Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Previewing the MIAA Super 8 Baseball Tournament

Sean Burke leads top-seeded St. John's (Shrewsbury) into the Super 8.
By Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612)

Tomorrow afternoon marks the beginning of the Division 1A Super Eight tournament and with it comes four games that are sure to be high caliber.

Two-time defending champion Braintree will look to start its journey defending consecutive titles, but faces a tall task against one of the state’s top pitchers in BC High’s Mike Vasil.

Newton North, meanwhile, is hoping to avenge a late season loss when it travels to St. John’s Prep. Sixth seeded Xaverian seemed all but forgotten late in the season, but rallied to win six straight games, and will attempt to keep its streak going when the Hawks face off against three seed Central Catholic. Finally, central Massachusetts power and tournament favorite St. John’s (Shrewsbury) hopes to hold off eighth seeded Belmont in the Marauders’ quest to become the first Division 2 team to win a Super Eight game.

Here is our breakdown for each upcoming Super Eight game.

No. 8 Belmont at No. 1 St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Probable Starting Pitchers: Nate Espelin (LHP) – Belmont; Ian Seymour (LHP) – St. John’s (Shrewsbury)

St. John’s (Shrewsbury) had a terrific regular season, posting 19 wins over Division 1 teams while going 3-2 versus the Catholic Conference, en route to the number one overall seed in this year’s tournament. The Pioneers have a surplus of arms, with the face of their rotation going in game one against Belmont. Ian Seymour, a left-hander who is committed to Virginia Tech, is one of the best in Massachusetts at changing speeds, and figures to be a massive challenge for the Marauders.

At his best, Seymour is able to get ahead of hitters with his fastball that hovers around 90 miles per hour before putting them away with his disappearing changeup. Offensively Seymour, catcher Jack Gardner, and first baseman Sean Burke pace the Pioneers. All three are capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, while David Turco and Christian Jordan set the table.
There is no question that the Pioneers will have their hands full, however, as they face off against a Belmont team that has more than proven they have the firepower to hang with anybody. Nate Espelin is expected to start for the Marauders and, while not a relatively hard thrower, he is one of the top pitchers when it comes to location. Known for keeping the ball down and accruing low pitch innings, Espelin is on top of his game when he is able to generate weak contact and ground ball outs. Belmont should also have no problem keeping the running game in check with Cal Cristofori behind the dish.

As long the Marauders are able to hit the ground running and avoid an early inning offensive onslaught from St. John’s, they could be in a position to potentially steal the game late.

Feld’s Pick: St. John’s (Shrewsbury), 6-3

No. 5 Braintree at No. 4 BC High
Probable Starting Pitchers: Jack Andrews (RHP) – Braintree; Mike Vasil (RHP) – BC High

In a rematch of a contest earlier this season, Braintree will take a trip to BC High on Wednesday afternoon. The first game saw the Wamps bats go silent through the first six innings only to come alive in the seventh for a 7-2 come-from behind victory. This time, however, they will have to go up against BC High ace and Catholic Conference MVP Mike Vasil.

Vasil, a University of Virginia commit, had a terrific regular season for the Eagles, going 7-0 with a 0.556 ERA. In 50.1 innings. On the year, he let up just 24 hits, struck out 55 and walked just nine.

Opposing Vasil in all likelihood will be Jack Andrews. Usually the Wamps' starting shortstop, Andrews has shown this year that he can compete against the top teams on Braintree’s schedule. This game will be determined in the early going in our estimation. If BC High is able to breakthrough and score three or four runs early, it may be hard for the Wamps to play catch up all day long against Vasil.

If, however, Braintree is able to stick around into the late innings and stay within a run or two, they could be ready to pounce and pull out one of those gutsy wins that they have become known for.

Feld’s Pick: BC High, 5-2

No. 7 Newton North at No. 2 St. John’s Prep
Probable Starting Pitchers: John Grady (RHP) – Newton North; TBA – St. John’s Prep

This year’s seven-two contest also features a rematch of a regular season game with Newton North taking a trip up to Danvers in attempt to get revenge for a 7-5 loss just 10 days ago. The Tigers are known for their pitching depth and on Wednesday are expected to rely on ace John Grady to keep the Eagles bats at bay. Grady, a right-hander, is known for his top of the line breaking ball that he is willing to throw in any count.

Behind Grady are seniors Michael Banks and James Hodgson -two contact pitchers who are able to keep their pitch counts down by inducing ground ball outs.

The key undoubtedly in this game however will be the Newton North offense. After showing signs of turning it around, the Tigers closed out the year by scoring two runs or fewer in two of their final three games. Included in there was a 1-0 eight inning loss to BC High in which the Tigers were no hit. With the amount of left-handed power threats that the Prep has it can be expected that they will score their fair share of runs throughout the game.

The only question is – can the Tigers keep up? Cole Whitehouse and Dante Taylor will have to come through in the clutch.

Feld’s Pick: St. John’s Prep, 9-3

No. 6 Xaverian at No. 3 Central Catholic
Probable Starting Pitchers: Dan Chapski (RHP) - Xaverian; Nate Carp (RHP) – Central Catholic

Central Catholic is making their first ever appearance in the Super Eight and they will be immediately put to the test when they host a veteran Xaverian group in the first round of the tournament. On the mound for the sixth-seeded Hawks is ace Dan Chapski. Chapski, a right-hander, is notorious for his low pitch efforts in complete games. That was no more evident than his eight-inning performance against St. John’s (Shrewsbury) earlier in the year, in which he scattered just five hits.
The Hawks' frontline starter, however, will have a tall task going up against the heart of the Raiders order. Steve Hajjar has proven to be one of the top power hitters in Massachusetts while Dominic Keegan is one of the premiere catchers both at the plate and defensively. On the mound for Central Catholic is Nate Carp, a right-hander who offers a four-seam fastball, changeup, two-seam and a curveball.

I would expect this to be the lowest scoring affair of the four, with the winning run from either side crossing the plate in the ninth inning.

Feld’s Pick: Xaverian, 2-1

Division 1A Tournament Pick:

St. John’s (Shrewsbury) over BC HIGH

The Pioneers combination of pitching depth and offensive firepower from one to nine proves to be too much, as St. John’s puts the finishing touches on a terrific regular season with a Super Eight championship.

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