SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 22, 2013

Around the Horn: Hosman helps Phillips Andover win Central New England crown

Around the Horn
Matt Williams

---- — Peabody’s Matt Hosman has always been comfortable on the diamond, so it comes at no surprise that even as a young player he’s fit right in with the Phillips Academy nine.

Hosman and the Big Blue won their second straight Central New England Prep championship over the weekend, defeating Worcester Academy 12-8, then topping Deerfield in the final, 10-7, at Assumption College in Worcester.

“It means a lot to us to win it,” Hosman, a 16-year-old sophomore, said. “Before last year, we hadn’t won since 2008. Last year we had a lot of talent, went 16-5 and kind of dominated. This year was a little different but we stuck to our goals and won.”

Because of an injury to a starter, Hosman played third base last season as a freshman and moved to second base this spring. He was very comfortable in the infield and at the plate. He had RBI in both playoff games, hit safely in each of Phillips Andover’s last five contests and had an on-base percentage that hovered around .400.

“We have six offensive team goals and focus on having quality at-bats,” said Hosman. “Some of the biggest things are scoring six runs a game and getting seven freebies: walks, hit-by-pitches or stolen bases. Our coach did the numbers and we win 80-90 percent of the time if we hit the goals.”

One of the heroes of Peabody West’s 2009 Little League World Series team, Hosman also pitches for Phillips. He throws bullpens regularly and pitches in the summer, where he plans to play to the Legends travel team, and will take on a bigger role on the mound for Phillips in 2014.

“We’re stacked for pitchers. We have a kid committed to Boston College and two kids going to Tufts,” Hosman said.

“Coming here as a freshman I just wanted to make the team, and I’m happy to play anywhere. (This season) I was more comfortable and tried to be more of a leader. I was really close with our shortstop, a kid from Georgia; we had a great relationship in the middle infield.”

Studying at Phillips Andover has given Hosman a unique look at the world around him. The classes are challenging and he’s met a varsity of people from all corners and walks of life.

“Kids are very passionate about the things they do, and there are always opportunities to learn and get all the support you need,” Hosman said. “One of the guys down the hall is from Hong Kong. There’s a lot to experience.”

Having learned a lot by playing with and against older, stronger players (many opponents have post-graduate players), Hosman is now finishing up the school year. The Big Blue play rival Phillips Exeter in their season finale this weekend, and he’ll look to take the mental aspects of the game he’s learned the last two springs into summer ball.

“When you get on the field, it’s all baseball. Guys want to clear their minds of whatever’s going on the outside,” he said. “There’s not a guy around that doesn’t love the game.”

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A trend that developed on the North Shore this season: new starting catchers playing extremely well for their teams.

Danvers (Joe Olszak), Masconomet (Mike Manni), Marblehead (Tom Koopman), St. John’s Prep (Paul Crehan), Salem (Austin Connolly), Peabody (Brandon Polignone) Swampscott (Ryan January) and Hamilton-Wenham (Pete Duval) all have first-time, full-time starters behind the dish.

“We weren’t sure who we’d have there and Brandon completely solved that riddle. You have to be a good defensive catcher to handle hard throwers like Pat (Ruotolo) and soft guys like (David) Apostolides. He’s caught 18 of our 20 games,” Peabody coach Mark Bettencourt said of Polignone, a revelation who transferred from St. Mary’s of Lynn for his senior season.

Crehan, a senior at St. John’s who also plays hockey, locked down the Catholic Conference title for the Eagles when he threw out a runner stealing second to end Monday’s win over Malden Catholic. Koopman, who moved back to catcher after the graduation of all-star Colton Dana, was magic at Seaside Park for Marblehead — he had walk-off hits in the Magicians first and last home games this season.

January, a sophomore, has emerged as one of the best young hitters on the North Shore and owns five homers. Connolly has solidified a young Salem team.

“He’s been like a quarterback for us. He’s a driven kid with good leadership and the way he approaches every practice and game is like a pro,” said Salem coach Paul Caron. “He’s a natural leader.”

Not to overlook the returning starters at catcher: Beverly’s Tristan Fasheh has been solid and Ipswich has a three-year man behind the dish in Henry Sacco. Then there’s Bishop Fenwick’s Gianni Esposito, who is enjoying an all-star caliber season.

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Danvers native Scott Hovey helped the Salisbury School win the Western New England Prep School Baseball League title this past weekend by homering in the semifinals. The Knights finished 22-1, scored 10 or more runs in each of their last seven games and piled on 35 runs in the semis and finals to the WNEPBL tourney.

Hovey, who is repeating his junior year at the prep school, earned the win on the pitching mound in Salisbury’s season finale Monday.

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In two meetings this spring, Peabody and Lynn Classical played 27 innings against one another — or one inning shy of four full games. Oddly enough, the away team won both extra innings games, with the Tanners winning in 15 frames at Fraser Field and the Rams coming through in 12 at Bezemes Diamond earlier this week.

At 16-4, the Tanners are looking to win their final two games and are hoping for a Medford (16-3) loss in order to assure themselves a top-3 seed in Division 1 North. That would put them on the opposite side of the bracket from presumed top-seed St. John’s Prep. It looks like Newton North will also be among the top three, and another Peabody loss could put the Tanners anywhere from fourth through 10th depending on percentages and coin flips.

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A year ago at this time, we told you to look out for Beverly in the Division 2 North tournament ... and the Panthers went on to make the sectional final for the first time. This year, that sleeper label sticks to Masconomet.

The Chieftains (14-5) have won eight in a row and are quietly playing very good baseball. Danvers (17-1) will be among the top seeds, there’s little reason to doubt Beverly can make another run at the title, and we believe Reading and Gloucester will be tough outs.

That said, if we were a team in D2 North, we’d be happy to see the Chieftains (winners of North titles in 2000, ‘08 and ‘10) on the opposite side of the bracket.

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Bishop Fenwick had every reason to let down against a good Swampscott team last Saturday; instead, the Crusaders took care of business in a 7-0 victory.

Fenwick (15-4) played two extra inning games against Archbishop Williams last week, beat Everett and had an emotional comeback win over Peabody, meaning the game with the Big Blue was their fifth of the week.

The focus they displayed in handling a state tournament caliber team, and the pitching depth they used in a busy week, are strong signs that Fenwick is capable of making a run at its first Division 3 state title since 2004.

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It was great to hear that St. John’s Prep senior Tyler Noe took some cuts in Monday’s win over Malden Catholic. The UMass-Lowell-bound third baseman would be a tremendous addition to an already-loaded Eagles lineup if he’s healthy again.

The Prep (17-1) has won 17 straight, and would you believe with all the success St. John’s has had on the diamond over the years that this is the most wins by a SJP team in 12 seasons?

Looking ahead, St. John’s last won 18 regular season games back in 1998.

Saturday’s anticipated Danvers/St. John’s Prep showdown deserves the hype. The teams could conceivably enter the game with combined records of 36-2 (if both win today); That’d be the most combined wins in a game in the series since 2001 (36).

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