Newton North High senior Katie Caruso plays softball with the energy of a first-grader full of Pixie Stix.
Against host Dedham High last week, the senior was in perpetual motion from the first pitch until the last out of Newton North’s 3-0 win.
At the plate, she had three hits, motoring around the bases and jubilantly stomping on home to punctuate her seventh-inning home run that padded her team's lead. In the field, her excitement bubbling over after key defensive plays, she left her post at shortstop to eagerly high-five fellow infielders before the end of the sixth inning.
On the bench, the fun didn’t stop. Caruso orchestrated cheers and joined in herself, helping her teammates maintain vocal-cord-shredding decibel levels for nearly two hours uninterrupted.
“You build up a tolerance, so we don’t even notice it anymore,” she said proudly. “I like to keep everyone pumped and into the game. The cheering and the talking it up — it really does help. It helps make sure everyone's here. Even if you're not playing at the moment, you’ll be into the game and ready to go.”
Behind Caruso, the team's captain, Newton North has found success in its enthusiastic approach. At 13-2, the Tigers sat atop the Bay State Conference’s Carey Division last week, and were looking to regain the regular-season title they last held in 2010.
Coach Lauren Baugher says this is one of the deepest groups she has coached in 15 years at the school.
“On any given day, anyone in our lineup can hit,” Baugher said. “I can’t remember another year when we’ve had that. We don’t have any weak players.”
Freshman third baseman and pitcher Liv Sloane has made a considerable impact on the lineup, with a .420 average and 13 RBIs through 14 games. Senior slap hitter Lydia O’Connor also stood out, hitting .500 from the leadoff spot.
Caruso led the way, though, with a whopping .672 average, 10 home runs, and 33 RBI.
“She’s put in the work,” Baugher said of her four-year starter at shortstop, who has committed to play at Southern New Hampshire University. “I know Katie loves the games, but she loves to practice. I think that’s what makes a really good player. She’s willing to put in the extra time and not just go through the motions. She’s always trying to get better, always diving for balls in practice.”
There is a passion for softball that permeates the entire Tiger roster, from Caruso on down. Each member of the team plays in the summer, seven of them play year-round, and most participate in a winter league at Strike One Sports, an indoor facility in Danvers.
They have committed time to their sport, and as a result they have expected big results this spring, even when others have not.
After a first-round loss to Central Catholic in last year’s MIAA Division 1 North sectional, the Tigers wanted to use this season to reestablish their reputation as one of the elite teams in the conference.
“We just keep trying to prove people wrong,” said senior pitcher Clare Doolin, who is heading to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall. “We've had other teams ranked above us that we've seen and said: 'We're better than this. We deserve better.' We keep having to fight to prove it.”
Doolin has done her part.
The ace righhander is 9-2 with a 1.41 ERA while providing the Tigers with a sense of calm from the circle. Against Dedham, she was consistently stoic as teammates around her burst at the seams with energetic chatter late in the game.
"She's been like that her entire career,” Baugher said. “When you have a pitcher who’s really even-keeled and not a lot gets under her skin, it makes the defense a lot more comfortable and confident. I think her demeanor on the mound is just awesome."
Newton North's best performances this season have come against good competition. Wins over Braintree, Framingham, Natick, and Herget Division leader Dedham have given the Tigers hope that they will continue to make noise — loud, enthusiastic, unyielding noise — when the postseason arrives.
"We're trying to show everyone we're here to play," Caruso said. "We're here to win."
They have all the pieces
The Franklin High baseball team learned an important lesson in its 6-2 season-opening loss to Hockomock League rival King Philip Regional.
“That first game against our archrival King Philip, it was like a wake-up call for us,” said coach Dave Niro, whose team advanced to the Division 1 Eastern Mass final last season. “Our guys found out that we can't show up with ‘Franklin’ on our shirts and expect to win the game.”
The Panthers quickly refocused and went on to win their next 12 games, earning a stranglehold on the top spot in the league.
A simple formula sparked the run: pitching plus defense. Ace lefthander Tyler Buck, a senior, settled down after the season-opening loss to move to 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA and 51 strikeouts. Senior Bobby Chaiton was 4-0, , and sophomore righty Marc Mele has been a pleasant surprise by going 4-0 with a microscopic 0.82 ERA.
Junior closer Andrew Skaza, who missed all last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, had five saves on the season, and had yet to allow an earned run.
“We tell our pitchers to pitch to contact,” said Niro, whose team gave up just 2.5 runs per game through 13 games. “That’s the key for us. When you have high school pitchers who can throw strikes, then you’re OK. And I’ve got three.”
Here and there
Milford High's Shannon Smith continues to rack up numbers that border on the incomprehensible. The junior is now 13-0 with 202 strikeouts and just 13 hits allowed in 90 innings. She had not given up an earned run while pitching five no-hitters, including three in a row . . . Want more mind-boggling statistics? Blackstone Valley Regional Tech’s Bella Picard was hitting .879 (29 of 33) with 8 home runs and 27 RBIs last week.Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.