SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 18, 2009

Around the Horn baseball column: Team of the Decade: St. John's Prep, Peabody or Swampscott?


Around the Horn

Matt Williams

The final outs have been recorded not only on this past baseball season, but on the first decade of North Shore high school hardball in the new millennium. Which begs the loaded question: Which local team deserves the title 'Program of the Decade'?

Three local powerhouses qualified for the state tournament every season from 2000-09: St. John's Prep, Peabody and Swampscott. Two other programs, Danvers and Masconomet, made it in nine of 10 seasons — a remarkable achievement, but just below the bar set by the abovementioned cream of the crop.

Let's breakdown some arguments and evidence for and against each of the three powerhouse programs:

CHAMPIONSHIPS: The reason they play the game. St. John's Prep boasts a sterling 30-9 state tournament record, including the 2000 Division 1 state title and North championships in 2002 and 2006. They have two more North final appearances to their credit and won at least one tournament game every season this decade.

The Tanners were 17-10 in the state tourney, with the lone hardware a North title in 2004. They lost in the North final on three other occasions, but faltered near the end of the decade and haven't won a postseason game since 2007.

Swampscott won back-to-back Division 3 North titles in 2002 and 2003, and went a combined 20-10 in the postseason during the last decade.

Edge: Clearly St. John's Prep, compounded by the fact that they're 2-1 against Peabody in the tourney. Nobody wants to play the Eagles in June (unless you have Jeff Allison on the hill, as Peabody did in arguably The Game of the Decade, the Tanners' 2-1 win in the North semifinals in 2003).

OVERALL RECORD: In total regular season play from 2000-09, Peabody clocks in at 151-48 (.759), St. John's Prep is 141-57 (.712) and Swampscott has been 131-65 (.668).

Incidentally, Danvers has the best record of the decade at 167-38 (.814) — and that's including their 15 losses in 20 games this spring.

Edge: The Tanners, slightly.

STAR POWER: What was in the water in Peabody in the early '80s? Four Tanner City natives born in that era are playing professional baseball — though the most successful of the bunch is a 2003 St. John's alum.

The San Diego Padres' Matt Antonelli gives the Prep a big boost as the only player to appear in a Major League game. But his Triple-A status is matched by 2002 Peabody High grad Mark Shorey, who is in the St. Louis Cardinals system and hitting .317 for the Memphis Redbirds.

The Tanners have two more minor leaguers: much-talked about first round pick Jeff Allison, currently pitching in Single-A for the Jupiter (Fla.) Marlins; and 2004 grad Ryan Moorer, who is in Double-A in the Seattle Mariners' system.

St. John's Prep has another notch on its belt in 2001 product Jake Marsello, who played in the Chicago Cubs' system, and recent draftee Mike Yastrzemski.

The Big Blue are not to be forgotten: Tim Kiely was lights out in his first Double-A start this past Monday and enjoyed a very strong spring in his first season for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Edge: Peabody. Quantity over quality, especially considering that for all intents and purposes Shorey has matched Antonelli with half the fanfare. Garrett Greer (2000) was also drafted, and though a disappointment overall Allison is the area's highest overall draft pick at 16th in 2003.

COLLEGE PROSPECTS: Besides those mentioned above, the Prep has sent Chris Carmain and Peter Castoldi to Division 1 Northeastern, in addition to Jeff DeCarlo to Michigan and Conor Burke to Brown. For Peabody, the list is highlighted by UMass Amherst stars Bryan Garrity and Kyle Multner. For Swampscott, Hunter Gordon is headed to Division 1 Boston College, and Jason Blydell went to Dartmouth.

That doesn't even begin to delve into the throng of players from all three schools that have excelled in Division 2 and 3. Just off the top of our heads, for St. John's: Reid Auger (Bowdoin), Matt Sullivan (Trinity), Trevor Manzi (Roger Williams); for Peabody: Matt Sucharewicz (St. A's), Bobby Celentano (Salem State), Mark Sakelakos (UMass-Lowell); For Swampscott: Peter Kinchley (Middlebury).

Edge: St. John's Prep, boasting quality and quantity across all 10 years.

CONSISTENCY: Getting to the state tournament 10 straight seasons is enough consistency to satisfy most critics, but to settle this debate we're going to have to ratchet up the magnification on the old microscope.

St. John's has the steadiest hand, as Pat Yanchus guided the Eagles every step of the way. Both the Tanners and Big Blue underwent controversial coaching changes in the middle of the decade. Ed Nizwantowski was forced out at Peabody in 2004 — fresh off a Division 1 North title — and Frank DeFelice was likewise pushed out of Swampscott after the 2005 season.

All the credit in the world goes to the Tanners' Mark Bettencourt and the Big Blue's T.J. Baril for making sure these legendary programs didn't go off track. But Swampscott's win total has fallen off recently as they've lost nine games in four of the last five years.

Peabody's consistency dips in the playoffs — both they and Swampscott went one-and-done twice. St. John's never has, and in fact failed to win at least two games in the tourney only once from 2000-09.

Edge: The Prep. A state title in a "down year" (13-7 in 2000) and winning only one tournament game is the worst you've done? That's consistency defined.

THE VERDICT: Mitigating factors such as public schools against private schools and Division 1 vs. Division 3 aside, St. John's Prep takes it by the slimmest of margins. Peabody has a few more wins and more players who have gone on to make their living playing baseball. But St. John's has the one thing the Tanners lack — the 2000 state title.

Ultimately, that's why they play the games. The Eagles have four big trophies; Peabody only has one.

Who do you think is the best program from 2000-2009? Vote on our blog at http://blogs.salemnews.com/nssports.

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Ipswich's Jimmy Cadogan settled on a college baseball career at Clark University, preferring the more laid-back nature of hardball compared to the 24-hour-a-day commitment most college football programs ask for.

Though he's a solid pitcher, Cadgoan projects as an outfielder because his natural speed and agility can help him get to balls that others simply can't track down.

"He has tools," said Ipswich coach Gardy O'Flynn. "Jimmy's such a raw athlete that with the emphasis they'll put on things at the next level, he's only going to get better."

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No shortage of locals graced the EMass All-Star team, which played the stars of the western part of the state Tuesday afternoon at Fraser Field in Lynn. Chris Carmain of St. John's Prep got the save by sitting down the last six batters as the North toppled the West, 5-2. Masco's Chris Splinter and Beverly's Peter Kallas each drove in runs while North Shore Tech's Ryan Mahan pitched a scoreless inning.

Swampscott star Hunter Gordon started the game on the hill and threw two shutout innings.

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Beverly High drops to Division 2 for baseball next year and, to be honest, it should help the Panthers make deeper runs into the state tournament.

Beverly High was always on the very low end of the enrollment spectrum for Division 1 anyways, and the fact that Division 1 tourney games are contested over nine innings is utterly ridiculous.

There's obviously nothing wrong with nine-inning baseball. But with the exception of one league, Massachusetts teams play seven inning contests all season. To make a fundamental change when the playoffs start makes no sense. Play nine all year — or not at all.

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Around the Horn, a column on high school baseball, runs in The Salem news during the spring sports season. Contact Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com or 978-338-2669.

winningest baseball coaches

With another season in the books, we thought it'd be a good time to catch up on some baseball coaching records. Here's what we've got, sorted by winning percentage.

Coach, SchoolSeasonsWinsPercentage

Mark Bettencourt, Peabody580.714

Roger Day, Danvers22342.697

Pat Yanchus, St. John's Prep29421.653

T.J. Baril, Swampscott455.618

Russ Steeves, Bp. Fenwick225.595

Dave Wilbur, Beverly891.535