Canton junior Andrew Middleton has been selected as the HockomockSports.com Player of the Week, presented by Morse Insurance, for May 2 through May 8. Middleton is the 21st player chosen as Player of the Week for the 2020-21 school year and first in the spring season.
Middleton got his first career start in the season opener against Attleboro and the senior pitcher made it a memorable one. He tossed a perfect game against the Bombardiers, striking out 16 batters in the process. Canton picked up an impressive 3-0 to kick start the spring season following a two-year wait to get on the field.
“He was dominant from the first pitch, striking out the side in the first,” said Canton head coach Ben Shuffain. “We had talked about a pitch count of around 80 for his first game and after the fourth we had a quick talk and at that point I knew he was locked in. Just an overall incredible performance.”
Getting the ball on opening day, Middleton showed no rust from the long layoff between high school seasons. He struck out every Attleboro starter at least once and faced the minimum of 21 hitters over seven innings. Every batter that Attleboro sent to the plate, except for one pinch hitter, struck out against Middleton. He threw 88 pitches, 62 for strikes. Although he didn’t have a hit, Middleton helped his own cause by driving in two of Canton’s three runs.
The Player of the Week, presented by Morse Insurance, is selected by the HockomockSports.com staff. Nominations can be submitted throughout the week up until Saturday night at midnight. There may be a poll posted on every Sunday with the nominations. The results of the poll influence the selection but do not strictly dictate the decision.
Andrew Middleton The Player of the Week, presented by Morse Insurance, is selected by the HockomockSports.com staff. Nominations can be submitted throughout the week up until Saturday night at midnight. There may be a poll posted on every Sunday with the nominations. The results of the poll influence the selection but do not strictly dictate the decision. Andrew Middleton The Player of the Week, presented by Morse Insurance, is selected by the HockomockSports.com staff. Nominations can be submitted throughout the week up until Saturday night at midnight. There may be a poll posted on every Sunday with the nominations. The results of the poll influence the selection but do not strictly dictate the decision.
2019 Record: 14-10 2019 Finish: Reached Div. 1 South Final Coach: Steve Dunlea
Two years ago, Attleboro made a run to the Div. 1 South final, only to run into league rival and eventual state champ Taunton. While the Bombardiers only return three players with varsity experience, Attleboro will be looking to replicate some of that momentum and challenge the top teams for the Kelley-Rex division title this spring.
2021 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
Senior catcher Bailey Camacho caught half the innings during his sophomore season and will be the starter this spring, as well as an important presence in the lineup. Seniors Jake Gorman and Matt McMahon will both be part of the rotation and play corner infield spots when they’re not on the mound building off the experience they got two years ago. Senior Cam Foster adds speed at short and will be the closer, while juniors Billy Saltmarsh and Cian Kelleher, and sophomores Dillon James and Danny Johnson are part of what should be a deep staff for the Bombardiers. Speed should also be a strength for Attleboro, including outfielders Ben Hochwarter, Nate George, Hayden Hegarty, and Packer Sackett, and middle infielders Owen Taber and Evan Houle. Junior Christian Dame is a versatile player who can step in at multiple positions.
“We’re excited to get our players out there to see what we can accomplish,” said Attleboro coach Steve Dunlea. “Our guys have worked very hard during the off-season and have come a long way in the past few years. We are particularly proud of our senior leadership. It’s been a tough year and we are so grateful to the MIAA and ADs for making this season happen for our seniors.”
2019 Record: 6-14 2019 Finish: Missed postseason Coach: Ben Shuffain
Canton had a great start to the 2019 season under then first-year head coach Ben Shuffain, including an impressive win over Wellesley. But almost all of the Bulldogs’ wins came in the first half of the season. Now Canton will look to start strong and continue that throughout the year as they look to challenge for the Davenport division title.
The Bulldogs are one of the teams that have a good number of players that played back in 2019 so there is a lot of optimism surrounding the experience on the roster this season. Canton has four starters back for this year’s campaign: shortstop/right-handed pitcher Steve Burbank, outfielder Cam Sanchez, catcher/outfielder Sawyer Julier-Albert, and right-handed pitcher Nate Hewit. Both Burbank (0.328) and Julier-Albert (0.395) were among the league leaders in batting average as sophomores so they will be key pieces for the offense this year. Shuffain will also look for contributions from outfielders Andy Butler and Zach Peters, infielder Nico Bonanno, and utility option Matt Quan — all four could also see time pitching.
Burbank will also see time on the mound and Hewit will be an important piece of the pitching staff this year. Junior Andrew Middleton, who tossed a perfect game in the season-opener, will obviously be a major part of the rotation as well, giving the Bulldogs solid depth. Behind the pitching staff, there will be a lot of players who have experience at the varsity level so Shuffain hopes mistakes will be at a minimum.
“We are lucky to have a good number of players who have varsity experience from 2018 and 2019,” Shuffain said. “They have been preparing for 18 months for this season and this group has tremendous leadership and a ton of talent. I am excited to see what they can do on the field.”
For the 2021 season, it all starts with pitching for the Foxboro Warriors. The 2019 squad graduated six players, and there were nine juniors on that team that missed out on their senior season a year ago. That means Foxboro has four players coming back for this spring, and almost all picked up a lot of valuable experience the last time out.
2021 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
Seniors Cam Prescott and Sean Yoest will headline the Warriors’ rotation, bringing a lot of experience to the staff. Prescott logged over 26 innings as a sophomore, allowing just four walks with a 1.86 ERA. Yoest had a lot of success at the plate as a sophomore and will be looking to replicate that on the mound this year. Sophomore Sean O’Leary will likely be a key piece on the mound when fully healthy and the Warriors will look to seniors Dylan Quinn, Mike O’Toole, Ryan Jacobs, and Sebastian Ortiz, as well as juniors Liam Mulkern and Tom Marcucella to provide pitching depth.
