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Buitkus a leader on Salem State bases

Buitkus a leader on Salem State bases

Steve Buitkus had turned in a stellar season, batting .340 while pacing the Salem State baseball team with 42 runs scored. The Reading High graduate was a first team all-conference pick in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, but the 2012 season was soured with a 10-1 loss to Bridgewater State in the championship game of the MASCAC tourney.

“We all took that loss and built upon that and saw what we wanted to achieve,” recalled the senior outfielder. “We used that as motivation to get us where we are now.”

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What he wanted to achieve was a conference championship and a bid to the NCAA Division 3 tournament.

Buitkus returned to the leadoff spot this spring, batted .308 with a conference-best 39 runs scored, capturing MASCAC Player of the Year honors.

In this year’s MASCAC final, he sparked Salem State to a 5-0 win over Westfield State with two hits, two stolen bases and a run scored, punching a ticket to the NCAA tourney. Salem State (25-15) lost its first-round matchup against Wheaton, 5-3, Wednesday, and then was eliminated with a 7-5 setback to St. Joseph’s of Maine on Thursday.

A pair of newcomers have also made their mark for the Vikings.

Triton Regional graduate Richard Fecteau of Newbury put together a stellar freshman season, hitting a robust .369 with 24 RBIs to earn Rookie of the Year honors in the MASCAC — all while managing a transition from shortstop to third base.

“He did a super job, and really came on as a first-year guy,” said Salem State coach Mike Ward . “He came in and stepped up to opportunities as a freshman. He really worked hard to learn the position at [third base].”

Ward has also done quite well in his inaugural campaign at the helm. He served as associate head coach under iconic skipper Ken Perrone , who retired in 2012 after a 30-year run at Salem State. In his first year, Ward was chosen the conference’s Coach of the Year.

“It’s always nice to be respected by your peers, I was really honored,” said Ward, who hit .340 as a middle infielder when he played for Tufts University. As the head coach at Salem High from 2003 to 2008, he guided the Witches to three Northeastern Conference championships.

From the start, Ward has preached an aggressive offensive attitude and stealing bases, and the team took to it, especially Buitkus, who has 17 swipes in 18 attempts. “He really is the classic table-setter for us,” Ward said. “As a leadoff man, he really brings a lot of energy. He’s dangerous once he gets on base.”

Buitkus, who transferred to Salem State from Merrimack College in pursuit of a degree in fire science administration, won the starting job in right field as a sophomore and often hit seventh or eighth in the lineup.

But he was shifted to the leadoff spot last year and developed a keen eye, one that often forced opposing pitchers to fumble through their repertoires in a desperate effort to get him out.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Buitkus said he looks for better pitches, and his mindset is, “to get on base and be the best I can.”

Once Buitkus reaches base, he wreaks havoc for opposing catchers. “I kind of do my best to get a good count to run in, or on off-speed pitches,” Buitkus said. “I’m not super fast, but I try to be smart and get a good jump.”

Wahome strategy pays off for Bridgewater

The 10,000-meter race is grueling — 6.2 miles, or 25 laps around an outdoor track. Bridgewater State senior Stephen Wahome has mastered his strategy for managing the race.

“I try to break it up into two sessions,” said the Lowell High graduate. “The first 5K, I try to get as comfortable as I can while being in the lead pack. In the last 5K, I get up front and keep working and in the last 800 meters, I try to put on the gears and go for the win or compete with the top pack.”

Last Saturday, Wahome deployed his strategy, overtaking Bryan Wilcox from host Stonehill in the last 300 meters for first place at the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association (NEICAAA) Championship in 31:56.89. The 5-foot-8, 140-pound senior set the school record in the 10,000 (31:17.02), last year.

Wahome said it takes almost a week to recover from a 10,000-meter race, but after winning at the NEICAAA’s, he suppressed the pain and tightness to run the second leg of the 4x800-meter relay later. In his final college meet, he placed eighth (32:11.0) in the ECAC Division 3 Championships Thursday at Springfield College.

Wahome, who has accepted a job as a client consultant at Wells Fargo in Boston, said he is looking forward to letting his body rest after an arduous four seasons.

Summer games signups

Registration is open for the 2013 Bay State Summer Games, which will be held Friday, July 5, through Sunday, July 21. Student athletes are also eligible to receive a college scholarship (deadline is Wednesday, June 12). For sport, registration and scholarship information visit BayStateGames.org.

Anthony Gulizia can be reached at gulizia.ant@gmail.com.
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