Around the Horn
The surprise of the Northeastern Conference so far is no doubt Salem, which burst out of the gates by pounding Snowden and then sweeping North contenders Lynn Classical and Lynn English last week.
The Witches (3-1 after Monday's setback at Peabody) are doing it with an improved pitching staff and a great battery led by captain Teghan Malionek behind the plate.
A three-year varsity contributor, Malionek has played all over the diamond, and pitched, for Salem because the Witches have always been strong at catcher. This year, the senior took over full-time and the results have been palpable.
"You have to remember we've had some great catchers, guys like T.J. Larivee and Brett Remon. Last year we wanted Teghan to pitch some, but he is a seasoned, experienced catcher," said Salem coach Jim Tgettis, who won his 400th career game last week.
"Teghan is a heads up kid — he's smart, he has a good throwing arm and he blocks and receives the ball well. He'll be very good behind the plate, one of the better ones around."
Malionek is committed to play at Wheaton next year and the Lyons are ranked No. 7 in the nation by D3baseball.com. His skills behind the plate are unquestioned, but his vocal leadership has been just as a big a key to Salem's resurgence.
"I love to take control and I love to talk it up. I come home with a sore voice every day," said Malionek. "Coach Tgettis has really given me the lead out there and the seniors, we think of it as our team."
Chris Boucher looks like Salem's ace and the Witches have been buoyed by the return of Luis Baez, who missed all of last season with an injury. Ben Kapnis is another capable arm.
"Chris isn't a flame thrower, but he hits his spots and he has great command. I tell him before every game, just stay focused and you'll be fine," said Malionek. "We have some good, live arms."
Salem missed the state tournament last season narrowly with an 8-10 mark. That kept the Witches motivated all offseason and in a loaded NEC North with Peabody, Beverly and both Lynn schools, Salem looked at the first week as a way to prove to the North Shore that they're serious about being contenders in 2012.
"We stress family and unity. It's amazing what you can do when you come together," said Malionek. "I think we opened up some eyes and we want to make the tournament. We'd love to take the NEC, but right now our goal is to win as many as we can and show people that we can contend."
Salem, which plays Revere this morning, was hot at the plate to start the year with 35 runs over the first four games. Besides Boucher, Malionek and Kapnis swinging well, shortstop Jenssy Troncoso and third baseman Ellian Vasquez have been solid.
"We're putting balls in play, line drives instead of strikeouts and pop-ups," said Malionek, who leads off. "I'm a contact hitter so I like to be that first guy starting things off. I like to see the ball."
So far in 2012, it's Malionek that's setting the table for Salem, on the basepaths, behind the plate and in the dugout.
"He's a terrific kid and a really good leader," said Tgettis. "You'd like to have a bunch of kids like him."
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Peabody senior centerfielder Bobby Losanno signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Merrimack College last December, and the Warriors are thrilled to have him according to head coach Jim Martin.
"He's a really solid player that will add a lot to our team. He can run, throw and hit," said Martin. "We think he can compete for playing time right away. He makes things happen out there."
Losanno, a two-time Northeastern Conference all-star, will also run track at Merrimack and swiped a pair of bags in the Tanners' win over Salem Monday.
"We wanted more team speed. I'm an up-tempo guy and I like to put pressure on the other team. Bobby seems to have success with that (in Peabody)," said Martin, who has an outstanding local player on his roster in junior centerfielder Mark O'Flynn of Ipswich as well as pitcher Beau Batchelor of Peabody, who earned his first win as the Warriors walked off over rival UMass-Lowell in ten innings yesterday.
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It's only been 15 days since the baseball season began and already there are no unbeaten teams left among the 13 schools in this newspaper's circulation area. Salem (3-1) was the last to fall from the ranks of the undefeated.
Gloucester (4-0) remains undefeated and, just three games in for most teams, only three clubs are unbeaten in Northeastern Conference action: the Fisherman (3-0), Peabody (4-2, 3-0 NEC) and Danvers (4-1, 2-0 NEC).
The simple fact is the league has a ton of parity and it is exceedingly difficult to run the table in baseball. The only North Shore teams to escape the regular season unscathed were Masconomet (2010) and Danvers (1999 and 2000) but no area team has ever won a state title with zero losses.
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What a battle it's going to be for the Catholic Central Large title. Bishop Fenwick has stumbled with two straight losses, the first coming against Austin Prep last Friday. The Cougars were led by Peabody native Tyler Finnegan, who has three hits off his old Peabody West teammate Kevin Church.
St. Mary's and Arlington Catholic are also in the mix in a very strong CCL, and Finnegan fanned 12 batters in an Austin Prep win over the Spartans.
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Ipswich got a taste of the big time yesterday, playing at Veterans Field in Chatham, home of the Chatham A's of the Cape Cod League. The Tigers pulled out a 7-6 win over Chatham High on the hallowed field, which has housed Chatham's entry in the Cape Cod League since 1923.
Gardy O'Flynn, Ipswich's head coach, played in the Cape Cod League for two summers in the early 90's, when he was All-New England playing for the University of New Hampshire.
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St. John's Prep's Brandon Bingel has been mowing hitters down, with 20 strikeouts over his first 14 2/3's innings pitch this season. That's an outstanding average of 12 K's per nine innings.
The junior righty needed just 51 pitches to get through five scoreless innings in a win over Arlington Monday, his second of the season.
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Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, runs every Wednesday during the spring season in The Salem News. Contact Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.