Yoest will patrol the outfield when he’s not on the mound and will be a key piece offensively after hitting 0.346 as a sophomore with 11 runs scored and 11 RBI. Yoest will be joined in the outfield by junior Jack Watts, a three-sport athlete who has excelled in golf and hockey, and sophomore Kenny Mello. Marcucella will also see time in the outfield while senior Griffin Morse is a solid depth piece that can play all three spots in the outfield.
Prescott will see time at either third or shortstop when he’s not pitching. Beyond Prescott, the Warriors will have some inexperience around the infield with freshman Tyler Prescott (second base) and sophomore Ryan LeClair (shortstop) impressing early on. Mulkern and O’Toole will provide the infield with some senior leadership from first while Marcucella and Ortiz providing depth. Mulkern will also be an option behind the plate while junior Mike LaVita will step into the starting role at catcher.
“We are excited for the opportunity to get back on the field and compete every day,” head coach Derek Suess said. “Having our top two arms still here is comforting, but we will need contributions from many different guys. We have a good mix of seniors and underclassmen who have bought in to our vision for the season.”
2019 Record: 22-3 2019 Finish: Reached Super 8 Coach: Zach Brown
While Franklin won’t be able to make it three straight appearances in the Super 8 with the tournament not happening this year (and possibly for a couple of years), there is something the Panthers can do: defend their Kelley-Rex division title.
2021 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
The Panthers were nearly perfect in league action during the 2019 season (15-1) and will be one of the favorites for the title again this year. But it will be almost an entirely new cast of players doing so. Franklin had 10 seniors on that team plus another seven juniors that graduated last year, meaning just a handful of players from the roster are back. Of that group, just one starter is back in senior Jake Fitzgibbons, who played second base at the time.
Now Fitzgibbons moves behind the plate and will be in charge of handling a pitching staff that is new to the varsity level. Having him behind the plate should make it easier for the likes of junior Jacob Jette and sophomore Alfred Mucciarone, who figure to be two of the key components of Franklin’s rotation this season. And when needed, Fitzgibbons will switch out from behind the plate and take the mound himself.
Seniors Nate Cooke and CJ Jette serve as captains alongside Fitzgibbons and will provide leadership both on and off the field. Cooke is slated to start at first base and will bring a big bat to the lineup while Jette will see time both in the outfield and at designated hitter. Seniors Luc Boudreau (outfielder) and Nick Quinn (right-handed pitcher) have impressed early on as well.
“As always the cornerstone of our program is pitching and defense,” said head coach Zach Brown. “We believe we have the right mix of athletes and arms to compete daily this season. Offensively, we believe that our line-up can be pretty athletic. Obviously, we are all in the same boat missing last season so it will be an exciting season to get back out onto the field. I know the players and our coaching staff are really excited for the games to start up.”
2019 Record: 8-12 2019 Finish: Missed postseason Coach: Jeff Plympton
There will be a lot of new faces on the mound, in the field, in the batter’s box, and even on the bench for the King Philip Warriors this season. Looking back at the 2019 season, only one name is back in action for the Warriors this season. And on top of that, there’s a new coach in the dugout in Jeff Plympton.
2021 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
Both Conor Cooke and Jack Silveria saw plenty of action during their sophomore seasons but Silveria will miss his senior campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery. That means that Plympton and the rest of the Warriors will lean heavily on Cooke, a three-year starter who will guide KP from behind the plate. Cooke, who is committed to play at Brown University, is a rock behind the plate and that will be important as KP deploys a pitching staff that is new to the varsity level. That rotation will feature junior Nick Viscusi and sophomore Rudy Gately, with seniors Jack Mullen, Grayden Lawrence, Harry Brown, and Jake Burns all providing depth.
Cooke will be a key part of the offense as well, slated to hit from the clean up spot. Viscusi will set the tone from the leadoff spot and can cause some damage on the base paths with his speed. Junior Shawn Lagere will start at shortstop and bat third in the lineup, providing the Warriors with some power while Gately will see time at third when he isn’t on the mound. Seniors Ethan Hurwitz and Mikey Malatesta provide outfield depth and Plympton has 10 juniors on the roster to help fill out the lineup.
“Looking forward to getting the season going and watching the team play together,” Plympton said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had high school baseball and most of our guys, like many teams, are new to the varsity level. We have some good talent on our team. Plenty of good throwing arms to get us through the new pitching restrictions. The infield is solid with very dependable fielders around the diamond. The outfield is fast and does a great job tracking fly balls. I believe defense will be our best strength this season. The players have been putting in a lot of hard work during practices.”
2019 Record: 18-7 2019 Finish: Reached Super 8 Coach: Chris Hall
Joe Breen had a very successful run at the helm of the Hornets, and his successor is one that the program is very familiar with. Chris Hall, who served as Breen’s assistant, takes over and is aiming to continue the success that Mansfield has had in recent seasons.
Coming off one of their best seasons in program history that culminated in a second straight Super 8 appearance, the Hornets will try to rebuild their lineup with a strong core of seniors. Eric Sullivan will move into the starting role behind the plate and will be a vocal leader both on and off the field for the Hornets. Three-sport athlete Jack Colby is slated to take over at first base, Luke Urban looks to take over at second base, Ben Mintz can slot into a variety of roles, including in the field or on the mound, and Greg Coyle, the lone returner from the 2019 team, will be an option on the mound for the Hornets. Juniors Jared Fraone and Liam Anastasia will help round out the lineup.
