"Positionless" is one of the hot cliches du jour in sports.
It's mostly used to describe basketball and the way modern players float from spot to spot on the floor. Positionless baseball? Is that possible?
In a manner of speaking, Bishop Fenwick's baseball team is trying to test whether that phrase can translate to the diamond.
It's not that the Crusaders play unconventional places in the field, but more that so many of their players have been without a true position throughout what's been a magical 2019 season. Moving pieces have been the only constant for Fenwick, which plays Lynnfield for the Division 3 North title on Saturday at Lowell's Alumni Field (3 p.m.).
Senior Keegan O'Connor is the regular catcher, but sometimes plays first base. Senior Ethan Belt is a catcher by trade but took over at third when Fenwick had some trouble on the left side of the infield in late April. Senior Cory Bright grew up as a shortstop but is now at first base, senior Angelo McCullough has played both middle infield spots but now patrols the outfield, senior Harrison Brickett has shifted from outfield to third to second base, and senior Trey Deloury swaps between center field and pitching.
The only common denominator is movement — and the fact that the players shifting around are seniors more concerned with trying to win a state championship than with where they might belong on the diamond.
"To them it's, 'Coach, just tell us where to play so we can be the best defensive team.' There's been no egos, at all," said Fenwick head coach Russ Steeves.
Winners of 11 in a row, Fenwick (17-7) has parlayed that unselfishness into state playoff momentum. The Crusaders are in a sectional final for the fourth time ever (1985, 2002 and 2004 being the others) but are running up against a similarly hot team from Lynnfield.
The Pioneers (18-5) have won ten straight and are looking for vengeance. Lynnfield has been in the Division 3 North title game four straight years but hasn't taken home the trophy since 2005. They've also won ten in a row and 13 of their last 14 games to win a share of the Cape Ann League Kinney title.
All-state lefthanded pitcher Fernando Gonzalez is certainly the biggest hurdle for Fenwick to overcome if they want to win their first sectional title since 2004. A hard-throwing lefty who will go to New Mexico Junior College next year and then quite possibly be drafted, Gonzalez has been one of the most respected pitchers in the CAL for several years.
He last threw in Monday's state tourney victory over North Reading, going the distance. With four full days of rest, Fenwick is likely to see the CAL Kinney co-MVP who struck out double-digit batters multiple times this year at full strength.
"Fernando is the real deal. He's improved his command and velocity each year. He's big, strong and he commands the strike zone," observed Masconomet head coach T.J. Baril, who has battled Lynnfield in the CAL for years and is himself a Fenwick graduate. "Once he gets into a groove, he's one of the best pitchers around."
The Crusaders might have the best all-around lineup Gonzalez has pitched against this year, though. Fenwick's team batting average for both the regular season and playoffs is .353. They've amassed 30 hits in three playoff games and seven of their nine regulars are hitting over .300 in the tournament.
O'Connor, a righthanded mashing machine, leads the pack with 45 hits. He's batting .511 on the year and .545 in the playoffs with 27 total RBI. Leadoff man McCullough is at .400 in the tourney and .376 overall. Deloury, hitting cleanup, bats .402 on the year with 25 RBI, Bright is hitting .444 in the playoffs and .360 overall, and Belt is up to 28 hits and .380 on the season.
Pitching wise, it'll be all hands on deck for the Crusaders. Sophomore ace Christian Loescher threw 3 2/3 innings in Wednesday's semifinal win over Swampscott and isn't likely to be available. Deloury threw 70 pitches between relief appearances Monday and Wednesday and Bright is typically relied on for a clutch inning or two.
Jake Miano, who won four games and posted a 1.85 ERA in the regular season, started the first two tournament games and was lifted when Fenwick fell behind early. He could be in line for another start with Jake Murphy and freshman Jason Romans also possibilities for the late innings.
"We've been piecing the pitching together all year with a lot of injuries," said Steeves. "We won't change much now. We met with the seniors before the tournament because they've kind of been our driving force all year. They're our leaders and they know if we stick with what we've been doing, we'll be alright."
Being battle tested in tough leagues has helped both sides of this title tilt. It's the 14th consecutive season in which a club from the CAL has advanced to a North baseball final, and this year there are two with both Lynnfield and Division 4 finalist Manchester Essex.
Fenwick's Catholic Central League has a team in a North final for the third straight year, with the Crusaders in addition to rival St. Mary's of Lynn in the Division 2 North title game. Last year, the CCL won the state title in both Division 3 (Austin Prep) and Division 4 (Archbishop Williams).
Defensively, the Crusaders have been strong since settling on their current alignment. Scott Emerson (.324) has been very good at shortstop and O'Connor's arm from behind the plate has severely limited opponent's ability to take extra bags.