Around the Horn
---- — Stealing bases is harder than it looks.
So much more goes into the art of the swipe than simply having the fastest guy run 90 feet and slide into the bag.
The skilled base stealer has to time his lead and his first step based on the movement of the pitcher. He has to be in tune with what the batter is doing, if he’s swinging to aid the steal or if there’s a hit-and-run on. He has to quickly assess roughly a dozen things before he decides if its a good time to take off for the next base.
With all that in mind, its easy to understand why it took Masconomet some time to get used to the aggressive style of coach T.J. Baril. Now that they have, it looks like the Chieftains (11-5 overall) will be tough to stop.
Masco has won five in a row and scored 50 runs over that span. Even before that the Chieftains were a respectable 6-5, but they were averaging just under five runs a game. As their run production has almost doubled over the last three weeks, they’ve become a force.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing; it’s a matter of things coming together. We’d had good pitching and defense all year, and lately we’ve had better swings,” said Baril. “I think on the bases it comes from being aggressive rather than reckless.”
Freshman Elias Varinos recently moved to the leadoff spot, with his older brother Speros Varinos dropping down to the coveted No. 3 slot. The Chieftains put sophomore Greg Dougherty in the No. 2 spot, and the underclassmen have been getting on base at a solid clip.
Once they reach, they’ve been putting pressure on opposing pitchers and getting into scoring position for big bats like Speros Varinos, Tommy Budrewicz and Joe Klingensmith.
“They’re really setting the table,” Baril said of his first two hitters. “Those two guys have great speed, good baseball instincts and they’re making good decisions. Speros was used to being the leadoff guy, but he’s a contact hitter and he’ll put the ball in play. He does a good job.”
Baril took Swampscott to the state tournament in each of his seven seasons coaching the Big Blue and won 90 games there, meaning when Masco qualified for the state tournament by beating Manchester Essex on Monday it was his 100th win as a varsity head coach.
He implemented his aggressive style right away at Masco, a traditional baseball powerhouse, and they may have been a natural learning curve.
“It comes from baserunning. We wanted to be aggressive and that could’ve gotten us in some trouble early on because we went from aggressive to reckless. We were running into outs,” said Baril. “Right now, we’re really focused on what we’re going and we’re putting guys in the right spots to be successful.”
Speros Varinos, who will play at Tufts next year, has been Masco’s No. 1 pitcher when he’s not at shortstop. Will Twiss and Klingensmith have filled in the typical three-man rotation, though the Chieftains are getting valuable innings from outfielder Troy Bunker, Greg Jain, Budrewicz, Sam Hamburger and Ethan Dyer. Catcher Mike Manni has been strong handling the staff.
“All those guys have pitched important innings in big games,” said Baril. “We have depth and guys are doing a good job serving in their roles.”
Masco lost a 12-inning game to Lynnfield and fell to undefeated North Reading in 10 innings in April. The Hornets have already clinched the Cape Ann League title, though the Chieftains get another shot at some bragging rights on Saturday (3 p.m.) at home.
Overall, the Chieftains are 3-2 in one-run games and 4-3 in games decided by two runs or fewer. They’re hoping that experience carries over to the postseason.
It seems like every other game is a marathon this spring. There have already been 17 extra inning games involving local teams, up from just 12 in the regular season last year plus three more in the state tournament.
Danvers’ A.J. Couto will join the baseball team at Endicott next year, and the smooth-swinging outfielder should be a solid addition to the Commonwealth Coast Conference champion Gulls. Gloucester alum Conor Ressel is currently the only one-time Northeastern Conference player on the Gulls’ roster.
The Division 3 New England Regional that begins today has no shortage of local talent. Salem State alone has six ex-NEC players on the roster, plus two former Bishop Fenwick players, plus catcher Mike Lamothe of Beverly (via Pingree) and another handful from the Cape Ann League.
The Vikings’ regional opponent, Wheaton, has St. John’s Prep alum Justin Peluso and Salem’s Teaghan Malionek. St. Joseph’s of Maine is also in the regional with Peabody’s Joe Gruntkosky and SJP’s Alex Markakis as key contributors.Southern Maine is also competing and has Danvers’ Troy Thibodeau on its roster. Western New England, MIT and Daniel Webster are the other teams in the double-elimination tournament being held in Harwich through Sunday. The winner advances to the NCAA Division 3 national championship round.
Checking up on championships: St. John’s Prep (15-1) has earned a share of the Catholic Conference title and would win it outright with either a B.C. High league loss or a win at Malden Catholic Monday.
Peabody has wrapped up a share of the Northeastern Conference Large title at 12-1 in league play.
Beverly is 9-4, so the Tanners would win it outright with a win in any of their remaining three league games or any Beverly loss. It’s the eighth consecutive championship for the Tanners under Mark Bettencourt (six NEC Large plus two Greater Boston League crowns).
The NEC Small is still up for grabs, though Danvers (15-1) has a sizable advantage. The Falcons are 12-1 leading Gloucester (10-3) and would earn a share with one league win and the outright crown with two victories. It would be the ninth NEC crown in the last 10 years for coach Roger Day.
Bishop Fenwick will share the Catholic Central League crown, though they don’t know with whom yet. The Crusaders finished 9-3 in league play and both Archbishop Williams and Arlington Catholic are 8-3. They play today and the winner will share the title with Fenwick. It’s the fourth CCL title in five years for the Crusaders and first under head coach Kevin Canty.
Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, appears every Wednesday during the spring sports season in The Salem News. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN. #StrikeOutALS.