Coyle will be joined by juniors Aaron Blinn, Anthony Sacchetti, and Jimmy Gilleran on the Hornets’ staff. That group brings a lot of baseball experience and a range of knowledge, and Hall is hoping all of that will translate to the varsity level. Mintz, Colby Geddis, and Brayden Purtell will look to provide additional innings in relief.
“With two years off due to COVID-19, and few players having varsity experience, I expected tryouts to be exciting,” Hall said. “Our players knew they had to come in and earn everything to gain a spot in the starting lineup. There continues to be daily position battles daily and it pushes players to improve. The talent we have in the program is consistent from top to bottom. The team brings energy and enthusiasm to everything they do and it truly makes the atmosphere on the field second to none. We cannot wait to get out on the field and compete against some of the best competition in the Hockomock League.”
2019 Record: 11-11 2019 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South Quarterfinal Coach: Alex Dion
Milford will be the new kids on the block this season in their first year apart of the Kelley-Rex division, which features two teams that went to the Super 8 last time out and another that won the D1 State title.
The Hawks are going to rely on their pitching as they compete for the division title. Senior right-hander Mario Lee and classmate Wes Solomon, another righty, both picked up valuable experience as sophomores during the 2019 season and will anchor the Milford pitching rotation. Lee, who is committed to playing both football and baseball at Wesleyan, pitched in 10 games out of the bullpen in 2019 while Solomon appeared in five games with a 2.33 ERA.
Sophomore Evan Cornelius is a “big, physical kid” according to head coach Alex Dion, and he will round out the Hawks’ rotation this season. When he isn’t on the mound, Cornelius will be behind the plate and the same goes for Solomon, who could also see him in the middle infield. Lee will also be in the lineup when he’s not on the mound, playing at either first or third. Senior Carter Scudo burst onto the scene as a sophomore, hitting 0.352, and will be the catalyst to the offense this year, batting in the leadoff spot. He will anchor the outfield defense from center field.
“I’m excited to start our 2021 season,” Dion said. “It has been great to get back out on Fino Field for the first time since 2019. I have a good group of young men this year with players from all four classes making the varsity roster. This is a great league with quality teams, players, and coaches throughout. We will go out and compete to the best of our ability on a daily basis. I am optimistic about what this group has to offer this year and in the future.”
2019 Record: 11-10 2019 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South First Round Coach: Mike Hart
North Attleboro head coach Mike Hart has the best arm in the Hockomock League in senior Dennis Colleran and the 2019 HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year Jared Penta as the catalyst for the offense so the Rocketeers will certainly be in the mix for the Davenport title this season.
2021 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
Colleran, who is committed to pitch at Northeastern, has been a member of the Rocketeers since his freshman year, making his first appearance in North’s D2 South Semifinal win over Dartmouth back in 2018. He logged 37.1 innings as a sophomore, posting a 3-4 record with a 2.63 ERA during the 2019 season. Since then, Colleran has honed his skills on the club scene and is poised to lead the Rocketeers this year. Senior Joe Hartnett and junior Danny Curran look to fill out the rotation while the Rocketeers have plenty of depth pieces including Tyler Bannon, Dan Pedro, Derek Maceda, and Aidan Weir.
Penta will hit from the leadoff spot and set the tone for the offense. Weir and classmate Justin Vecchiarelli will anchor the infield Maceda, a sophomore, could be poised for a breakout season at shortstop. Curran will also see time in the outfield when he isn’t pitching while senior Evan Vigorito, and juniors Brody Rosenberg, and Gavin Wells will be in the outfield mix. Bannon and Nik Kojoian will be options behind the dish for the Rocketeers.
“Just like other teams in the league, we are curious how our players will make the jump to varsity baseball,” Hart said. “We will do our best to be fundamentally sound and keep things simple. Our pitching staff has a handful of competitive guys who are looking for an opportunity to help the team. The boys are excited about the season and hope we can bring a consistent approach to all our opportunities this year.”
2019 Record: 12-13 2019 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South Semifinal Coach: Joe Abarr
After reaching the D2 South Sectional Final in 2018, the Tigers fielded basically an entirely new squad during the 2019 campaign. Two years later, Oliver Ames looks to be in the same boat as there minimal varsity experience on the roaster.
Senior Nate Fulford is one of the few players that did see varsity action two years ago, emerging as a go-to option offensively as a pinch-hitter as a sophomore. Now Fulford will be a key piece in the lineup each game, manning third base and bringing a big bat to the heart of the lineup. Senior Jadon Ricci will take over at shortstop and is slated to hit near the top of the lineup.
Junior Jack Richardson was a part of the Tigers’ varsity squad as a freshman and is now in position to anchor the rotation. He’ll be in the lineup even when he’s not on the mound, patrolling the always tricky outfield at Frothingham Park for the Tigers. When it comes to new faces on the squad this year, junior Jake Waxman brings a big bat to the lineup and can bring some pop to the offense; he will start at first base defensively. Junior Joe Cicchetti has impressed early on in tryouts and the preseason both offensively and defensively, and he is slated to start in center for the Tigers.
“We should have a solid lineup,” said OA head coach Joe Abarr. “We have depth at most positions and decent options on the mound. With so little practice time prior to the first game, there are still a lot of questions to be answered, but we have a great group of guys that are really looking to compete this year.”
2019 Record: 2-18 2019 Finish: Missed postseason Coach: Andrew Poliferno
The last time the Eagles hit the field, they had one of the youngest teams in the Hockomock League. Now that means there is a lot of returning players back in the dugout this year and Sharon should be one of the most experienced groups in terms of baseball played.
