It’s not like the Hamilton-Wenham baseball team needs to see some light at the end of their tunnel — having already qualified for state tournament play and winning 11 of 13 games puts their recent troubles on a scale quite a bit less dire than darkness.
Still, dropping three in a row at any point in the season has the potential to shake a group’s confidence. Having three losses over a stretch of four days means the Generals (11-7) need to put their collective heads down and dig through the other end of this particular tunnel.
“Everyone knows baseball is a mental game; there’s going to be highs and lows. You have to know that when you’re in the lows, you have to grind it out because you’ll get hot again soon,” said senior captain Paul Horgan.
At 11-6 for tournament seeding purposes and 11-4 in Cape Ann League play, the Generals are back at it Wednesday against Amesbury and their ace, Blake Bennett. A win would assure H-W of at least a share of the CAL Baker title, while a loss would mean they’d need Manchester Essex (9-4 CAL) to trip up somewhere in its final four league games.
“Tomorrow tells the story,” coach Reggie Maidment said after Tuesday’s home loss to Georgetown. “We’re right into another game ... and it’s a big game. We know Bennett will test us.”
It’s fair to say the Generals are a bit weary. Wednesday will mark their sixth game in seven days, having played three in a row last week, being off Sunday and then playing three straight again. They’ve scored a combined three runs in their three setbacks (coming by 1-0, 2-1 and 5-1 scores), so finding their stroke again at the plate is the priority.
“What we really need is a practice,” said Maidment. “At the beginning of the year, you never imagine saying that because you want to get some games in. Right now, though, these guys need time to clear their heads. They don’t have time to work on anything.”
In the big picture, the Generals are fine. They stumbled in late May last year before rebounding to finish 18-7 with a Division 4 North title; their goals this spring are the same.
“The good thing about baseball is you’re right back at it,” said Maidment. “I think these guys have confidence from their experience. We’ve got the Rockport Tournament coming up (this weekend), too, so hopefully the sticks will come alive again and we’ll get where we want to be.”
Junior catcher Keegan O’Shea emerged as one of H-W’s top offensive threats with 19 hits and a .352 average. Junior Will Jones has the team lead in RBI with 10 and is hitting .340. Meanwhile, junior captain Conor Evers had scored 13 times out of the leadoff spot and fellow junior Ian Coffey has been a speedy threat with 12 runs and a team-best 10 stolen bases.
Of late, the Generals have been leaving too many runners on base (almost two dozen combined in three games since Saturday). Timely hitting tends to come in spurts, though.
“The hits aren’t coming in the fashion we want, but we’re confident we’ll get back to dropping them in the way we know how,” said Evers. “Baseball can be a weird game. Once we get our energy back and get some work in on the little things we’ll turn it around.”
The strange thing about H-W’s funk is that they’re one of the only teams on the North Shore with enough pitching to sustain a 6-games-in-7-days stretch. After all, they returned 17 victories from last year’s team and added Jones, one of the most talented left-handers in the entire state.
The result is a team earned run average of 1.96, with six different guys earning at least one win.
Senior righty Mark Roselli, a confident hurler who pounds the strike zone, had a team-best four wins. Senior fireballer Everett Wonson has three and is one of the primary closers along with sophomore Ryan Hutchinson. In addition, Jones (24 strikeouts), Luke McClintock and Horgan, have also earned victories.
“We have a nasty pitching staff,” noted Horgan, who won six games with a 0.96 ERA as a junior and has been happy to patrol center field while the other arms do their work.
“I haven’t even had to pitch that much. We don’t need to rely on only one or two guys, and get guys tired. I love having a deep staff like this.”
Defensively, Evers and senior Quinlan Kelly have been outstanding and senior Eli Leonard plays a solid first base.
“I love playing defense,” said Evers. “I love pretty much everything in baseball. The situation hitting is a lot of fun, moving runners or trying to get those timely hits. Especially in high school baseball, those things are so important.”
The Rockport Tournament features the hosts, H-W, Manchester Essex and Ipswich. The Generals would love to play well up on Cape Ann to set the stage for what they hope is a repeat performance in the Division 4 North playoff bracket. But Amesbury, and snaring the CAL Baker, is the first repeat on their check list.
“Our biggest goal was getting in the playoffs,” said Horgan, who will study at the University of Rhode Island. “The CAL is a side goal, but we still want it pretty bad. We can get it going again quick if we play well on Wednesday.”
Pingree (12-6) is three wins away from a New England championship and opens play in the region’s Small School tournament Wednesday at home against either Kent’s Hill or Berwick. A win would push the Highlanders into the semis back at home Thursday afternoon, with the championship taking place in Providence this Saturday.
It’s been an outstanding season so far for Pingree and first-year coach Luke Wamboldt. The Blue-and-Green won the Eastern Independent League playoff crown by beating Concord Academy, 2-1, last Saturday, then avenging their only league loss of the season with an impressive 10-2 thrashing of Portsmouth Abbey in the final.
