SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 7, 2014

Around the Horn: Pingree hurlers enjoy two rare combined no-hitters

Around the Horn
Matt Williams

---- — It’s rare for a high school baseball team to have teammates that have each thrown no-hitters.

On the Pingree bench, there are an incredible five pitchers that can turn to each other and know what it was like to pitch in one of those magical situations.

The Highlanders, remarkably, have thrown back-to-back combined no-hitters in their last two games.

It all began Friday against Beaver Country Day. Junior Jeff DePiero was untouchable at the start, and Rob Van Tuyl and Griffin Beal each threw an inning to finish off the no-no. Then Monday against Landmark, Beal threw the first three frames and senior Prakirn Upbhyay and Kevin Moyette each went one inning to make two no-hitters in a row.

With so many moving pieces, it wasn’t easy for everyone to keep up the superstitions of leaving the pitchers alone during the no-hit bids. The Highlanders made it work.

“To be entirely honest when I went into the game, and even when I left the game, I had no clue we had a no-hitter going on,” said Van Tuyl, a co-captain from Marblehead. “It’s one of those things you’re not supposed to talk about in the dugout while it’s happening, so I was not reminded.

Having pieced together two no-hitters in a row is something you don’t see a lot and is a pretty exciting stat to see, but it plays right into the pitching strength we had coming into the season. So I’m also glad to see that working out.”

Pingree (5-5) is starting to play the kind of nearly flawless defense that’s usually the hallmark of their program. That’s been a big lift for their incredibly deep pitching staff, which also includes sophomore Cal Perry.

“Our defense was great and they deserve a ton of credit for the Monday no-hitter, considering we only had three strikeouts,” said Beal. “The defense has been on a roll.”

DePiero, a junior co-captain from Beverly, has emerged as a potential ace for Pingree. At 6-foot-3, he has natural power on the mound and he has an incredible grip on the ball, which has helped him develop an outstanding secondary pitch.

“He has gigantic hands and a splitter to go along with how hard he throws — that’s going to make it very challenging for batters going forward,” said Pingree coach Chris Powers, who has led the Highlanders to four New England titles. “He doesn’t walk anybody and he pounds the strike zone. He’s been getting stronger and stronger, and guys like playing behind him because, like most of our staff, he works quickly.”

Van Tuyl has a different approach, as a classic left-hander with all kinds of movement. Powers said the senior possess an excellent 12-to-6 slow curve in addition to a harder, more biting breaking ball. He keeps hitters off balance, and in Friday’s instance served as an excellent change of pace.

“My favorite is easily the curveball. There’s nothing better than knowing when it leaves your hand that it’s going to cut out of the strike zone and, hopefully, you can watch the batter whiff trying to get it,” said Van Tuyl, who like the rest of the pitchers in the area has been looking to find his groove between rainouts and busy schedules the last few weeks.

“Pitching in a game is definitely different than just pitching in a bullpen, so sometimes I haven’t been as sharp as I’d like. When I’m on, the fastball, curve and change are all finding the strike zone every time.”

With six games in the next 10 days and the annual Eastern Independent League tournament slated to begin May 17, Pingree is happy to have the diverse number of arms they do. Seeing them come together for two straight combined no-hitters was simply incredible.

“I don’t think a runner got to second base in either game. The pitching was terrific,” said Powers. “You have to credit the pitchers for throwing a lot of strikes and keeping everybody on their toes, and also the guys in the field who made all the plays.”

Pingree’s third captain is outfielder Reese Fulmer, who’s been heating up at the plate.

The Highlanders have won the EIL in 13 of the last 14 seasons and sit on top of the league standings at 3-1. Their lone loss came to Bancroft (which then went on to lose its next three league games). Pingree played a rugged non-league slate that’s helped them turn the corner heading into the stretch run of the 2014 season.