2021 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
Sharon has a new head coach in alum Andrew Poliferno, who is no stranger to the program after coaching at each level over the past few seasons. Poliferno takes over for Kee Arguimbau, who had been with the program as a coach for nearly 20 years including the last four as head coach. Poliferno has 10 seniors at his disposal this year including two of the most experienced players in JD Rittenberg and Justin Brown, who both started as sophomores in 2019. Playing at second and short, respectively, the Eagles will have solid defense up the middle of the field. Sharon expects strong defense to come with the experience it has.
Junior Dylan Labbe pitched some innings as a freshman so the Eagles will lean on him as one of the anchors of the pitching staff. Senior Justin Nault and junior Ryan Baker will also see time on the mound while freshman Luke Meixel is slated to be a part of the starting rotation right away. Offensively, Rittenberg and Brown will lead the way once again. Baker and classmate Nate Yaffe should slot into the lineup in their first year on varsity, playing third and outfield, respectively. Poliferno is also looking for contributions from Damien Bonner and Daniel Zagoren offensively.
“After a missed season, it’s wonderful to see our players back out on the field,” Poliferno said. “Despite the year off, I was impressed with the growth and progress our players made since they last played high school baseball. It was clear to me we have a program of players who work hard during the off-season and I look forward to seeing their hard work translate to wins this season.”
2019 Record: 14-9 2019 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South Semifinal Coach: Mike Armour
Like most schools, Stoughton has a limited number of players with varsity experience on the roster this season. It will be baptism by fire for a lot of new faces as head coach Mike Armour will look to get the most out of his lineup to try and compete for the Davenport division title.
The players that do have any varsity experience will be key, especially early on in the season as the rest of the Black Knights get used to the varsity level. Senior Brady Conlin will anchor the Stoughton staff on the mound this year and also hit in the heart of the lineup. Conlin has experience both pitching and at the plate and could be one of the most dangerous all-around players in the league. Senior captain Kyle Doolin will anchor the infield and is an option to pitch as well. He is slated to hit near the top of the lineup and could also see time behind the plate defensively.
Jake Queeney, another senior captain, will patrol center field for the Black Knights and hit from the leadoff spot. Queeney’s speed has been on display on both the basketball court and football field, so his legs could cause some damage on the base paths. Senior captain Brandon Mantilla-Mercado will take care of the pitching staff this year as the starting catcher and will bring some power to the plate offensively. Junior infielder Anthony Tilton has impressed early and figures to be a top bat in the lineup, juniors Jonah Ly and James Price will both see innings in the infield and on the mound, and junior Brad Franey is slated to take over at second. Seniors Joe McNulty, Colby Andrews, Andrew Scardina, and junior Colin Alessi provide lineup depth. Freshmen Hunter Malkin and Ben Zola will likely make an immediate impact for Stoughton.
“The kids are excited to play baseball,” Armour said. “They have brought a positive attitude and willingness to work to practice, which is all I can ask for as a coach. We are excited to get a little bit better every day, and put ourselves in a position to win some ballgames this season.”
2019 Record: 21-7 2019 Finish: Won Div. 1 State Championship Coach: Blair Bourque
It seems like just yesterday the Tigers were celebrating their Division 1 State Championship at LeLacheur Park in Lowell. Yet at the same time, it somehow also feels like a lifetime ago.
2021 Hockomock League Baseball Preview
The Tigers are one of the teams that will “what if” when it comes to the 2019 season, as they were set to have eight starters back to try and defend their first-ever state championship. Now for the 2021 season, there is just one Tiger starter back from that regular season. That is senior pitcher/infielder Danny MacDougall, who will anchor the pitching staff and also return to his shortstop position. Ty Cali, who took over for MacDougall after an injury sidelined him for the postseason, is also back to give Taunton a solid 1-2 punch up the middle of the field. Cali can also slide over and play short when MacDougall, who is committed to playing at the University of Hartford next year, is on the mound.
Sophomore Ryan MacDougall is set to finally make his varsity debut this year. A verbal commit to the University of Dayton, Ryan MacDougall was on the playoff roster for the state championship team as an eighth-grader. Not only does he bring a big bat and power to the lineup, head coach Blair Bourque described his plate discipline as “well beyond his years.” If the Tigers want to compete at a high level, Bourque noted the importance of senior pitchers Conor Quinlan, Bretton Heggs, and Matthew Ferrara. In total, Taunton boasts a dozen seniors on the roster.
“My expectation for this season is for us to compete as a team and individually every day as best we can, but ultimately, I will be grateful I get to spend time on the field with my players,” Bourque said. “It is always about the relationships formed with your players throughout the course of a year, you don’t always appreciate how good you have it until it’s gone. Losing last season really made me appreciate my role as the head coach for the Taunton High baseball program.”
Following a senior season that was wiped away by the pandemic after just three appearances and two starts, Foxboro alum Justin Garcia returned for a fifth year at Roger Williams and turned that extra spring into a historic one.
In his most recent start, against Salve Regina, Garcia recorded the 186th strikeout of his career, breaking the old program record set by Josh Rosen in 2003. With 57 strikeouts this season (in just 33 innings), Garcia now has 189 and counting.
“I knew roughly around how many I needed but in the heat of the moment, during the game, I wasn’t really thinking all that much about it,” said Garcia about breaking the record. “I was just trying to do a job and get the win.”
He laughed when asked if his teammates were keeping track by hanging up Ks ior having a countdown in the dugout. “Some of my teammates were thinking about doing that,” he said, “but I just told them, don’t jinx it. I still have to pitch well in order to get there.”
