Monday, March 26, 2018

MIAA Baseball Season Preview: St. John's Shrewsbury Ready to Defend Super Eight Title

Nick McDonald (pictured) and Sean Burke will to lead defending champion St. John's back to the Super Eight.

By Matt Feld (@mattyfeld712)

St. John’s Shrewsbury was crowned the Division 1A “Super Eight” champion just nine months ago, but Charlie Eppinger’s squad has already put it in the rearview mirror.

Despite graduating a loaded senior class that included the likes of now Virginia Tech left-hander Ian Seymour and catcher Jack Gardner, the Pioneers are expected to compete for another title.

Maryland bound Sean Burke and Bryant commit Nick McDonald are as good a 1-2 rotation punch as any in Massachusetts while Jake Hamel highlights a terrific Pioneers’ infield.

“To a certain extent its good that so many of our significant contributors graduated because there’s no complacency,” said Eppinger. “We have good solid depth and kids with outstanding work ethic. We showed up on day one of tryouts with the page already turned.”

The Pioneers will have plenty of competition in Division 1 including some in their own backyard.

Wachusett has all the components of a legitimate contender. Cole Durkan is one of the top hitting catchers. Jake Gigliotti and Francis Ferguson lead the staff.

Central Catholic is loaded with talented and very well could be the team to beat. Michigan bound left-hander Steve Hajjar and Vanderbilt commit catcher Dominic Keegan are two of the very best at their position.

The Raiders will be in a dog fight in the Merrimack Valley Conference with hard throwing junior John Marotta leading a standout Andover pitching staff.  

St. John’s Prep is as deep as they have been on the mound under coach Dan Letarte. Jake Sanderson, Max Gieg, and Dan Regan can all blow it by the opposition. Third baseman Tyler MacGregor and Bryant commit catcher Alex Lane can both leave the yard.

With Mike Vasil on the mound BC High is arguably the top team in the state, while Sean O’Connell and Marty McCormack will look to help carry the Eagles’ offense. O'Connell will also be key for the Eagles on the mound.

Braintree promises to hold one of the more potent offenses in Massachusetts. Catcher Alex Kennedy is one of the top bats in the state while Junior outfielder Jackson Duffy emerged as a star in the making during last year’s postseason and is in line for a strong spring.

Newton North’s Cole Whitehouse and Dante Taylor are two more stars to watch in what should be a hotly contested Bay State Carey. Brookline is a sleeper.

Wellesley’s Henry Weycker spearheaded the Raiders run to the Division 1 State Final in 2017 and is back once again atop the rotation. 

Gerry Lambert’s Xaverian team can always be expected to be in the mix and that should be no different this year with Owen Langan, Sean Birch, and Dan Vaglica at the front of a deep pitching staff.

Silver Lake, Whitman-Hanson, and Plymouth North will be in a dog fight for the Patriot League Keenan title. The Lakers may have the edge with shortstop Joshua Harvey and two-way slugger and ace Dan Collins back in the fold. 

One season after reaching the Super Eight, Belmont should be back in the hunt led by 2017 Suite Sports' All-State selection and ace Nate Espelin.

The Marauders will be fighting for position in the Middlesex League with Lexington hoping to build off a strong 2017 season behind Boston College bound shortstop Sal Frelick. 

The Northeastern Conference will be a battle.

Danvers has reached the Division 2 state championship three straight seasons and is filled with talent once again. Zach Dillon is one of the top players in the section.

Peabody is a sure fire contender with Lynn Classical and Beverly both back in the mix.

Austin Prep looks to be the premiere team in Division 3 after falling to Dover-Sherborn in the state semi-finals last year. Do not be surprised if the Cougars make a run at the Super Eight Tournament. Catcher Peter Burns, ace Cam Seguin, and outfielder Jon Gilbride is as good a core as there is in the state.

Out west, Taconic looks primed for another run coming off a Division 1 state championship. The road back will not be easy with Westfield and West Springfield both expected to pose threats.

Preseason Division 1A "Super Eight" Prediction

1. Central Catholic
2. St. John's Shrewsbury
3. Boston College High
4. St. John's Prep
5. Newton North 
6. Wachusett
7. Braintree 
8. Belmont 

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