By Phil Stacey
---- — GLOUCESTER — The 400th win of Roger Day’s Hall of Fame baseball career wasn’t much different from many of the 399 that preceded it.
Things that have become staples in the Danvers baseball handbook — stellar pitching, air-tight defense, smart baserunning and timely hits — all came to the forefront yesterday afternoon at chilly Nate Ross Field, where the Falcons rode a complete game three-hitter from junior ace Brandon Hyde to a 3-0 triumph over their rivals from Gloucester.
“It’s an awesome feeling to get this win for him. He’s a great coach,” said Hyde, who threw 75 percent of his pitches (63 of 84) for strikes yesterday. “I mean 26 years, 400 wins ... that’s really impressive.”
Having coached the Falcons since 1987 (except for one season, in 1994), the Massachusetts State Baseball Coaches’ Hall of Famer has made his program into a state powerhouse, particularly over the last 15 seasons. Danvers won the Division 2 state crown in 2001 under his leadership, reached the state final two years earlier, has won 12 of the last 14 Northeastern Conference championships and have only missed the playoffs four times in Day’s tenure.
Yesterday, after the last out and been recorded and the Falcons improved to 8-0, a plaque commemorating his achievement was presented to Day as his players gathered around and helped him celebrate.
“The kids come here and know what we want,” said Day, who became only the 29th baseball coach in state history to win 400 high school games. “They play hard, they’re disciplined, fundamentally sound, throw strikes, are aggressive on the bases ... and we go after teams.
“Our success, it’s because of the kids and the commitment that they make to the team. They know the (team) history and what they’re playing for. That and our coaches ... we’ve got Ox (former Danvers star Eric Oxford) with us now, along with Bobby (Boyce, the long-time assistant), and for a long time we had Marsh (Brian Marshall, another ex-Falcon standout). Ryan Hayes has the JVs and Steve Baldassare coaches the freshmen, two more guys who have been through the program and now what it takes. All of that helps us do what we want to do as a team.”
Veteran Gloucester coach Joe Orlando, whose team hardly ever gets blanked on its home field (and had been averaging 8 runs a game coming into yesterday’s contest), would have obviously preferred to see his squad win, but was nonetheless happy for Day on his milestone victory.
“He’s just a class act,” said Orlando. “I love Roger. From Day 1 when I went to my first coaches’ meeting until today, he’s always been a great guy.
“He keeps the game fundamentally the way it should be played. His kids are respectful; I’ve never seen them throw bats or helmets. And I’ve learned from him ... I’ve coached a long, long time myself, but I love being across from him. He keeps me on my toes, which is a good thing.”
Hyde, the 6-foot, 150-pound sidewinding southpaw, kept the Fishermen out of sync the entire day. While not overpowering, he arm slot and release point make it tough for hitters to pick up the baseball coming out of his hand. When he’s throwing strikes, keeping the ball down in the zone and busting hitters inside, shortening their swings, he’s even more effective.
“I always used to throw over the top, but realized it was more effective throwing the way I do (now),” said the 17-year-old Hyde. “The way it’s thrown makes it harder for them to hit. I don’t have much velocity, but my ball moves a bit more, which catches guys off guard and works for me.”
Case in point: Gloucester’s massive 3-5 hitters, shortstop Alex Webb and first baseman Mike Muniz, couldn’t extend and get full power on their swings because Hyde (now 4-0) kept busting them on the inside half of the plate. The combined result was six at-bats with two pop outs, two fielder’s choices, and groundout and a strikeout.
“I didn’t worry about the 400 wins; I just thought of it as a regular game. I knew my teammates would have my back (defensively),” said Hyde, who threw primarly two and four seam fastballs, mixing in only a smattering of offspeed offerings. “Dan Connors made some unbelievable plays (at second base), and (center fielder) Anthony Garron had some catches where he played their guys just right. We played great defense and got those timely runs.”
“(Hyde) pitched a great game,” added Orlando. “We didn’t go with what he gave us, and we were getting frustrated. I could see it in their faces.”
Danvers got the only runs it would need in the top of the first inning when senior A.J. Couto doubled to left-center, took then on a bunt-turned-slash base hit by fellow senior Joe Strangie, then saw both runners score on Ray Arocho’s sacrifice fly to center and Tyler Dustin’s RBI groundout, respectively.
The Falcons tacked on an insurance run in the sixth when Dustin’s single to right plated Connors, who had reached base with two out when a third strike got by the Gloucester catcher. Connors then swiped second base and scored with a well-executed slide, getting his hand over the plate ahead of the tag.