Twice named to the Commonwealth Coast Conference Third Team (in 2018 and 2019), Garcia is having the best season of his career. Through six starts, he is 3-0 (increasing his career win total to 11) and has a career-best ERA of 2.73, which is almost half a point better than his previous low of 3.25 as a sophomore.
“It’s good to get recognition, but it’s also good to see I remained consistent throughout the four years at Roger Williams and it shows that hard work does eventually pay off if you stick with it,” Garcia explained.
Like most pitchers coming out of high school, Garcia said his coaches called him a “thrower, not necessarily a pitcher.” He relied on his fastball and admitted that there were a lot of growing pains that first season, as he finished with a 1-3 record in eight appearances (five starts). He made the adjustment quickly, as the next year he was 3-3 in eight starts and dropped his ERA almost five points from 8.20 to 3.25.
“Going from high school to college is such a big jump,” he said. “You’re just still trying to figure out how to get outs without getting shelled, especially when you’re facing a conference that’s been pretty strong the past four years. I’ve developed so much, grown so much over the course of four years.”
The learning continues, as Garcia said he has been working on a new pitch this season and continues to tinker to try and improve. “You’re always learning and you’re never at the top of your game and there’s always something new you can learn, more development that you can have,” he said. “There’s never a ceiling.”
Garcia is now trying to share that message with the younger pitchers on the team, showing them what it takes to be a success at the collegiate level. He said, “You’ve got to be confident. Confidence is 90 percent of pitching. If you’re not confident in yourself to perform well, then you’re not going to.”
With Roger Williams sitting at 11-5 in conference play, second place in Pod A behind Salve, which is 7-2-1 in the CCC, Garcia is looking ahead to this weekend and the conference tournament. After watching one season disappear, he is trying to make the most of this spring.
“We were down in South Carolina playing games and nothing was wrong and then the next week the whole season was cancelled,” Gracia reflected. “It goes to show that stuff can happen really fast and guys need to realize you only have four eligible seasons of playing college ball so they should really soak it all up and really enjoy the experience.”
In the fall and winter, concerns remained that this season might not happen. The rising number of cases in Rhode Island and on campus made it unclear whether or not spring sports could take place. So, there was obvious excitement when the team found out that this season would go ahead.
“I was relieved because all I wanted to do was play one last season,” he explained. “I was just so happy. I was really proud of the team that we were able to accomplish that, because it’s college and people want to hang out with friends and stuff and it’s really hard to isolate yourself.”
Now, as the spring is heading towards the end, the focus changes from happy to be playing to determined to bring home a trophy. Along with his fellow fifth-year players Joey Gulino and Danny Roth, Garcia wants to end the season on a high.
“The past couple years we’ve come up just short of a championship, so we wanted to make sure we had a good chance of getting a ring at the end of the year,” he said.
“It means so much for the older guys. We’ve all been here since freshman year, five years ago. It seems so long ago now, but we’re just happy that we’re able get the chance again and hopefully take [a championship] home this year and leave a good lasting impact on the program too.”
With a program record in hand, Justin Garcia is now hoping to add a CCC title to his Roger Williams legacy.
After having the 2020 college baseball season wiped out by the Covid-19 pandemic, players could be forgiven for taking a few games to get into their strides this spring. That hasn’t been a problem for former North Attleboro star Nick Sinacola, who has been dominant on the hill for the University of Maine.
Sinacola, who helped the Rocketeers win their first state championship as a senior in high school, has won each of his first five starts (including Friday night’s win at NJIT) and has recorded double digit strikeouts in all five games. He has already been named the America East Conference Pitcher of the Week twice and earned national press when College Baseball News added him to their Players of the Week as well.
Before this weekend’s trip to New Jersey, Sinacola spoke about what it means not only to to be off to a strong start but to be able to get on the field at all.
“I think we’re all grateful,” he explained. “We’re just making the most of it, have a good year, and have some fun while we’re out there. That’s the number one thing is just having some fun, trying to win some games.”
Sinacola added, “It was a sense of normalcy that I think everyone is kind of looking for, so whether you’re playing or not playing, even just seeing it on TV or seeing videos of it gives people that sense of normalcy.”
The Black Bears were confident in the fall that the spring season would happen, although the team decided over the winter to pass up its usual season-opening trip to Florida because of the logistical issues that come with traveling during the ongoing pandemic. Maine’s season began on March 6 against Merrimack College with Sinacola getting the call to start.
“It was something special,” he said. “That first pitch, it felt really good to be back in that Maine uniform.” Sinacola struck out 11 in 5-2/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one run to open the year with his first collegiate victory.
As a freshman, two years ago, he made 19 appearances, including three starts. He struck out 35 batters in 35-2/3 innings and tossed five innings of no-hit relief against national power Florida State. He made four starts in the abbreviated 2020 season, losing all four despite striking out 23 batters in 21 innings.
This year, Sinacola has been on a different level. Over his first four starts, Sinacola struck out 11, 16, 15, and 12 batters (his total of 54 was tops in the America East) and had an ERA of just 1.01 (which was 13th in the country and would be the lowest in program history). He led the nation with a strikeout rate of 18.23 per nine innings, his 4.05 hits allowed per nine innings was 11th best in the nation, and he was 20th in WHIP (0.79). He was also halfway to the program’s single-season record for strikeouts (108).
“You spend really a whole year working on everything you can to be ready for when the season comes around,” Sinacola said about his great start, “and I felt like I was in a good spot at the beginning of the year. Having the confidence in myself to make a really good pitch, every single pitch, and confidence in my catcher Ryan Turenne, and trusting everyone behind me, really makes a big difference.”
Does he notice how many strikeouts he is racking up during a game? Can he tell that he is nearing double digits again?
