Jack Connolly had heard about the pitcher from Raynham. Andrew Noviello knew about the pitcher from Bridgewater. And John Kearney, the varsity baseball coach at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School, knew about both young pitchers.
“Ever since I was in Little League,” Connolly said during a break of a practice session on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s always been Noviello from Raynham and Connolly from Bridgewater. I couldn’t wait to get to high school with him.”
Now, the whole state knows about the pair of hurlers after they helped the Trojans win the Division 1 state title as sophomores.
“People would get into the batter’s box and say, ‘Where is this kid going next year?’ ” senior catcher Joe Freiday remembered. “I’d say, ‘He’s just a sophomore.’ ”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” opponents responded.
The scary part for those opponents: Noviello, a University of Maine recruit, and Connolly, who is headed to the University of Notre Dame in two years, might be even better this season.
Last season, Noviello relied on velocity to overcome questionable location, while Connolly relied on a bevy of pitches rather than any one overpowering option. Now, Noviello has much more control, and Connolly is nearing 90 miles per hour on his fastball, according to Freiday.
Connolly was excited to finally work out in the offseason, the first year he was deemed old enough. He spent the time getting stronger with his brother Mike, 22, a minor league pitcher in the San Francisco Giants organization.
Meanwhile, Noviello, training five days per week, said he also has come back stronger, both on the mound and at the plate.
“If I see other kids getting better or working out, I feed off that,” Noviello said. “We each go a little extra — urge each other on.”
Noviello and Connolly became friends early on in high school after hearing about each other growing up.
“We have a lot of similarities,” Noviello said. “We like the same restaurants, the same food, and we throw the same pitches.”
While competition for college offers could have torn them apart last spring, Connolly said it actually brought them closer together.
No player, though, has made a bigger leap than Freiday, who is headed to Virginia Tech on scholarship.
Connolly’s cousin, Freiday and the pitcher grew up “like brothers,” but the catcher-to-be was not much of an athlete.
“I was the short fat kid back in the day,” Freiday said.
“All my life I was like, ‘Hey Joey, want to go play catch?’ ” Connolly recalled, “And he was like, ‘No, let me sit on my Game Boy.’ ”
That changed his freshman year, when Freiday started growing.
Now a sturdy 6-foot-4, 220-pound backstop, he is a potential Major League Baseball prospect.
His development has only helped Connolly and Noviello, who each appreciated their connection with the catcher.
“He always knows what I want to throw,” Connolly said. “It’s awesome.”
The three Division 1 commitments have changed the feeling around the Bridgewater-Raynham program, Kearney said.
“It takes our program to another level when you have D1 players,” he said. “It just creates that atmosphere that the kids know if they are good enough, they’ll have good college programs looking at them.”
With the talented roster he has returning this season, Kearney said his main coaching responsibility is mental.
“My biggest concern has been their focus,” he said. “Kids will say the right things but to actually stay focused and not dwell on other things — the mental part is the biggest obstacle right now.”
For now, players said they were not worried about losing focus as they prepare to embark on a unique title defense.
Yet, the Trojans have higher goals.
Defending their Division 1 crown is fine. But this season, there is a new prize: a Super 8 title in the inaugural season of the new tournament.
“I think it’s going to be way better than the state championships if we make it,” Connolly said. “We can classify as the best team in the state because it comes from three divisions, so that’s what I’m happy about.”
At the same time, the addition of the Super 8 tournament places more importance on regular-season games, because the selection process will involve strength of schedule as criteria.
“We have to make a big impression for the judges,” Noviello said. “That’s what we are going to try to do.”
Kearney added perennial powers Lincoln-Sudbury and Acton-Boxborough to this year’s schedule. The Trojans will face defending Division 2 champion Hingham twice, and there are matchups against Barnstable and Dartmouth.
Before Tuesday’s practice, the Trojans admired a new piece of hardware at their field.
Attached to a barn out past right field hung a sign declaring Bridgewater-Raynham 2013 Division 1 State Champions. Kearney expected it would take longer to hang the sign, but was glad they were able to do it two days before the team’s first game.
Freiday was proud of the sign and the work his team put in to earn the title.
But he also noted the rest of the blank metal siding.
“We got the state championship ring, but now there is something that is that much more important,” he said. “The Super 8 is just in a whole different league.
“We think there is room for a Super 8 banner up there.”Jacob Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Due to an editing error, Jack Connolly’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.