Around the Horn
---- — How do you sum up a career that spanned 33 seasons and included 491 wins?
In truth, it’s almost impossible to measure the impact retiring St. John’s Prep baseball coach Pat Yanchus had on both baseball on the North Shore, the Eagles’ program and on scores of young ballplayers that took the field for him.
A math teacher and assistant football coach at St. John’s for many years, Yanchus led his baseball team with a calm demeanor. His players never saw him panic or overreact to something on the diamond, and as a result they remained relaxed, yet focused. By letting his players play, he helped them all reach their potential.
“His style really worked for us. There were never any differences between players and everyone was locked in,” said Tommy Buonopane, one of this year’s captains. “He always made it fun, too.”
The Eagles sent Yanchus out with one of the best seasons in school history. The Prep went 22-2, setting a program record for both wins in a season and for a single-season winning streak at 22. The team learned early in the season that their coach would retire at the end of the year and made it a rallying point throughout the season.
“A big thing for us was winning the Catholic Conference title,” said assistant coach Dan Letarte, who played for Yanchus and coached with him an various levels for 18 years. “Winning our last road games at a lot of those places was big. We wanted to make those last bus rides homes happy ones for him; make those happy moments.”
Yanchus’ Eagles were always among the most dangerous teams in the state tournament in any given season. St. John’s qualified for the postseason in each of his last 18 seasons, amassing a 49-16 postseason record in that time.
His clubs made a remarkable 10 Division 1 North final appearances, winning sectional championships in 1989,1999, 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2010. The Eagles didn’t go more than three years with making a North final from 1997 through 2013, so each of his graduating classes in those years experienced at least one.
St. John’s won back-to-back state titles in 1999 and 2000, amassing a state record 15-game postseason winning streak in the process.
“Coach let the leaders lead, and that led to our teams becoming like a family,” said St. John’s alum Jay Hyland, who graduated in 2000 as a two-time state champion (1999-2000) and was Division 2 College World Series MVP playing at Tampa. “Our state championship teams didn’t have the best records, but we all trusted in one another and that came from his management style.”
Positivity was one of the hallmarks of Yanchus’ career and style. He was never the sort of coach fans could hear shouting at players or throwing some sort of tantrum when things went awry. Whoever he tabbed to do a job, Yanchus believed that player would come through.
“He always had faith in every guy, and he pushed players to be the best they could be,” said Stephen Peterson, a 2006 Prep alum now pitching in Single-A of the Milwaukee Brewers system. “He helped shape the person and player I am today, on and off the field.”
“He was never negative, and that’s important with young kids,” Hyland added. “You know if you mess up, you’re not going to get yelled at or called out, and that helps you play better.”
Baseball can be a game of hunches: when to pull a pitcher, when to run and when to call on a pinch-hitter. Through his years of experience and smarts, Yanchus always seemed to pull the right club out of his bag at the right time.
“He had such a knack for situations, especially on the pitching side,” said Letarte. “This year, with people knowing it was his last year, you really noticed the respect the opposing coaches had for Pat, too. The kids loved him, he’s a great guy and the kind of guy you want to play hard for.”
The game, and the players, evolved and Yanchus never lost the ability to get the most out of his players. He always knew what to say to get a kid going and was frequently ready with a pearl of baseball wisdom.
“He knows so much, we just wanted to play hard for him,” said Brandon Bingel, another of the 2013 captains.
“He’d been around the game for so long, and had to much experience, that you were always learning something,” said senior Nick Bragole, who is playing at St. Anselm College next year.
As for Yanchus, he’s excited about watching his grandchildren grow up, and he’ll be no stranger on the Prep campus in Danvers. He remains humble about his record, and the incredible legacy he leaves at St. John’s and as the winningest baseball coach in area history.
“This year we had a great group of kids. They were focused. They were always early — we’d call practice for 3 o’clock and they’ve be there swinging the bats at 2 or 2:30,” said Yanchus, who has long resided in Boxford. “I’ll always remember the camaraderie, and the coaches this year (Letarte, Ryan Leahy and Chris Conway) were a tremendous help.”
So who takes over one of the area’s marquee programs in any sport?
St. John’s may not name a new head coach until the fall, and once the job is open and a timetable is set it’s easy to imagine there will be no shortage of impressive candidates.
The Prep may not have to look far to find their man, however. Letarte, one of Yanchus’ top lieutenants, has 12 years of varsity head coaching experience as the Eagles’ former hoop coach. If he’s interested in taking the baseball reigns, he’d be a prime candidate and could conceivably have some important continuity in the program should Leahy and Conway stay aboard.
Northeastern Conference MVP’s Alex Toomey of Beverly and Dan Connors of Danvers were each selected to the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association’s Massachusetts Senior all-star team. They’ll participate in the annual Massachusetts-Connecticut challenge at Tufts University on Saturday.
Masconomet’s Speros Varinos and St. John’s Prep’s Nick Bragole were also ‘all-state’ selections, as they were slated to play for the North in the MBCA senior all-star game that was scheduled for Monday but called off due to rain.
The locals selected for the MBCA junior all-star game were St. John’s Prep lefty Justin Snyder and Beverly first baseman Kevin Cuneo.
In other all-star news, the 19 Agganis Baseball Classic will be played Sunday at Fraser Field (3 p.m.). Locals suiting up for the South squad are: Corey Carmody (Swampscott), A.J. Couto (Danvers), Pat Ruotolo (Peabody) and for the North squad: Brian Burke, Joe Levasseur, Gianni Esposito (Bishop Fenwick), Connor Green (Marblehead), Dustin Hunt (St. John’s Prep), Toomey (Beverly) and Greg Jain (Masconomet).
An unprecedented three area teams won 20 games this season: St. John’s (22), Danvers (21) and Peabody (20). Six teams won 15 games or more including Masconomet (19), Bishop Fenwick (18) and Beverly (15), which is also a new high-water mark dating back to 1995.
Perhaps the most surprising of these clubs was Peabody, considering what the Tanners lost to graduation a year ago. Instead of rebuilding, the Tanners became coach Mark Bettencourt’s first 20-win team.
“We talk about reloading and this year might be the best example of that,” said Bettencourt. “The senior leadership this year was incredible. The involve and nurture the young kids they way they did, they’ve planted the seed for us to come back even stronger next year.”
In addition to the statistics leaders on this page, here are some incredible numbers from the 2013 season:
*Danvers’ A.J. Couto’s average of .487 wasn’t just the best in the area, it was the second best in all of Roger Day’s tenure, second only to Daryle Crowley’s remarkable .564 mark in 2002. Couto also clubbed an incredible 15 doubles, nearly half of his 38 hits.
*Ray Arocho of Danvers was one of the most patient hitters around, working 25 walks.
*Beverly’s Alex Toomey, the area leader in RBI, was clearly a masher that opposing teams pitched around. He had an outstanding on-base percentage of .608. Teammate Anthony DiOrio wasn’t far off (.598 OBP).
*It was an amazing pitching season. St. John’s wound up with a team earned run average of 1.15, while Beverly’s team ERA of 1.70. Peabody’s was 2.16.
*The Tanners stole 110 bases as a team this season.
*Looking for one of the most disciplined hitters on the North Shore? How about Hamilton-Wenham sophomore Drew Gallant — he struck out just once all season.
*How about strikeouts per nine innings? Peabody’s Pat Ruotolo led the charge at a rate of 14.3, followed by Masconomet’s Speros Varinos at 13.6 and Beverly’s Toomey at 12.97.
Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, appears in The Salem News every Wednesday during the spring sports season. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN. #StrikeOutALS.