“No, I can’t do that,” Sinacola laughed. “It’s so in the moment, you’re so focused on what you’re doing with this hitter in that specific situation. At the end of the day we’re just trying to get outs, regardless of how we do it.”
Part of Sinacola’s development was the two summers he has pitched with the Brockton Rox, where he had the chance to put into practice the instructions from his Maine coaches, while also being able to try different things to see what fit best.
“You’re off the leash with what you’re doing with the coaches here, so you get the chance to improve yourself and really learn through yourself,” he said. “You get the opportunity to grow on your own.”
Like most pitchers making the jump from a dominant high school career, Sinacola noted that his biggest development came from “learning to pitch, not just throw.” He talked about pitch sequences and planning how to approach to every hitter that he faces depending on circumstances of the game.
His approach at North worked pretty well too. During his senior season, Sinacola won all 10 of his starts, including three in the postseason, posted an ERA of 1.23 and struck out a league-high 71 batters. In the state title game, Beverly struck for three runs in the fifth, but Sinacola settled down to help Big Red lift the state championship trophy.
“Winning is so fun and that winning atmosphere is definitely something you want to be around,” Sinacola said. “It also pushed me to be better because winning the whole thing is something that we’re always chasing. We’re all just trying to win.”
He added, “More than anything, it was a humbling experience because going from being able to win as many games we did that year (18-2 overall) and then going immediately into fall ball here with crazy hitters and other great pitchers it was humbling to see that okay this is a whole other level. You have to adapt and grow your game.”
Sinacola is one of many former Hock baseball players from that season who are making their mark at the collegiate level and he noted that the strength of the league (the Hock sent two teams to the Super 8, had two D2 South finalists, and two state champions) forced him to improve his game.
“The Hock my senior year was one of the best leagues in the state that year,” he recalled. “Playing against good teams, definitely fuels the fire because every night you have to play well to get the win.”
With the America East changing its playoff structure, splitting into two divisions and with only the top two in each division reaching the conference tournament, Sinacola admits it will be a tough test for Maine but that the Black Bears have the talent to be in the mix. Currently, Maine (11-8, 6-5) leads its division by percentage points (UMass Lowell is second at 7-6 in the league) and has a weekend series with the University of Hartford coming up next.
Missing an entire season due to the pandemic adds unique perspective to the challenges and the opportunities the team faces this spring.
“The bus rides don’t get easier up here for us,” he joked, “but it definitely makes you more grateful for the game. The fact that there are other teams and other schools who aren’t able to have the opportunities we have to go out and play definitely adds a different level.
“We think we have the team to make the tournament and that’s the goal. I think it definitely pushes us to be better and we’re excited to play for that this year.”
Nate Tellier is living the dream of kids and baseball fans (of all ages) throughout New England. The former Attleboro High standout and All-Little East Conference pitcher and outfielder at UMass Dartmouth put pen to paper Tuesday on a three-year free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox. He has been invited to join his hometown team at spring training in March.
“There is no better feeling,” Tellier explained, still obviously coming to grips with a wild week that saw him invited to the Kelly Rodman Memorial Summer Rivalry Classic in Hartford on Friday, where he struck out the three batters he faced, to being offered a contract four days later by Red Sox scout Ray Fagnant.
“[Ray] texted me Monday at 11:30 at night and was like, want to meet tomorrow?” Tellier said. “I just thought we were going to talk…then he asked, ‘Do you want to be a Boston Red Sox? We’ve got a contract with your name on it right here.’ It was unbelievable.”
Telier continued, “It’s always been my dream to play for the Red Sox. It’s a dream come true. I’m just blessed because not many people get to live out their dream like I am right now.”
It has been a roller coaster year for the fireballer. At the beginning of his senior season in February, Tellier was recognized by Perfectgame.org as the No. 4 prospect nationally in Div. III. As a center fielder and closer for the Hawks, he was named Little East Player of the Week after the first three games and was batting .436 as UMass Dartmouth jumped out to a 9-1 record.
Then the world changed. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the spring season and Major League Baseball announced that it was shortening its amateur draft to just five rounds. “I was pretty disappointed because being a DIII player I’m not going to get drafted in the top five rounds,” Tellier admitted.
With a potential pro career seemingly stalled, Tellier, who graduated this spring with a degree in biology, joined the Brockton Rox of the Futures League for summer baseball and started considering his options for one more college season. Three saves and 19 strikeouts in 11-1/3 innings with the Rox, while regularly hitting 94-95 mph on the gun, caught the eye of scouts again and earned Tellier his chance to impress in Hartford.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a year, but it all worked out in the end,” he said. “Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long career.”
Tellier had an impressive career at Attleboro. His senior season, he went 3-0 in the regular season and led the Hockomock League in strikeouts (65) and ERA (0.60). He struck out 16 in an eight-inning no-hitter against North Attleboro, outdueled Norwood’s Sean Mellen (Northeastern University) in the first round of the playoffs, shutting out the Mustangs over nine innings and having both of Attleboro’s hits in a 1-0 win, and battled a sore shoulder in a close South semifinal loss at Silver Lake against Gatorade Player of the Year Anthony Videtto (UMass).
The talent was evident, but, according to former Attleboro coach Matt Bosh, it was the work ethic that turned Tellier from a 4-foot-11 freshman into a pitcher capable of signing with a big league club.
“His commitment is off the charts,” said Bosh. “He’s going to outwork everybody at any level he competes at and that’s how he’s always been. He would make other players around him better because they would see the best player on the team working the hardest. That’s a luxury for any coach.
“He’s made himself into a professional athlete. All that hard work paid off for him and it’s what he deserves.”