“We’re starting to gel defensively and as we see more live pitching, we’re hitting a good stretch,” said Van Tuyl. “From Day 1, both for the team and myself, the goal has been to get to New Englands and win. We set benchmarks along the way, and right now focusing on winning these next seven games is a pretty good goal.”

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Where do Peabody’s three losses in their last four outings leave the Tanners in the Super 8 conversation?

The Mass. State Baseball Coaches Association recently released a ‘watch list’ that included 32 teams; 75 percent of those on it won’t be selected. So the list should be taken with a grain of salt at this point. Baseball’s Super 8 is unprecedented, so there’s no history to indicate how the selection folks will weigh strength of schedule and reputation against records.

These are my best guesses for the local Super 8 contenders:

Peabody (currently 10-3) probably has to go 18-4 or 19-3 to grab a Super 8 bid. The Tanners’ resume includes wins over St. John’s Prep, Malden Catholic and possibly Xaverian and Andover if they hit 18 or 19 wins; that should be enough to offset an upset loss to Swampscott two days ago. But the Tanners haven’t left themselves much room for error in the final three weeks.

St. John’s Prep (11-1) has won 11 straight contests and is looking like a lock for the Super 8. The Eagles are 4-0 in Catholic Conference play, and if they sew up a share of the league title, they’ll be almost automatic. To me, the Prep would have to go 15-5 or worse and fall to second in their league to slip out of the top eight.

What about Gloucester, which is 12-1? The Fishermen own a marquee win over Peabody and could grab another one when they face St. John’s Prep on Friday, May 16. The good news for Gloucester is that the tournament information packet available on the MIAA website explicitly states that exclusion games will be considered for the baseball Super 8; if Gloucester has 18 or 19 wins with victories over both the Prep and Peabody, they’ll make a compelling Super 8 case.

Masconomet is 12-0 and if it runs the table may merit consideration. We know that in hockey it’s nearly impossible for a Division 2 team to make the Super 8, but we have no idea how that will shake itself out in baseball. Will the relative strength of the Cape Ann League hurt the Chieftains, or will their tourney run last year outweigh that?

Danvers (9-4) was also on the initial list of 32, though they’d almost certainly have to win out and defeat St. John’s Prep over Memorial Day weekend to be in the top 8 mix.

The field is selected on Memorial Day by a committee of 12 including five MIAA tournament directors, two reps from the coaches association, one from the umpires association, the MIAA baseball committee chair and three at-large folks from the baseball committee.

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Peabody native Matt Hosman had quite the weekend playing for Phillips Andover Academy. He drove in four runs and stole home to help his team a sweep of rival Phillips Exeter last weekend.

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Who are the area’s home run leaders at the moment? Masconomet’s Joe Klingensmith, St. John’s Prep junior Keith Leavitt and Hamilton-Wenham’s Austen Michel were tied with four each at last check.

St. John’s has the most as a team with 11, and each of their monster mashers has multiple dingers. In addition to Leavitt’s four, Nick Latham has three and Ted McNamara and Sawyer Billings each have two. In fact, nine of the Eagles’ 11 homers have come from underclassmen, and Latham and Leavitt have been drawing major interest from big-time college scouts over the last few weeks.

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Speaking of St. John’s Prep, the stats of senior lefty Evan Roberts are out of this world. The Davidson (N.C.) College commit has a 5-0 record with one save and an earned run average of 0.26. He’s struck out 30 and walked only four in 262/3 innings of work, giving him an outstanding 7.88 K-per-walk ratio.

What’s more, the Newburyport native has gone the distance and shut out several Catholic Conference opponents, putting himself in the conversation for league MVP.

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Keep an eye on North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie heading down the stretch. The Hawks have won three straight and four of their last five games to even their season record at 6-6; The majority of their remaining games are against fellow Commonwealth Athletic Conference squads, so their first state tournament appearance since 2012 could be in the cards.

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Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, appears every Wednesday during the spring sports season. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN. #StrikeOutALS