Sunday, June 3, 2018

MIAA Baseball: Newcomers Headline Super Eight Selection

Kevin Dow (pictured) helped pitch Mansfield to their first Super Eight appearance. 
Photo by Eamon Convey (@ConveyWEEI).

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

Those who accuse the Super Eight committee of selecting the same teams over and over again have little ammunition after Sunday night.

The arrival of this year’s Super Eight tournament brings with it four teams that are receiving their first berth. Mansfield, Lexington, Franklin, and Walpole all fit into that category. 

BC High and St. John’s Prep, who were each unanimous selections, are making their fourth and fifth appearance, respectively. Wachusett was the second team nominated and third team placed in the Super Eight when the second round of voting began. Central Catholic, who opened the nominating process, was the second team placed when the second round of voting commenced.

The selection of BC High, St. John’s Prep, Wachusett, and Central Catholic fairly early in the process left Mansfield, Lexington, Franklin, Walpole, Catholic Memorial, St. John’s Shrewsbury, and Austin Prep to battle it out for the final four spots.

The Hornets were the first team to receive the good news, receiving the fifth slot by a 4-0 vote, leading to a huge fist pump and hand shake between head coach Joe Breen and assistant coach Chris Hall.

Walpole was the sixth team to be selected, outlasting Lexington by a 4-3 vote. The Rebels’ selection gives the Bay State League a representative for a fifth consecutive season.

“You look at the board and you see the quality teams and the history so to get through is a terrific accomplishment for the kids,” said Walpole coach Chris Costello. “We are going to put a game plan together to see what we can do against Mike Vasil. That’s why you want to play in this tournament.”

Lexington, who fell one vote short the go-around prior, crossed the finish line moments later largely courtesy of Dave Lezenski and Joe Cacciatore to become the seventh team to solidify a spot in the Super Eight.

The Minutemen, buoyed by one of the top players in Massachusetts in Sal Frelick, are the second team in as many years to come from the Middlesex League.

“I am thrilled for myself, the kids, our coaching staff,” said Lexington coach Zack Friedman. “I am happy we are in, but at practice tomorrow we are 0-0. We have got to try and win the thing.”

Freidman’s team was huddled around their cell phones together, scrolling through twitter hastily to see whether they would be fortunate enough to be selected.

“We all went nuts,” said Lexington's star shortstop Sal Frelick. “For about 60 seconds it was just crazy everyone jumping up and down. From football to hockey and now baseball this is why you play. To get this opportunity, to play for a program like Lexington, with this team, it doesn’t get better”

That left Franklin, Catholic Memorial, St. John’s Shrewsbury, and Austin Prep to battle it out for the final spot. By a 4-2 vote, the Panthers prevailed receiving the decisive vote by Tournament Director Don Fredericks.

For Franklin and coach Zach Brown it was the moment they had been waiting for as a program. After sitting in on the meeting last year and leaving disappointed, the Panthers followed the committee’s advice and increased their non-league strength of schedule facing off against Walpole and Catholic Memorial.

The Panthers won both those games and were bolstered by a stellar pitching staff highlighted by ace Jake Noviello.

“In the end we had confidence we had done all the things the committee had looked for to get into the Super Eight,” said Brown. “I am just really proud of our guys. They competed hard all year.”

With the addition of a pair of Hockomock League teams, the Super Eight has now featured teams from nine different leagues. St. John’s Shrewsbury not being voted in represents the first time that the defending champion has not received a chance to repeat.

Now, with the celebration of getting in over, the tournament’s star players are turning to their attention to the first round games at hand.

“After we went crazy, we collected ourselves and realized we have a game in front us against a very good team,” said Frelick. “We are playing a very good St. John’s Prep team so we will have to be ready to compete.”

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