WALPOLE – Billy Mitchell enjoys pressure situations.
In his second at-bat against Bridgewater-Raynham in the Division 1 South final, the Boston College High senior faced a two-strike, one-out setting with teammates on first and second.
“I could feel the pressure,” Mitchell recalled. “Before the pitch, I had to step out and take a breath because I was nervous; my hands were sweating. The pressure kept me going.”
He connected for a line drive RBI single over the shortstop to tie the game at 3-3. Earlier, as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, he had delivered a run-scoring double.
He has strived to deliver in clutch situations since he first played organized baseball after moving to Walpole from Roslindale at age 6.
BC High coach Norm Walsh , however, wasn’t sure initially how much Mitchell would be able to contribute this past season.
“It’s funny,” Walsh said. “He started the year with strep throat all preseason and he was dying for a spot. When he got back from the strep, he had a concussion, so he missed even more time. He missed a good 40 percent of the season.”
According to the coach, after playing catch-up physically, Mitchell was able to return as a dangerous hitter because he didn’t let setbacks upset his mental game.
That approach, along with Mitchell’s passion for the game, attracted the attention of Walpole Post 104 coach Chris Costello. And with Mitchell determined to play summer ball with his friends from town, it was a good fit.
Ralph White, in his 49th year as the manager of Post 104, said the 5-foot-9, 168-pound Mitchell has provided an unexpected boost to his club, largely due to his work ethic.
“That’s the best compliment you can give a guy, is that he’s a gamer,” White said.
“In baseball terms, that means he’s 100 percent into the game every inning. Every play, every at bat, every minute in the field, he’s there.”
Logging time at third base, second, and the outfield, Mitchell is hitting at a .365 clip while also contributing seven stolen bases, nine RBIs, and no errors through 15 games this season for Walpole (12-2-1), the league leader in District 6.
After suiting up for a pair of perennial contenders, BC High and the Grand Slam Samurai, an AAU-based squad out of Taunton, Mitchell is used to playing with high expectations.
His main focus is proving to his friends that he can play ball at an elite level after not seeing as much playing time as he would have liked with the Eagles.
Costello said that he believes Mitchell was a “late bloomer,” but is playing the best baseball of his career with a fire in his belly.
“No question,” Costello said. “He plays hard, and you can see every at-bat that he’s dialed in, wanting to produce, wanting to do the right thing in the right situation. He’s playing the game with a little edge right now.”
White added that that edge often reflects in Mitchell’s demeanor, especially when the spotlight is on him.
“He smiles once in a while, but most of the time his head is totally in the game,” White said. “You want him up when the game’s on the line or there’s a play to be made in the outfield. Under pressure he’s probably one of our top players.”
As a result of improved hitting this year, Mitchell said he feels in the zone at the plate, which has boosted his confidence heading into collegiate play.
Costello sees scrappiness and versatility as the strongest selling points for his utility player at Bridgewater State University next year.
“Competitive desire is a tool as much as throwing and hitting and running,” Costello said. “You see plenty of kids that have the strength and the ability to be dynamite baseball players and just aren’t. He enjoys playing the game, and he’s doing everything in his ability to play it at a high level.”
Mitchell is just trying to follow the lead of his favorite player, former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. “I always wanted to be like him,” Mitchell said. “I remember that game he had on his [29th] birthday with three home runs [July 23, 2002 against Tampa Bay] – just the way he led his team and how he performed on and off the field.”
A delayed steal for the win
In a 7-7 game in the bottom of the ninth inning, Pat Healy was standing 90 feet from home plate, with Brockton Post 35 poised to close out a comeback after clawing its way back from an early 6-0 deficit against Hingham last Saturday.
Time was called after center fielder Matt Guillemette was intentionally walked with one out to set up a possible double play. Coach Dave Seropian told Healey that Post 35 was going to run a delayed steal.
“I didn’t plan on scoring,” Healy said.
He took off from third and slid head first, dodging an initial tag attempt only to look up and see no call. Flopping back the other direction, he stretched his arm to touch the dusty plate, and the home bench rushed the field after the thrilling 8-7 extra-inning win.
Seropian said in his 27 years of coaching he had never seen a walk-off play in which the runner crossed home plate twice.
“We didn’t execute [the delayed steal] well,” Seropian said. “We got a break and just an awesome win for the program. That’s a very good baseball team; I have so much respect for Hingham. . . . They play the game hard and it’s great for these kids.”
Through Tuesday, Brockton Post 35 (9-3) was in second place in District 10 after going 2-2 through its first four games.
Hingham pitcher in All-Star Game
American Legion District 10 baseball will host its second annual All-Star Game Monday night (7) at McKeon Park in Hyannis.
Hingham Post 120 pitcher John Carlson was unanimously voted into the game by his teammates before making his first Legion appearance this year, an 8-7 loss to Brockton Post 35.
Coach Vin Murray said Carlson was a “superstar” in the state tournament and that his teammates think highly of him.
“Really the top player,” he said. “He pitched seven or eight innings in relief, won three of the state tournament games for Hingham, and also had a couple of game-winning base hits.
Walpole grad is a standout
Recent Walpole High graduate Johnny Adams is making quite an impression in his first season suiting up in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. The Boston College-bound shortstop leads the Nashua Silver Knights in triples and home runs, including a three-run blast Tuesday night against The Dirt Dawgs for a 3-2 win. The 6-foot, 170-pound Adams, a senior captain at Walpole High this spring, is hitting .278 through 14 games.