SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 14, 2014

Around the Horn: Chase for the Championship: It's crunch time for teams looking to sew up tourney berths, win leagues

Around the Horn
Matt Williams

---- — If any season is a marathon rather than a sprint, it’s baseball.

With only 13 days left in the regular season, however, it’s time for teams that have been pacing themselves a bit to begin their kick towards the finish line.

First, let’s take a look at the teams that need a few wins to qualify for the postseason:

Bishop Fenwick is 9-7, playing Danvers tomorrow followed by Archbishop Williams, Swampscott, Central Catholic and Everett. The Crusaders have won three in a row to get themselves in good shape to return to the Division 3 North tourney.

The most recent streak began last week when they beat Austin Prep, 6-3, in nine innings. Fenwick was coming off a pair of league losses and senior ace Tommy Parsons took the ball against Cougars and simply wouldn’t give in. He went all nine to make sure his team got back in the win column.

“Going nine wasn’t something I was expecting but I kept my pitch count low and I was able to finish,” said Parsons. “That was a huge win. We went in needing three more wins and if we ended up dropping that one it would’ve been even more difficult going into this week.”

Fenwick is in an interesting position given that they have a number of players with experience in the tournament from successful runs in both 2013 and 2012. It’s important that they play with the urgency a team that needs another win to qualify should have, while also maintaining that confidence and not being discouraged by the set-backs they had.

“We showed a lot of character against AP,” said Parsons. “In my mind we’ve been playing well enough to win games. The majority of our losses have been by one run and we’ve had some tough luck.”

Indeed, six of Fenwick’s seven losses are by one run or two, including the season opener against Danvers. They have a chance to qualify for the postseason by avenging that loss tomorrow against the Falcons.

“They’re a great team with a very good coach,” Parsons said. “They got the best of us last time but hopefully it’s different this time.”

Beverly is also 9-7 and needs one more win to make the playoffs. Today’s game against Lynn English is even more important for the Panthers because if they win it, they’ll give themselves an opportunity to move into first place in the NEC North. At 8-4 in league play, the Panthers trail Peabody (12-4, 9-3) by a game in the standings, so if they keep pace they’ll have a chance to tie when the league rivals meet on Monday.

Likewise, Hamilton-Wenham (9-5) needs one more win to qualify in Division 3 North. The Generals have six more outings to do so, with the next opportunity coming against Saugus.

Marblehead (7-8) has a bit of work to do in order to get back to the postseason. The Magicians need three wins in their last five games, which come against powerful Danvers, North division foe Lynn Classical, Greater Boston League opponents Everett and Cambridge and also Swampscott. Marblehead certainly has the pitching to make a run with Jordan Chmara and Brian Daly leading the way, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be a walk in the park; last weekend’s 1-0 win over English could be a great jumping off point for a Magician push.

For Swampscott, the mission is simple: If the Big Blue beat Bishop Fenwick on Sunday, they are in. If they lose, they’re out.

Swampscott is 5-11 overall but 2-2 against teams in Divisions 3 and 4. That means if they beat Fenwick they can qualify under the MIAA’s “Sullivan Rule” which considers only games against teams in your division for small schools in leagues with primarily larger opponents.

“It’s a playoff game for us. That’s the only way to look at it,” said Big Blue coach Jason Calichman. “We don’t want to jump too far ahead because we have a game against (NEC South leader) Gloucester (today). We’re looking at every game as a possible playoff for us, Sullivan Rule or not.”

Freshman Gavin Sullivan has been a game changer for Swampscott, with wins in his last three starts. Many of the Big Blue’s young players like Adrian Espinal are playing better than they did at the start of the year, and veterans like Greg Collier, Al Wallach and Ryan Cresta have rounded into form.

“It was a rough start for us,” said Calichman. “It took some time to gel and everybody’s been picking it up, but we still have some work to do. We lost to two very good teams last week, both by a 4-1 score. We made nine errors combined in those games and that’s not where we want to be.”

