By Matt Williams
---- — Retired St. John’s Prep baseball steward Pat Yanchus was in San Diego when he called new Eagles head coach Dan Letarte to wish him luck the day before his first season began.
Temperature and baseball conditions might have been better on the West coach. As far as Letarte is concerned, though, getting the chance to coach his alma mater on the diamond makes every day plenty sunny.
A longtime assistant to Yanchus, Letarte is no stranger to the tradition of St. John’s Prep baseball. He’s also no stranger to success, having won 160 games in 12 seasons as SJP basketball coach. He and his staff are ready to help the Eagles reload after graduating six full-time starters from last year’s 22-2 North finalist and Catholic Conference championship club.
“We want to continue the tradition,” Letarte said. “We want to play against the best teams, and we’ll get ready for that by practicing hard at every level.”
Pitching stands to be a strength for the Prep. Senior Justin Snyder returns as a powerful lefty that was a revelation a year ago, and senior captain Evan Roberts is a No. 2 who would be an ace on many high school teams. Captain Max Burt slides in at shortstop and senior Mike Geaslen will be behind the plate, giving the Prep an exceptional foundation of defense up the middle.
Junior Keith Leavitt homered four times last year and, in tandem with junior slugger Nick Latham, gives the Prep one of the most powerful outfields on the North Shore. They’ll likely be relied on heavily in the run production categories. Sawyer Billings will look to produce from one of the corner infield spots as well.
“We want to be a mentally sound defensive team with good pitching and good defense. We’ll be able to manufacture runs if we have to,” said Letarte.
The Eagles will also rely on Rich Riley for important innings on the hill.
“We have three guys with experience on the mound. We lost basically six guys that are all pitching in college right now,” said Letarte. “We have basically 11 guys back total; there are a lot of returning guys we’re confident in, but we have to find pitching.”
Long one of the standard bearers in Mass. high school baseball, the Prep stands to be in the thick of discussions for the state’s first Super 8 baseball playoffs being held this spring. It’s not something that will preoccupy these Eagles, who are focused on the Catholic Conference, and on carrying on the tradition they’ve been entrusted with.
“I think to strive for something like (the Super 8) is nice. The things we talk about are league and state titles. Those are the only two things they put up in our gym,” said Letarte. “We’re going to attack our work every day, have the best record we can and hope something like that takes care of itself.”