Tellier added, “Ever since I was seven it’s just been baseball, baseball, baseball, just full throttle. I don’t think I’ve gone a day without baseball since I was seven and just all the hard work that I put in, all my friends who’ve been pushing me, and it’s paid off.”
In a Boston Globe article by Alex Speier on Wednesday, Fagnant said, “Good story, but most importantly, at the end of the day, you’ve got big league tools. That’s the most important part. It’s a big arm, he’s a strong kid, and he’s athletic. It will be fun to watch his progress.”
Minor league baseball has been closed down for the summer, due to the pandemic, so Tellier will have to wait until March 3 before he reports to Red Sox camp. In the meantime, he will continue to go through his throwing program and work out and try to get used to the fact that his dream of being able to say, “I have to report to spring training with the Red Sox,” has come true.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” Tellier said with a chuckle, as he tried to describe his feelings. “I still can’t believe that I’m with the Boston Red Sox.”
It is only three games into the new baseball season and already former Attleboro High standout Nate Tellier is racking up the recognition at UMass Dartmouth. Prior to the start of the season, the senior center fielder and relief pitcher was named one of the top Div. III recruits in the country and this week was named the Little East Conference Player of the Week after sweeping a weekend doubleheader against Becker College.
Tellier has started on fire at the plate, going 6-for-10 with three doubles, a home run, a team-high seven RBI, a stolen base, and five runs scored. He went 4-for-6 with a three-run homer and drove in five RBI in an 11-1 win against Becker that opened the weekend series.
He has only made one appearance on the mound for the 3-0 Hawks, working around a pair of walks to throw a scoreless inning.
On the mound is where the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Tellier is making his biggest impression on scouts. Perfectgame.org named him the No. 4 prospect nationally in Div. III. He was the top-ranked prospect in New England and just one of two from the region to be named.
“It means the world to me that my hard is being recognized but it doesn’t mean that’s all there is,” said Tellier a couple days after the season-opening win against Emerson College. “It’s cool to be recognized but it doesn’t mean anything for the future or that I can stop working.
“It kind of just drives me a little bit more because it means that I’m that little bit closer. It gives me more reason to work towards that goal at the end of being drafted.”
A two-time all-conference selection, Tellier has impressed in his three seasons in Dartmouth. He is a career .338 hitter with nine career homers and 84 career RBI, with at least 50 hits in all three seasons. He moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation his sophomore season, but moved back last spring. He has a career record of 3-4 with 10 saves, an ERA of 2.72, and 63 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched (which works out to 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings).
When asked what he likes best about being the closer, Tellier said, “Just the compete level coming into a game either tied or up or down by one or two and knowing you have to compete at your best to be able to come out on top.”
He added, “You’re not throwing that long so you go out there and you don’t have to pace yourself, you just throw as hard as you can for about 15 pitches and you’re good.”
Tellier, who has also played the past three years with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in the NECBL, continues to improve each year. He allowed just 14 hits in 29 innings last season and struck out 41, an average of 12.72 per nine innings. He admits that he had a lot to learn about pitching when he got to college, despite a dominant senior season at Attleboro, and that he is much more comfortable on the mound than earlier in his career.
“In high school, I could just throw hard and that would work,” he explained. “I could get by with that only. I had to develop a couple of pitches because in college you’re not going to get by for long just throwing hard without location or off-speed stuff.”
He is working on his breaking ball, a change-up, and a two-seamer, developing a repertoire of pitches to fool college hitters. It has been a process, but Tellier feels like he has found a groove on the mound.
“When I got to college I had no idea what I was doing out there,” he said. “I just hoped the ball was going where I wanted it to, now I know the ball is going where I want. I’m a lot more comfortable.”
It was also a process in the field, as he moved from shortstop to the outfield and Tellier sees improvement in how he tracks balls off the bat and the angles that he takes to get to balls in center. His growth at the plate has been obvious and also been a benefit to his pitching.
“You get to see the ball from both sides and sometimes on the mound you think, if I was a hitter what would I be thinking in this situation?” Tellier remarked.
At Attleboro, Tellier was 3-0 his senior season, blowing teams away with his fastball. He struck out a league-high 65 batters that season, including 16 over eight innings in a no-hitter against North Attleboro, and had a league-low ERA of 0.60. He only allowed three earned runs all season and pushed the Bombardiers to the Div. 1 South semifinal.
Still, there is so much that Tellier wishes he had known about pitching then. He said, “I just wish I had been a better locator. I wish I knew how to take care of my arm. In high school I didn’t do any bands, I barely used any ice, I just went out and threw and that was it.”
After helping UMass Dartmouth reach the Little East title game last spring, Tellier is looking to bring home a title this season and believes that this is a team filled with the talent to accomplish that goal. In the process, he will also be working towards the dream of being selected in the MLB draft or possibly find a spot with an independent league team.
“Most of college, I’ve been working hard but haven’t been noticed,” he said. “Sometimes you think that it’s not going towards anything or not really paying off that well and so it weighs on you sometimes, but knowing that it’s paying off and that people are noticing keeps me driving.”
With one last collegiate season ahead, Tellier knows to not take anything for granted.
“I’m excited. I’m just taking all the experience that I’ve had the past three years and putting it all into this one season and leaving it all on the field. Hopefully, afterwards I’ll move on to bigger and better things.”
Below are the official 2019 Hockomock League Baseball All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.