The bottom line for the Big Blue is that they’re not content to play well and lose. They’re setting a high standard for themselves and if they can get by Fenwick Sunday and get back in the tourney, they’ll be setting up a strong foundation for the future.

“We feel like we’re improving. Our approach at the plate has been a lot better,” said Calichman. “This is the kind of game that can be a real measuring stick of how far we’ve come.”

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One team that punched its ticket yesterday was North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie. The Hawks have won six in a row to move to 9-6 on the season and they’re in the postseason because they only play 18 games. It’ll be the first state tournament appearance since 2012 for the program, which is looking to close the North Shore Tech school with a bang.

“We’re a happy crew. This has been a goal since day one and we want to be playing our best baseball at the end of the year,” said Hawks coach Jed Beauparlant. “We have six or seven sophomores gaining confidence and if you combine that with four seniors that have been outstanding leaders things are going well.”

Senior Rob Craig has an earned run average under two for the season and his fellow upperclassmen J.T. Bizazza, Andrew Gallione and Jeff White have been excellent. Matt O’Connell is among a platoon of players that are filling in behind the plate.

“It’s one inning at a time for us,” said Beauparlant, whose team has won seven of its last eight. “We were 2-5 at one point and we told the kids to keep that approach, to stick to the plan, and they have.”

Mike Mitchell has emerged as an ace for the Tech, winning his last three starts in impressive fashion. He leads the team in strikeouts and also sports an earned run average under 2.00.

“He’s had a tremendous year,” said Beauparlant. “He’s keeping guys off balance and pounding the strike zone. He gets ahead in the count and he pitches with confidence.”

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St. John’s Prep (14-1) may have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Super 8 after Bridgewater-Raynham lost to Durfee last week. The Eagles have won 14 straight on the strength of Evan Roberts, who is 6-0 with a save and has allowed two earned runs on the season. Catcher Mike Geaslen is heating up at the plate, and hitting in the No. 9 hole is setting the table for leadoff man Nick Latham.

“Mike’s hitting it all over the field and that’s a great thing to see. It puts Latham, who’s a bit of an unconventional leadoff hitter, in a spot where he can get some RBIs where he’s pretty comfortable up there,” said Prep coach Dan Letarte.

The Eagles have a big game with Gloucester on Friday; The Fishermen need to win to pad their Super 8 resume and the Eagles would prefer to keep their own winning streak alive. The eyes of the Bay State will be on that one.

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For what it’s worth: If we were picking the Super 8 today (instead of on Memorial Day with all the games completed), St. John’s Prep, Bridgewater Raynham, Newton North, Braintree and Lincoln-Sudbury look like sure fire selections. Three other teams will qualify from a group that, to us, includes Gloucester, Catholic Memorial, BC High, St. John’s Shrewsbury, Peabody and Silver Lake.

If the Tanners go 18-4 or the Fishermen end up 18-2, how will that compare to a BC High or CM team with as many as six or seven losses? That remains to be seen and will make the last week of the season as exciting as its been in years.

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Masconomet will be hosting a cookout for Middleton Little League players after their game against North Reading on Saturday. Little Leaguers are also invited to throw out the first pitch and run the bases between select innings.

The Chieftains’ recent two-game mini-skid has made the meeting with the Hornets an intriguing one. Masco has only a one-game lead in the Cape Ann League Kinney Division, so if the Hornets win they can pull themselves into a first-place tie.

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Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, appears every Wednesday in The Salem News 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

Web Extra

Longest North Shore Baseball Winning Streaks in Recent Years

Team                     Streak                   Year

Masconomet     23                           2010

St. John’s Prep  22                           2013

St. John’s Prep  14                           2014

Masconomet     14                           2014

Masconomet     13                           2013

Peabody              12                           2013

Danvers               11                           2013

Peabody              10                           2011

Peabody              9                              2014

Beverly                 8                              2013

Danvers               8                              2012

Peabody              8                              2012

Danvers               7                              2013

Swampscott       6                              2012

Marblehead       6                              2012

Bishop Fenwick 6                              2013

Ham-Wenham  6                              2013