By Matt Williams
---- — The goal for the Masconomet baseball team heading into this afternoon’s state semifinal against Hingham is simple: make sure there is baseball practice for the Chieftains tomorrow.
By winning the Division 2 North title on Sunday, Masconomet (19-5) earned a spot in today’s Division 2 semifinal against South sectional champion Hingham (19-6), to be played at Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium (4 p.m.).
The winner moves on to Saturday’s Division 2 state final against the winner of the Auburn/Greenfield semifinal pitting the Central and Western Massachusetts champions.
“All we keep saying is we just want to get back to practice. Let’s make sure we have practice (tomorrow),” said Masconomet head coach T.J. Baril. “We raked our field after practice (yesterday), we got it ready and we’re hoping to get back on it.”
The Chieftains have won 13 games in a row in Baril’s first season coaching the traditionally strong baseball program. Masconomet has actually won the Division 2 North crown three times in the last six years under three different coaches, but the state semis have been a stumbling block. They’re trying to get to the state final for the first time since 2000, when Masconomet won its only Massachusetts baseball crown.
None of that truly matters for this year’s squad, one that’s enjoying its first trip this deep into the postseason with the kind of spirit and enthusiasm you’d expect from a high school team. It’s an attitude that’s paid off; Masconomet has excelled in pressure situations this postseason, with scoring the winning runs in the seventh and final inning of the North final win over second-seeded Danvers standing as a prime example.
“It’s a team that gets along really well and they joke around with each other, so they don’t get overwhelmed in those big moments,” said Baril. “This time of year there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance stuff and they’re keeping it light, cracking smiles.”
The Hingham Harbormen, coached by Kevin Niles, have won eight of their last nine with the lone loss in the second half of the season coming against Reading. They knocked off Plymouth North, which had been to four of the last five state semis, in the Division 2 South quarterfinals.
Righty Evan Flanagan, who is committed to the University of Rhode Island, could get the call for the Harbormen today. The co-MVP of the Patriot League threw 10 innings and struck out 16 in his team’s semifinal win over Nauset four days ago and also smashed the game-winning double.
“He throws a lot of strikes, he’s efficient with his pitches and it seems like he doesn’t mess around,” said Baril. “We have to be ready to swing the bats.”
Facing an opponent without much history is one of the challenges of the state tournament.
“We’ve been fortunate to have people see Hingham twice, and we know they have three lefties in the lineup and they swing good bats 1-through-9,” said Baril. “We keep telling our guys that at this point in the season, there are no bad teams and no easy games.”
Hingham also has Patriot League all-stars Eddie Bowler, Stephan White and Billy Boynton, all seniors.
Interestingly, the team from the North sectional hasn’t won a state semifinal since back in 2005, when Division 1 powerhouse Lincoln-Sudbury was still a Division 2 team.
The Chieftains expect to give the ball to Cape Ann League MVP Speros Varinos today for his third postseason start. He won both via shutout and also saved the win over Danvers; in the bullpen if needed, Masco could rely on Will Twiss or Tommy Budrewicz.
Run prevention has been a big part of Masco’s winning streak. With pitching and solid defense, the Chieftains haven’t allowed more than three runs in game in their last 15 contests.
Catcher Mike Manni, who has been doing an excellent job controlling opposing running games, has been part of that. Dan Dempsey, who plays shortstop when Varinos pitches, and Eddie Thayer, who plays first when Joe Klingensmith pitches, have been great in the field as well.
At the plate, Varinos and his younger brother Elias, a freshman leadoff hitter, have been hitting. Budrewicz and Klingensmith are always run production threats in the middle of the lineup. Jain has come up with clutch RBI in the tourney. Chris Rich and Greg Dougherty have hit in the postseason as well.
“We’re not relying on 3-4 guys, and guys in different classes are stepping up in different spots,” said Baril. “We’re not saying what’s a certain guy going to do today or how is a senior going to carry us. It’s what’s somebody going to do. It could be anyone.”
Sam Hamburger, who can pitch as well, pinch-ran and scored a big run against Danvers Sunday. That’s just one example of the fact that anyone on Masco’s roster can help win a game.
“We’ve preached all year that we need 1-through-9 — and it’s really more than nine. That’s proven true,” said Baril. “We’re into our 25th game and the guys know they have to do.”