Friday, May 4, 2018

High School Baseball Notes: Gigliotti Has Wachusett Off To Super Start, O'Connell/Roche Flying High, North Andover Comes out Firing

Jake Gigliotti Has Wachusett Thinking Super Eight Early

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

One year after missing almost his entire junior campaign due to an arm injury, Jake Gilgiotti has Wachusett feeling super.

Gigliotti, the Mountaineers ace, has been nearly spotless so far this season pitching to the tune of a 1.11 ERA in 12.2 innings. While not overpowering, the six-foot-one, 185-pound right-hander has piled up the strikeouts so far this season fanning 18 batters. 

Last year, Gigliotti was on the sidelines as he watched his team fall in heartbreaking fashion in the Division 1 State Semi-Finals to Taconic, 12-11. 

The right-hander says that loss is fueling the Mountaineers every time they take the field for practice.

“There is still sometimes we’ll go on youtube and watch the highlights of that game,” said Gigliotti. “Some of the kids aren’t able to because it just feels like at some points we gave that game away. It’s just a sticking point to all of us when we go out there that we’re trying to make sure that does not happen again.”

Many of the members that experienced that crushing defeat are back again this season. Behind Gigliotti in the rotation is right-hander Barry Walsh who threw a complete game against Catholic Memorial earlier this season. 

Up the middle the Mountaineers are equally as strong. Stewarding the pitching staff is catcher Cole Durkan. One of the top catchers in the Bay State, Durkan is hitting well over .500 this season with a grand slam to his name. Shortstop Mike Maher, right fielder Francis Ferguson and Durkan make up a stout 1-2-3 in the lineup. 

Gigliotti already has had an opportunity to showcase his talents against some of the top teams in Central Massachusetts including Nashoba and St. John’s Shrewsbury. 

Coming from straight over the top, Gigliotti features a four-pitch mix, alternating fluidly between his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup, and curveball.

The biggest improvement has come in Gigliotti’s two-seamer, which dives into right handed hitters allowing him to pick up groundball outs at an efficient rate.

“My out pitch is probably actually my two-seam fastball,” said Gigliotti. “It’s allowed me to work quickly and go deeper into games. When I need a strikeout I will usually turn to my curveball, but the two-seamer is what I really live off of.” 

Three seasons after making the Super Eight, their only appearance in the tournament's brief history, Wachusett is in line to compete for a berth in 2018. The Mountaineers are off to a 7-0 start with a win over the Pioneers’ already on their resume. 

On Saturday afternoon, No. 1 Wachusett will have a chance to bolster its prospects when it welcomes No. 3 BC High. For the Mountaineers there is no one better to take the ball than their senior-ace in Gigliotti who has waited over two years for the opportunity. 

Speaking of BC High, the Eagles have come flying out of the gate although probably not in the manner that everyone expected.

Many anticipated highly touted pitching prospect Mike Vasil to carry the load, but with the right-handed sidelined due to injury for the time-being the Eagles have had to turn to other sources of production. 

They have found it in junior Sean O’Connell and sophomore second baseman Pat Roche. O’Connell, a two-way player who is committed to Elon as a right-handed pitcher, has emerged as the Eagles’ top option both as a starter and out of the bullpen. 

In three Catholic Conference starts, O’Connell is 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA striking out 21 batters in 17 innings. O’Connell has also been used in key situations in relief against both St. John’s Shrewsbury and Braintree. In those two outings O’Connell has combined to throw five-shutout innings scattering just a pair of hits.

The right-hander has kept hitters off balance with his quirky delivery while showcasing a late diving changeup and sharp slider to complement his four-seam fastball command.

Last season O’Connell was known mostly for his talents as a left-handed power hitter with the ability to drive the ball into left center field. After a slow start O’Conell again looks to be coming around with the bat. Over his last three games he his 4-for-10 with an RBI double the other way.

"So far I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone," said O'Connell. "On the mound I'm doing what the team and I expected of myself and at the plate things are coming around. There are learning experiences with some days better than others, but I'm just trying to enjoy every day with my teammates."

Roche, meanwhile, has shown little fear despite assuming the role as the Eagles’ starting second baseman as only a sophomore.

After getting some key moments late in games his freshman season as a defensive replacement, Roche has gotten off to a red-hot start at the dish. Over the course of eight games Roche is hitting to the tune of a .368/.519/1.361 slash line with a home run, two doubles, and a team-high eight RBIs. 

O’Connell and Roche have helped steward a BC High offense that has scored 42 runs over its last three games.

North Andover has been nominated for a spot in the Super Eight twice in the tournament’s four years of existence. 

The Scarlet Knights have done everything in the early going to make a potential third nomination the charm. 

Led by Anthony Sapienza, Sebastian Keane, and Jake McElroy, North Andover is off to a 7-1 start that includes wins over Merrimack Valley Conference rivals Central Catholic and Andover.

The win over the Raiders came courtesy of Sapienza who pitched six innings of shutout baseball.

“You know I just take it one pitch at a time,” said Sapienza. “We play in a great league so of course every time you can win a game in it, its huge for the team confidence wise.”

Sapienza gives a large portion of the credit to the Scarlet Knights' early season success to catcher Jack Morin. Morin, only a sophomore, moved into the starters role as his freshman campaign moved into its middle stages and now quickly has the aura of a well-seasoned veteran.

"Jack (Morin) really makes us comfortable out there," said Sapienza. "He's always working with us as a staff, helping us get prepared. In the offseason we put in a lot of work together overall and its just paying off."

Despite the fast start for the relatively young group, the Scarlet Knights are not ready to get ahead of themselves just yet.

They still have a non-league matchup with Catholic Memorial and are focused on winning their fourth consecutive Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title. For now, however, all that matters to North Andover is their road game on Sunday versus Methuen.

“All we’re focused on is Methuen on Sunday,” said Sapienza. “We’re taking it one game a time.”

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