Monday, June 18, 2018

MIAA Baseball: Super Eight Finals Primer and Pick

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

A little over two weeks after the Super Eight field was announced, the Super Eight Final is set to take place on Monday night at Campanelli Stadium. In a rematch of Thursday night's winner's bracket semifinal, No. 7 Franklin (20-5, 3-0) will take No. 4 Central Catholic (18-6, 3-1). 

After trailing by a run for most of the night Thursday, Franklin rallied for a run with two outs in the ninth before scoring two in the tenth to give themselves the upper hand in this year's Super Eight Final. In order for Central Catholic to take home its first Super Eight crown it will need to defeat Franklin twice, while the Panthers can lock up a championship with a win on Monday night.

No. 7 Franklin

Overall Record: 20-5

Path to the Final: No. 2 Wachusett (8-5), No. 3 St. John’s Prep (7-6), No. 4 Central Catholic (6-5, 10 innings)

Players to Watch: Jake Noviello, Sr., RHP; Bryan Woelfel, Sr., RHP; Alex Haba, Jr., SS; Jake Macchi, Jr., C; Steve Luttazi, Sr., 1B

Key Stat: Jake Noviello and Bryan Woelfel have combined to pitch 26.1 of the 28 innings Franklin has played so far in the Super Eight.

Last Baseball State Championship: 1986

No. 4 Central Catholic

Overall Record: 18-6

Path to the Final: No. 5 Mansfield (8-3), No. 1 BC High (7-5, 16-9)

Players to Watch: Dominic Keegan, Sr., C; Steve Hajjar, Sr., LHP/DH; Noah Lucier, Sr., SS/RHP; Nate Carpentar, Sr., RHP; Sean Thompson, Sr., LHP

Key Stat: Over Central Catholic’s last three games Dominic Keegan and Steve Hajjar are a combined 15-for-28 with 15 runs, seven RBI, and seven extra base hits.

Last Baseball State Championship: Never

Preview: When the Super Eight selection discussion heated up in mid-May, many had Franklin on the outside looking in. One month later, and the Panthers are the hottest team in this elite postseason tournament. The last undefeated team standing, Franklin will have to lose back-to-back games to Central Catholic if they are to relinquish the Super Eight crown. So far in the tournament, the Panthers have relied heavily on their 1-2 duo on the mound of Jake Noviello and Bryan Woelfel. Noviello and Woelfel have thrown 26.1 of 28 innings Franklin has played so far in the tournament allowing just 14 runs. 

Offensively, Franklin is as impressive as they have been all season. Through their first three Super Eight games, the Panthers have scored a combined 21 runs on 41 hits. Jake Macchi and Alex Haba have led the charge with Steve Luttazi, Scott Elliot, and Cooper Ross coming through with clutch hits.

Despite its perfect start to the tournament, Franklin coach Zach Brown says the mentality his team is carrying is still one of a seven seed.

“We still view ourselves as big time underdogs with nothing to lose,” said Brown. “Its just the nature of our team that has everything to gain and nothing to lose. We have approached each situation as if its an elimination game, and that’s how we’re going to continue to approach it.”  

Woelfel, meanwhile, said the group is just trying to enjoy the moment.

“We’ve honestly just been focused on whatever is coming up next,” said Woelfel. “Jake and I have been best friends since kindergarten so we know how to keep each other and the rest of the kids relaxed. We have work to do but this has been a lot of fun.”

Central Catholic’s senior class has been one of the best in Massachusetts from the first week in April. Vanderbilt bound catcher Dominic Keegan and Michigan commit Steve Hajjar lead the group. The two have been nearly unstoppable this postseason combining to go 15-of-28 with 15 runs, seven RBI, and seven extra base hits. Shortstop Noah Lucier has been clutch while Michael Lefebre broke out with four RBI’s out of the nine spot in a win versus BC High.

On the mound, the Raiders have received key contributions from Nate Carpenter, Sean Thompson, and Aidan Abernathy. Thompson has struck out 17 hitters over nine innings of work in the Super Eight while Abernarthy has provided key relief out of the bullpen. Versus Franklin in the winner’s bracket semifinal matchup, Abernathy threw 3.1 innings of relief allowing no earned runs. 

In all, out of Central Catholic's 13 seniors, 11 are moving on to play collegiate or prep school baseball next year.

“Backs against the wall towards the end of the regular season, for a league title, and certainly going into the super eight this senior class has answered the call,” said Central Catholic coach Marc Pelletier. “They certainly are fun to coach.”

The only team to have the privilege of playing both Franklin and Central Catholic this season is Joe Breen’s Mansfield club. Mansfield split with Franklin during the regular season while falling to the Raiders in the opening round of the Super Eight Tournament.

Breen sees two teams that are both solid offensively but for vastly different reasons.

“Franklin really grinds out at-bats. They have a bunch of guys one to nine that are just tough outs,” said Breen. “Central Catholic has those big power guys in the middle of the order that can just kill the baseball.”

Both teams have been nearly flawless defensively highlighted by strong play from Lucier and Haba out of the shortstop position.

"Defensively both teams are excellent," said Breen. "I thought when we played Central Catholic they were as impressive as anyone we saw on the defensive side of the ball. I expect both teams to have plenty of guys on, its just whoever can get that one key extra base hit to change the game."

Probables: Bryan Woelfel -- Franklin (4-1, 0.78 ERA); Aidan Abernathy -- Central Catholic (1-1, 3.00 ERA)

Pick: Facing Woelfel for the second time in four days, Central Catholic’s offense finds success in the early going picking up where they left off on Saturday. Franklin slowly chips away before taking the lead in the middle innings courtesy of a big hit from Macchi allowing Noviello to come in and close out the Panthers first Super Eight championship.

7-5, Franklin

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