SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 19, 2014

Jean DePlacido column: DiFranco flourishes in new role at Bates

Jean DePlacido
The Salem News

---- — Rob DiFranco has a new role — and the Bates College sophomore loves every minute of it.

He is being called upon to pitch in relief during pressure situations for the Bobcats, much different from his high school career at St. John’s Prep when he was a starter.

He has appeared in eight games this spring, has a 2-1 record with 20 strikeouts in 122/3 innings pitched and an ERA of 2.84. DiFranco has allowed six runs, but only four were earned.

“I either close a game or come on in relief situations like one out and runners on second and third,” said the Melrose resident. “I’ve been doing it since my freshman year; by now I’m used to it mentally.

“Things have been going pretty good for us even though a lot of our games were postponed because of the weather. Snow always lasts a long time in Maine. We went to Georgia in February and were supposed to start off with three games at home against Tufts, but actually our home opener was a lot later this week with a doubleheader against Fisher. We had to play Bowdoin at Southern Maine because that was the only place with a field not covered by snow. It’s been tough, but we’re clicking now and have a huge three game series with Trinity (this weekend).”

A psychology major with a minor in education, DiFranco would like to pursue a career in sports psychology or possibly as an athletic director after graduate school. He’d love to coach one day, too.

For the second straight summer, he’ll be back playing baseball locally for the North Shore Navigators in Lynn.

“Last year I signed late with only three or four weeks left (in the season). I’m looking forward to playing the whole season,” said DiFranco. “There’s a lot of talent in the league, and Jon Cahill is a great coach. I enjoy facing Division 1 talent, guys from all over that make you rise to the level of competition.

“Some of my Prep teammates like Tyler Noe, Dusty Hunt, and Mike Driscoll will be on the Navs, and a lot of the guys on the Bates team will play in the league. I’ll be home on May 26 and tryouts are a few days later.”

DiFranco said his arm angle has changed from when he pitched for the Eagles, and he believes that has raised his strikeout total.

“I’m kind of like a sidearm pitcher now,” said DiFranco. “My arm angle has dipped down, and when I throw the two-seamer inside guys are swinging and missing. I like to mix it up with a two-seamer outside to lefties. I’ve always had natural movement on the ball, but I’m not one of the guys that is going to blow you away with speed. I like to attack the batters.

“A couple of weeks ago the coach said he wanted me to be the first guy out of the pen if the starter is having trouble. I can go two or three innings, try to silence any momentum.”

DiFranco rooms with former Peabody track star T.J. D’Amato. They didn’t know each other before coming to Bates but are now best friends.

DiFranco’s goal is to help the Bobcats (now 11-10 after beating Plymouth State Thursday) make the playoffs. He said the team has both talent and great chemistry to do it.

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Sean Stellato, a National Football League Players Association player agent and contract advisor who starred for Salem High and Marist College football, will host an NFL 2014 Draft Day Party on Thursday, May 8 at the Kowloon in Saugus (6:30 p.m.) Special guests include New England Patriot Joe Vellano and former Patriots tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who is now a 98.5 Sports Hub radio personality. It is a benefit for former Prep player Jared Coppola, who was seriously injured in a scrimmage before his junior year in high school and is now at the University of New Hampshire.

Fans can watch the draft live at the Draft Day Party and there will be games, raffles and even a Saugus wing eating contest. Tickets are $25 per person, which includes a dinner buffet and donation to Coppola, and are available at the front desk.

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Greg Deschenes of Beverly had a great time with his tennis team from Cedardale Health and Fitness Club in Haverhill at the National Championship in Hawaii last week. They placed fifth out of 16 teams from across the country and missed going to the Final Four by one game.

Cedardale beat teams from the Midwest, Hawaii and Northern California, losing to the Caribbean team from Puerto Rico that wound up winning it all. Each round consisted of three doubles matches with the team winning at least two moving on.

“t was a great tournament in the best stadium I have ever had the chance to play in,” said Deschenes. “Fifth place in the entire nation isn’t bad.”

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Jean DePlacido is a part-time writer and columnist for The Salem News. Contact her at jmdeplacido@aol.com.