|Can Braintree score a Super 8 three-peat? Photo by Brendan C. Hall, via ESPN Boston.|
Despite some existing remnants of snow from a long winter, and a cold, rainy couple of weeks, it is officially time for spring sports. With the spring season brings the return of what is sure to be an exciting handful of months across high school baseball. The “Super Eight” tournament has clearly increased the buzz with regards to baseball across Massachusetts, and with a lower Division team in Plymouth North and a Western Massachusetts team in Pope Francis both making the field last season, there are plenty of reasons to expect many twists and turns throughout this year.
So, without a further ado, here is a preview of what to expect heading into the 2017 baseball season.
St. John’s Prep enters the season as the favorite to take home the Division 1A “Super Eight” hardware. Behind an explosive lineup that includes the likes of UConn commit Mike Yarin, first baseman Andrew Selima, outfielder Frank Diorio, and a pitching staff that consists of Casey Bussone and Jake Sanderson, the Eagles undeniably have one of the most talented rosters in the state.
Potential threats to the Prep could include the likes of St. John’s (Shrewsbury), Newton North, and BC High. St. John’s (S), after faltering last year in the Super Eight quarterfinals, returns Maryland commit Sean Burke to go along talented left hander Ian Seymour on the mound.
Newton North, meanwhile, comes into the season with a veteran group that has plenty of tournament experience. Combine a rotation that stars John Grady and Michael Banks with a lineup that is headlined by superstar sophomore Dante Taylor, and Tigers are sure to be in contention all season long. BC High may have exited the Super Eight last year in disappointing fashion after entering as the tournament’s number one seed, but with University of Virginia commit Mike Vasil back, and Holy Cross bound Eric Lopes leading the rotation, the Eagles should pose a serious threat to St. John’s Prep in the Catholic Conference.
Other possible contenders that come from the south include Walpole, Xaverian, and, of course, two-time defending champion Braintree. Walpole is led by ace Brian Gaughan, while second baseman Charlie Auditore provides a jolt in the Rebels lineup. The Hawks were one game away from a trip to the Super 8 Championship in 2016 and bring back the likes of right-handed arm Dan Chapski, while A.J. Ryan, Vicente Mendoza and Tim Simoes - core members of Xaverian’s 2016 lineup - are back for their senior seasons.
Then there are the two-time defending champion Wamps, who lose Scott Creedon, Mitch Baker, and Erik McDonald, but still come into the season with a heavyweight 1-2-3 in the batting order of Justin Files, Alex Kennedy and Joe Vannelli. Also, be on the look out for Silver Lake, highlighted by power threat Dan Collins, Bridgewater-Raynham with star Colin Trahon, and Cathollic Memorial, spearheaded by ace Colin McGrath to make some noise in Division 1 South, with Needham as a potential sleeper.
Up North, Lincoln-Sudbury and Central Catholic are sure to be threats, while upstart Lexington seems to be ready to make some noise. Wake Forest commit Ryan Cusick leads the Warriors' staff, while Devan Pathak provides balance in the lineup. Over in Lawrence, Sam Lara and Steve Hajjar present a vaunted one-two combination at the front of the Raiders rotation. Then there is Lexington, who will get a chance to prove its possible “Super Eight” worthiness when, led by Zach Stevens and Sal Frelick, the Minutemen take trip to BC High on April 7th. Look for Peabody and Lowell to both be in the hunt into May.
After a few years of coming up just short, St. Peter-Marian is sure to be hungry in its quest to knock St. John’s (Shrewsbury) off the mantle out in Central Massachusetts. Wachusett, meanwhile, will look to bounce back from an up-and-down 2016 season. Behind catcher Cole Durkan, the Mountaineers seem poised to do just that.
Out in Western Massachusetts, West Springfield is certain to be on everyone’s radar by the time May arrives. The defending Division 1 state champions return hard-throwing left hander Nick Dombowski and will get the chance to provide a jolt to a potential “Super Eight” resume when they take on Silver Lake at the Compass Challenge on April 15th.
Plymouth North was the first lower division team to make an appearance in the eight-team field when it landed the number seven seed in 2016. Looking across the state, no one should be surprised if another one or two non-Division 1 teams find their way in this time around.
Groton-Dunstable proved that their 2016 regular season was no fluke, when they capped off an undefeated season by knocking off North Reading to take home the Division 3 state title. If the Crusaders, behind ace Joe Simeone, put up a similar regular season once again in 2017, look for the committee to give them a stronger look than they did last year.
Do not be fooled, meanwhile, by Austin Prep’s divisional placement. The Cougars enter the season as a unanimous Top 20 team, thanks in large part to standout catcher Peter Burns. AP will have a chance to showcase its talent when the Cougars face off against Peabody towards the end of the season.
North Reading is again sure to be at the top of Division 3 all season long.
The road to the Division 4 state championship once again will go through St. John Paul II. The Lions were one win away from completing the season without a blemish on their record, and are sure to make another run at it once again. St. John Paul II will participate in one of the more interesting matchups of this year’s Compass Challenge when it takes on annual Western Massachusetts power Taconic. Mashpee and Lowell Catholic are two other teams to watch out for in Division 4.
Feld’s Preseason Super Eight Field
1. St. John’s Prep
2. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
3. Newton North
5. BC High
8. Austin Prep
Feld’s Division 1 State Championship Pick: West Springfield
Feld’s Division 2 State Championship Pick: Plymouth North