Hockomock League MVP
Alex Haba, Franklin
Hockomock League All Stars
Eoin Kelleher, Attleboro
Alvaro Espinal, Attleboro
Nathan Quan, Canton
Michael Devlin, Foxboro
Joseph Cavaleri, Foxboro
Scott Elliott, Franklin
Alex Haba, Franklin
Jake Macchi, Franklin
Brennan Rivera, Franklin
Liam Dailey, Franklin
Kyle Moran, Mansfield
Daniel Saraceno, Mansfield
John Carney, Mansfield
Samuel Nugent, Mansfield
Justin Applebee, Milford
Daniel Corsini, Milford
Jared Penta, North Attleboro
Chris Pearsons, Oliver Ames
Reid Latham, Oliver Ames
Jake Erlich, Oliver Ames
Zak Paquette, Stoughton
Robert Seaman, Stoughton
Jack Moynihan, Taunton
LOWELL, Mass. – Every championship team has a strong pitching staff with at least one ace, a handful of dangerous hitters, and a couple of defensive wizards in the field that will grab all of the headlines.
But every championship team needs a player like Evan Melo.
The Taunton senior captain wasn’t one of the team’s leaders offensively during the regular season and he doesn’t make any appearances on the mound, but the intangibles and leadership he brings to the table are irreplaceable.
Those traits were on full display as Melo played a major role in Taunton winning six postseason games, the final one a 5-3 win over Shrewsbury at LeLacheur Park to win the MIAA D1 State Championship.
“We never give up, we went three and a half innings without a hit and then all of a sudden we just explode because we keep grinding,” Melo said. “We never give up one any pitch, any at-bat, any inning. This just brings to fruition everything we worked for. It’s unbelievable.
“I really can’t put it into words, it still hasn’t hit me that we’re state champions. I can’t believe it, especially after last year losing in the first round. That’s really where it started. We’ve been grinding since that day to make sure it didn’t happen.”
There were times when Taunton coach Blair Bourque toyed with the idea of replacing Melo in the lineup as the senior’s offensive numbers dipped throughout the year. But as a reliable center fielder and a true leader, Bourque couldn’t replace Melo.
“Evan is a great leader and he does whatever it takes for the team to win,” said fellow captain Jack Moynihan. “When it comes to sacrificing to move a guy over or get a guy in, everyone on the team can do it but Evan is 100% the type of guy you want there, he’s really important for us.”
Melo, who also captained the Tigers’ boys soccer team in the fall, rewarded his coach’s faith with a remarkable postseason. Not only did he provide the leadership as a captain, he delivered in the biggest moments on the field. He looked like a different player at the plate, hitting a team-best .429 in the postseason.
“Evan Melo, who struggled for most of the season offensively, has been phenomenal this postseason,” Bourque said. “The kid has been on fire, has been huge with bunting, base hits, stealing bases, great catches in the outfield. He almost lost his spot in the season but he worked his way back into the lineup and we’re really fortunate he did because he was big for us.
“He seemed to come up when guys are on and he knows what to do, he came up clutch,” Bourque said. “He battles, he fouls off a lot of tough pitches so he’s a tough out even though his batting average isn’t great. The little things, the intangibles that he brings to the table is off the charts. He plays a great center field, he’s usually the first one here and last one to leave, I’m extremely proud of here. This postseason he’s been nothing but phenomenal.”
He hit safely in five of the six playoff games and knocked in a run in five of the six tournament games as well. He scored five runs and walked three times, putting up a .529 on-base percentage.
When it mattered the most, under the bright lights on the biggest stage, Melo knocked in the game-winning run in the state final.
An inning after Shrewsbury scored three straight runs to tie the game, Melo came up and brought home the go-ahead score for the Tigers. Junior Jared Roderick reached on a fielder’s choice, moved to second on a wild pitch, and advanced to third on an error that allowed Andrew Gomes to reach.
With a runner at third and Melo at the plate, Bourque didn’t need to give any instructions to Melo. In fact, he didn’t even need to send a sign. Even as the team’s leading hitter in the tournament, Melo was ready to sacrifice his at-bat for a run.
Melo laid down a squeeze bunt up the first base line that ended up going for a single that brought in Roderick to put the Tigers ahead 4-3.
“I just want to get that run in,” Melo said. “A lot of times [Bourque] doesn’t call it, I just give him a nod and we both know. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a single, as long as we get the win, that’s what matters.
“Our main goal this year was to keep everyone connected. We really do love each other like brothers. We just had to make sure that we took everything one step at a time…win a pitch, win an at-bat, win an inning. If you take it one step at a time, great things are going to happen like this.”
It was the second straight game that Melo brought in a run from third with a bunt. In the state semifinals with the Tigers trailing 5-4, Melo stepped up to the plate with runners on the corners with no outs.
While most players would want a chance to hit the ball and drive in the run, Melo said all that matters is that the team gets the run. Fellow senior captain Josh Lajoie said there’s no one better for that spot.
“We have all the faith in the world in him,” Lajoie said. “He’s the definition of a team player and he’s helped us out throughout the entire season, it was great to see him succeed in a big game.”
Of course, Evan Melo delivered in the semifinals as well, dropping down the sac bunt that also scored Roderick to tie the game. Taunton went on to win in nine innings to advance to the state final.
“That’s something we practice a lot on,” Bourque said of the bunting. Taunton scored another run on a squeeze earlier in the state final when Roderick brought in Nolan Melo. “We work on first and thirds, we work on our bunt defensively. We’re working on it offensively and defensively. We knew going into the postseason, if we had a chance to generate some offense, we would take advantage of it.”
Melo was also responsible for another run earlier in the game. He led off the top of the fifth with a double and scored on the next at-bat on a single from Ty Cali that put Taunton up 3-0 at the time.
“Evan’s hard work and leadership that he’s exuded all year long has kept him in the lineup,” Bourque said. “He bought himself four or five extra starts, and he struggled at times, but he was a guy we looked to for leadership.”
And that’s why every championship team needs an Evan Melo.