Now 11-2 against their fellow small schools, Pingree was seeded No. 1 in the New England playoffs.
Senior captain Cooper McGrath of Hamilton has been a driving force offensively with a team-best .942 OPS on a .462 average with 19 RBI. Senior captain Pete Nichols, of Andover, hits .390 with 12 RBI and an impressive .942 OPS of his own.
Junior Amogh Prakash has emerged as one of the team’s best two-way threats in sporting a .361 average with 13 stolen bases and a 0.51 earned run average, three saves and one win. Senior captain Jake Spaulding from Topsfield is the staff ace with four wins, a 2.19 ERA (often pitching against large school powers) and 31 strikeouts. Sophomore Owen Cootey from Newburyport is also having a great year with a 0.53 ERA over 20 innings.
Other players with local ties excelling for Pingree include Beverly’s Conor Whalen (7 RBI) and Drew Botta from Nahant, who sports two wins with a 2.86 ERA.
Could this be the third straight year with a .500 hitter on the North Shore?
Bishop Fenwick slugger Keegan O’Connor is doing his level best to make that a reality. Hitting .509 with Memorial Day approaching, O’Connor continues to terrorize opposing pitchers by slugging .684 with nine extra-base hits among his 29 knocks.
With Angelo McCullough (.393 average, .514 on-base percentage) hitting in front of him and protected by Cory Bright (.357) and Trey Deloury (.367), the No. 2 hole has proven to be the perfect place for O’Connor to see good pitches and do damage.
It’s no surprise, then, that Fenwick (9-7 overall) is 9-1 this year when scoring at least six runs and 8-0 when scoring at least seven.
Salem has been getting some great contributions from senior Jonah Algarin, who has become something of a do-it-all piece for the Witches (now 7-8). Chipping in at a couple of defensive positions, he’s heating up at the plate and has also given Salem some valuable innings on the mound including a save in a one-run win over Somerville.
“He’s been pitching lights out in a variety of situations,” said coach Gavin Softic. “When he get his barrel through the zone, he’s a real dangerous hitter too. Jonah works really hard and he’s a guy that’s taken his role, embraced it and now expanded it.”
We mentioned last week that the race was on for the Northeastern Conference title, but the lead horses didn’t miss their stride around the bend and wound up winning by several furlongs. Gloucester clinched at least a share of the North crown with Saugus’ loss Monday and would need a convergence of unlikely scenarios to have to share with either the Sachems or Swampscott.
Lynn Classical, meanwhile, has clinched the NEC South crown with a two-game lead on Lynn English with only two contests remaining.
Since losing a 1-0 extra inning game to Gloucester, Swampscott (9-5) has had absolutely no problems scoring runs. On a seven-game win streak, the Big Blue have outscored their opponents by a combined 79-16 going into Tuesday’s makeup game with Peabody.
Besides the usual suspects of Jonathan Oriakhi, Ryan Graciale and Dylan January, Cam O’Brien has been ripping hits all over the yard. Drew Olivieri and Zach Elwell continue to be dangerous on-base threats for Swampscott, which given the way it’s swinging the bats and the way Max Pegnato is pitching has to be considered among the favorites in Division 3 North.
Now a few days shy of Memorial Day, only two of the 12 local teams have clinched a spot in the state tournament (St. John’s Prep and Hamilton-Wenham). Considering that over the last 10 years, on average, nine have gone to the playoffs and no fewer than seven have qualified, that’s a sobering thought.
Breaking down playoff possibilities: Swampscott may have qualified with a late win over Peabody Tuesday night and needs only one win in its last six to get in. Essex Tech (9-5) has the next easiest path, needing only one win over its last six games. Marblehead (8-6) needs just two wins in its last six to punch its ticket after a one-year absence.
Bishop Fenwick (9-7) needs a win but has only four outings to procure it. Masconomet (9-8) needs one win in its last three after quizzically dropping three straight chances to get that all-important 10th win. It’s hard to imagine Masco ending the year with six straight losses, but their final three opponents (Pentucket, Danvers and Beverly) are all tough outs.
Beverly (7-7) needs to go 3-3 in its last six games to get to 10 wins, noting that their bout with St. John’s Prep this Friday is an exclusion game that doesn’t count against their postseason record. Danvers (7-9) needs to win three of its final four, beginning Wednesday at Winthrop.
Salem (7-8) needs to split its remaining six games, noting that their loss to St. Mary’s Lynn was an MIAA endowment game that doesn’t count for seeding.
Peabody (5-8) hasn’t won in two weeks since rattling off wins in five out of six following its 0-4 start. The Tanners, like most clubs, have been plagued by rainouts and their season may now come down to Sunday, June 2’s makeup with Marblehead. Note that both of their Catholic Conference matchups in the first week of June (Malden Catholic and St. John’s) are excluded this season.
Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, appears in The Salem News each Wednesday during the spring. You can contact Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN #StrikeOutALS