Thursday, May 17, 2018

High School Baseball Notes: Palowski Doing it All for Lexington, Belmont Following Similar Formula, Wellesley Building off Last Year's Run

Belmont ace Nate Espelin (pictured) continues to prove he is one of the top arms in Massachusetts

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

If you hear anything pertaining to Lexington athletics, the odds are praise concerning multi-sport star Sal Frelick is right around the corner.

Frelick, the 2017 Massachusetts Football Gatorade Player of the Year for his play at quarterback, is once again proving his talents on the baseball field are equally as impressive. The Boston College bound shortstop, after getting off to what coach Zack Friedman labeled “a slow start for Sal’s standards,” is now batting well over .500. 

It is the performance on the mound by Jack Palowski, however, that is proving to be just as important in spring boarding Lexington into the Super Eight conversation.

Committed to UMass Amherst, Palowski has been stellar for the second straight season in solidifying himself as the Minutemen’s ace. 

Pawloski lives around 86 miles per hour with his four seam fastball to go with a big breaking ball and a changeup.

What makes Palowski so valuable to Friedman’s club is his is ability to play all over the diamond. He has started in all three-outfield positions, fielding all three during his freshman season in the state tournament. When not in the outfield or on the mound Palowski mans the duties at first base while sitting in the middle of Lexington’s batting order.

“He is a pitcher first but Jack takes a lot of pride in hitting,” said Friedman. “He is one of the more underrated outfielders that I have seen. He made two terrific catches last year in the Division 1 North Semi-Finals against Andover over his shoulder.”

The only thing holding back Palowski from playing across the diamond is his dominant hand.

“If he wasn’t lefty, he would have probably played the other four positions on the field by now,” said Friedman.

At the plate Palowski is hitting .349 with nine runs batted in and 16 runs scored.

Over the last year Palowski has added approximately five to six miles per to his fastball, boosting his strikeout totals. He has 47 strikeouts on the season in 29 1/3 innings and has accumulated double-digit whiff totals in three different starts already this season. 

Now, according to Friedman, its all about boosting Palowski’s efficiency so he can go deeper into games.

“I think the miles per hour have deiinitely helped but the pitch count is something we are always working on,” said Freidman. “Him and Maidson Dina are 1A and 1B right now and we need everyone to step up with our games down the stretch.”

One season after landing a Super Eight berth, Belmont is using a similar formula in an effort to get back.

Once again ace Nate Espelin is the star, using his pinpoint control from the left-hand side to keep offenses in the Middlesex League at bay.

So far this season Espelin is a sparkling 5-1 with a 0.76 ERA while striking out 60 in 37 innings pitched. In a must-win game on Friday night versus Middlesex League Liberty rival Lexington, Espelin was outstanding throwing a complete game allowing no earned runs in a 4-2 Marauders win.

While Espelin continues to do his part on the mound it has been the play behind the dish that has been most impressive.

One season ago Belmont had the luxury of current Yale Bulldog Cal Christifori. While Christifori may be gone from the roster Ryan Noone has done everything in his power to make the transition from Christifori a smooth one.

Over the course of his first three years on the Marauders’ roster Noone was mostly slotted as a designated hitter making the occasional appearance at one of the corner infield positions.

Now, Noone is Belmont’s every day catcher trusted with one of the top pitching staffs in the Bay State.

Despite taking over for arguably the best catcher in Massachusetts in 2017, Noone said he does not feel any sort of pressure.

“Initially it was a bit intimidating, but I just realized I am a different player than Cal,” said Noone. “Once I settled in and got some time under me I stopped thinking about that.”

Noone’s chemistry with the staff led by Espelin has improved as the season has progressed. While it took time at first to adjust to Espelin’s delivery, Noone says now it’s just like playing catch with one of his closest friends.

“It took a while to get used to how he throws, but so far we’ve been on the same page with everything,” said Noone. “It’s been working out really well.”

At the plate Noone has been equally as important. On Friday night he came through with the clutch hit drilling a go-ahead RBI double in the top of the seventh.

It is wins like Friday the Marauders will need if they hope to receive the same fortunes that they did last year come the end of the regular season. For Noone, however, it is about one-upping those results.

“Being in the Super eight last year was such an awesome experience but to be so close in both games and not win one was really tough,” lamented Noone. “It’s absolutely hard not to think about not getting back there this year.”

Over the first four seasons, Braintree and Newton North are two of only three teams to appear each Super Eight tournament.

That aura has done little to intimidate some of the other teams in the Bay State League this season, most notably Wellesley. The 2017 Division 1 State Finalists are once again emerging as one of the top contenders in Division 1 South.

Currently sitting at 11-4, the Raiders have piled up wins over both the Wamps and Tigers. On Monday afternoon, behind their left-handed ace Henry Weycker, the Raiders picked up a 6-2 win over the hottest team in the Bay State League in Walpole to clinch a state tournament berth.

Weycker went the distance allowing one earned run, striking out seven, and walking just two. During the middle inning’s he retired 12 straight en route to improving Wellesley to 5-2 in conference play.

“I have been working on my mechanics on the side with my coaches,” said Weycker. “They took some video, which helped me yesterday transition to the mound. Because it was Walpole it was hard not to be extra pumped.”

Then just yesterday, Wellesley overcame a 6-3 sixth inning deficit to take down Framingham, 7-6. 

For head coach Rob Kane its been all about turning last season’s June postseason run into a season-long journey.

“We weren’t good until those last six games of the season last year and I think that taught us a lot about taking advantage of every practice you can have,” said Kane. “You have to take advantage of the resources at your disposal to try and make every player a contributing factor to the team.” 

While Weycker is the centerpiece, the Raiders consist of multiple playmakers.  

Max Zajec leads the teams in RBIs while Colin Blasco has emerged as a solid leadoff hitter batting over .300. 

At the plate Weycker has been equally as valuable blasting a two run shot while going 2-for-2 to fuel the Raiders 8-7 win over Newton North back on May 2nd.

Holt Fletcher has manned the duties behind the plate and contributed a key two-run walk off home run earlier in the season to send Wellesley to a 3-1 win over Barnstable.

Zajec and Jay Driver follow Weycker in the rotation. 

As the Raiders enter the home stretch with a chance to raise some more important eyebrows, it is a coach with plenty of big-game postseason experience that Kane says is instilling the most important message in his player’s minds.

“Coach (Kirk Fredericks) always talks about getting better for today,” said Kane. “If we get better today, we’ll get better tomorrow. The most important game in the entire season for us is the one tomorrow.”

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