title, then blanked Dartmouth, 8-0, a year later for its second appearance in the winners’ circle. McLaughlin, who hit .320 during his three varsity seasons, drove in three of Ashland’s eight runs against Dartmouth.
“Two of my most memorable games were against Dartmouth and Lynnfield,’’ he noted. “I had a triple and single against Dartmouth for three RBIs, and in a Dual County League game against Lynnfield as a sophomore, I had seven assists at second base and made some diving stops to help us win, 3-2.’’
A patient leadoff hitter, McLaughlin was on board for both state titles as a sophomore and junior. He has great praise for some of his teammates during those seasons.
“Dennis Baker, Jim Poole, Joe Markarian, Steve Willard and Mark Iarussi were just a few of our top players,’’ McLaughlin said. “Dennis could hit, field and lead; Poole was an exceptional fielder at shortstop; Markarian could fire the ball from his third-base position; Willard was a catcher with a great arm who could also hit; and Iarussi was a student of hitting, often relying on a powerful swing.’’
McLaughlin also competed in football (halfback) and basketball (guard). A fractured leg cost him most of his senior year of football but he excelled in basketball, averaging 14 points a game from either guard slot.
“I had a decent jumper from 16-18 feet,’’ he said. “My best game was an 18-point effort against Lynnfield, which was my career-high.’’
Baseball, however, is where McLaughlin shined. He was a two-time honorable mention all-star in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, and he continued to excel for three seasons with the Framingham Legion where he hit over .300.
“We won the Zone 5 championship in 1966,’’ McLaughlin said. “And, I’ll never forget leading off in a regular season game against Lowell and hitting a home run. We had five Ashland High kids playing Legion ball for Framingham.’’
After graduating in 1968, McLaughlin enrolled at Worcester State. He later worked as a supervisor for General Motors in Framingham, then managed a service station in Ashland and later worked in sales before retiring this year. He currently works part-time at New England Country Club in Bellingham.
McLaughlin and his wife Karen have three children and six grandchildren. His leisure activities include time with his family and playing golf. Calling his father, Earl Sr., a role model for his support and encouragement, McLaughlin also admired his late coach.
“Clem Spillane knew how to motivate players,’’ McLaughlin said. “He was a disciplinarian who kept all of us on our toes.’’
Always relying on an athletic philosophy to win within the rules, McLaughlin firmly believes that the disciplines he learned in sports helped him gain confidence and handle most real-life situations.
“Those days at Ashland taught me how to improve with practice and how to handle any criticism,’’ he said. “Athletics helped all the players develop confidence.’’
Confidence that led to a pair of state championships in baseball.