In mid-March, Joe Ciccarello brought his Revere High softball team into the school gymnasium and pointed to the empty walls.
There were no softball banners.
He asked his players a simple question: What type of legacy do you want to leave here?
Three months later, his players gave Ciccarello an emphatic answer.
The Patriots embarked on an improbable run through the Division 1 state tournament, capturing the program’s first North sectional title while providing inspiration for the city along the way.
Revere eventually fell to a formidable Bridgewater-Raynham squad, 3-1, in the state semifinals Wednesday, but not without a fight.
The Patriots (20-6) led through the first three innings, after scoring the first run the Trojans had allowed in all of their previous four tourney games.
Junior Sabrina Palermo yielded just five hits, but B-R rallied in the middle innings to stave off the pesky Revere squad.
Not a bad finish for a club that many believed had no business playing in the state’s final four.
“I just told them we woke up a sleeping city that’s been napping for 30 years,” Ciccarello said. “It’s monumental. That’s more than just one season; it’s legendary. It’s way bigger than them and they don’t even know it yet.”
Revere’s Cinderella ride was no fluke.
The 10th seed in the North bracket, the Northeastern Conference champions knocked off the second, fourth, and seventh seeds along the way, along with the defending North champ in Central Catholic.
“They’re just tough, hard-nosed city kids that do whatever it takes,” Ciccarello said. “They might not appear from a distance as your prototypical North champs, but they are, and they’re as tough as they get.”
Palermo perfectly exemplifies the meaning of ‘hard-nosed.’
Last week, she pitched through a strep throat and stomach infection.
She gutted out a quarterfinal win over Concord-Carlisle before making a visit to her doctor the following morning.
She was prescribed antibiotics, but did not eat, or drink, anything for two days.
The semifinal, June 6 against Central Catholic, loomed. But despite her continued discomfort, Palermo was determined to pitch.
“She came to see me first thing Friday morning, and she was a puddle,” Ciccarello recalled of Palermo’s sluggish appearance.
“I told him I’m set on finishing every inning of every game,” recalled Palermo. “You lose and you’re done. . . . That’s all I needed to keep me going.”
Before the game, Ciccarello showed Palermo footage of Michael Jordan’s infamous ‘flu game’ in the 1997 NBA Finals, when he dropped 38 points in a win.
Palermo did her best impression, throwing an eight-inning shutout with 11 strikeouts, while religiously getting iced down and chugging Gatorade between each inning.
She visited her doctor the following day for a higher dosage of meds.
In the North final against Newton North the next day, it was business as usual — she struck out nine in another complete-game shutout.
“That girl can break both of her legs and still try to get up on the mound,” said senior Noelle MacDonald . “She’ll pitch through anything.”
Palermo finished the season with 240-plus strikeouts, surpassing 500 for her career, and fired her second career no-hitter.
“She’s on another planet,” Ciccarello said of Palermo. “That’s what makes her so good.”
Senior captain Logan DiCarlo emphasized how her team “is just made out of a lot of grit.”
MacDonald acknowledged that the players take pride in their stubbornness and loose style of play. It was their identity.
“With them, it’s ‘we play softball, you play softball,’ ” Ciccarello said. “You tighten your cleats, we tie ours. We don’t care where you come from; let’s play ball.”
A new sign — purchased by former captain Jackie Noel — hangs in the Patriots’ practice field dugout. It reads “Believe” in big blue letters.
It’s the rallying cry Revere preached all season. Palermo called it their “go-to motto.”
It will remain hanging next spring when the Patriots aim to replicate their magical run.
Those gym walls, empty three months ago, will now be adorned with a pair of new banners: NEC and Division 1 North Champions.
“We left that day set on being the team with a legacy,” Ciccarello said. “We did more than that. We made a name for ourselves and the city.”
A tough choice to make
Standing on the mound last Saturday in New York, North East Baseball Mud Hens pitcher Chris Murphy glanced toward the stands. He saw his mother, Sue , talking on the phone.
She wanted to “jump and scream” after hanging up, but stayed quiet while her son went to work in his summer league tournament game.
He struck out the last batter and trotted to the dugout, anticipating good news.
The recent Billerica High graduate, a senior righthander, had been drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round (864th pick overall) of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.
“It’s a dream come true,” Murphy said last week.
“Ever since I picked up a ball and a bat, I always wanted to play professional baseball. . . . And now I have that opportunity.”
Murphy, the Merrimack Valley Conference co-MVP (6-1 record, 88 Ks, 1.32 ERA), is the third player from Billerica High to be drafted, joining Tom Glavine and Mike Mastrullo .
“I had no idea this could happen at the beginning of the year,” he said. “It’s really an honor to be in that category with those great guys.”
Now he has a decision to make: Sign with the Blue Jays or honor his commitment to the University of Maine.
“I have two great options, so it’s a tough decision,” Murphy said. “We’ll make it as a family.”
Toronto sent area scouts and cross-checkers to a couple of Murphy’s games this spring.
“The kid throws the ball through the wall,” Billerica coach Joe Higgins said. “He’s got tremendous potential.”
Last season, Murphy anchored the Indians’ improbable run to the Division 1 North title — the program’s most successful tourney stint since Glavine’s 1983 state title team.
“Overall, I had a great high school career,” Murphy added. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Loath to leave it all behind
North Reading’s 2-1 loss to Bellingham on Tuesday in the Division 3 state semifinals ended the storied career of head coach Frank Carey .
Carey retires as the state’s winningest high school baseball coach, with 736 wins in 47 seasons in the varsity dugout.
“After all the years, it really doesn’t hit you until the next year,” Carey said. “It went by so incredibly fast, it’s like a blur.
“Some people can’t wait for the day they retire,” he added. “Not me. That says a lot about how much I enjoyed my job. . . . It’s been a dream.”