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Around the diamond

New game plan for Milford High

Brian Macchi

Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe/File

Brian Macchi

Brian Macchi wanted to break the news in person, so the group text message he sent to the Milford High softball team was intentionally cryptic.

He asked the players to gather for a meeting on the school’s softball diamond the next day. He had something to tell them.

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After leading the team to back-to-back Division 1 state championships, Macchi had been offered a job as Milford High’s assistant principal, and he was going to take it. Since Milford school administrators do not coach, he would be relinquishing his role with the softball program.

And so, the day after he was offered the job, Macchi met with his players in the Milford dugout — the same spot they had watched fireworks and celebrated their second state title just a few weeks earlier — to explain what was happening.

“It was definitely emotional on both ends,” Macchi recalled in an interview. “And there were definitely some tears. But it was good tears because you know that everybody cared about what we were trying to accomplish, and what we did accomplish.

“But I told them I’m still going to be part of their lives in a different capacity, a different role. And I’m going to be at a majority, if not all, of the games.”

Over the last two years, Milford High’s softball team put together a record of 50-1. In Macchi’s eight-year run as head coach, the team made it to three state title games, and had an overall record of 168-22.

The 1998 Milford High graduate said he had been eying an administrative role in the Milford school system for the last three or four years.

“For me, career-wise, taking that next step, a new challenge, and for my family, it was definitely the right move,” he explained.

Shannon Smith, who graduated from Milford this spring, played for Macchi for four seasons, and won the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award three times for her dominance as the team’s starting pitcher. One of her fondest memories came just after the team won its second state title. Standing on the foul line, Macchi gave Smith a hug and quietly told her how much he admired her as a person and that he would miss her.

“Everyone knew that, even if he was mad at you, he loved you,” Smith said. “He loved all of his players and he genuinely wanted them all to succeed and do well. Every player he’s ever coached in the Milford softball program, I think if you asked anyone, they’ll tell you they all loved him.”

As of last week, athletic director Rich Piergustavo indicated that the search for a new coach has not begun in earnest, but that the school will look for interested candidates internally first.

Both Piergustavo and Macchi, who will also be involved in the search process, hope to find a coach who is familiar with the program or will have a style similar to Macchi’s, in order to provide some level of consistency for the 11 players returning next season.

“The program, whether we get someone who is completely opposite, which we wouldn’t, is going to have Brian’s fingerprints on it for at least a couple more years,” Piergustavo said. “For us to try to get someone who shares those same values and beliefs is only natural.”

Macchi, 34, had three Milford alums on his bench as assistant coaches last spring: his sister, Jenna Macchi (who graduated in 2003), Kristen Morcone (a 2008 graduate), and Andrea Smith (2010), Shannon’s older sister.

Macchi said his sister will not be returning to coach next spring. Smith is scheduled to play as a senior at Framingham State next season.

Milford’s catcher, Taylor LeBrun , heading into her junior year, said she hopes the next coach will take his or her cues from how Macchi handled things, but she understands that change is coming.

“I think the new coach deserves a fair chance,” she said. “I’m open to new things.”

For Macchi, who has been teaching eighth-grade math, next spring will be different. He’ll be watching the softball team — at times, he hopes, with his wife Shelley and daughters Avery, 3, and Emma, 1 — instead of filling out its batting order.

He’s excited for the next chapter, but he will miss not taking his place in the third-base coach’s box.

“Whoever the next coach is,” he said, “will be very lucky.”

Longtime Post 440 coach steps down

After 41 years of coaching baseball in Newton, and 22 years at the helm of American Legion Post 440’s team, Manny Connerney decided to step away.

Post 440 played its final game of the summer when it was eliminated from the District 5 Chairman’s Cup by North Chelmsford, 5-4, on Tuesday.

Even after hip surgery last summer, Connerney, 73, felt as though he was in excellent physical shape. “I weigh the same now as I did in high school,” he said.

The decision gives him more time to be with his wife, Betty, and watch 12-year-old grandson, Jackson , play baseball. He has also noticed what he sees as a precipitous drop in the level of dedication among Legion players — a signal that it was time to walk away.

During his farewell tour this summer, Connerney received well wishes from opposing coaches and umpires. Assistant coach James Greeley , who will take the reins next summer, spent parts of the last few months being reminded what big shoes he has to fill.

Connerney managed with passion even in his final season on the bench. And he always came prepared: Every night he lugged ice and gallon-sized plastic bags to the field in case anyone was hurt.“I did it the right way,” he said.

He will remain involved with Post 440 next summer as its general manager.

Newton team reaches New England finals

With one inning left to play and the state title on the line, the Newton SouthEast Little League baseball team played 20 Questions in its dugout.

It was in the middle of a weather delay, and they were trailing Hanover, 4-2, after the bottom of the fifth inning at the Guy Cammarata Complex in West Roxbury. Newton SouthEast coach John Taft saw the break as an opportunity to put his team at ease, and he turned to the popular guessing game.

“We just got them loose, relaxed, and joking around inside the dugout,” Taft said.

It wasn’t very long before Newton SouthEast completed its latest comeback and won, 5-4, to become state champions.

All summer, Newton SouthEast thrived under pressure. The team went 11-0 in elimination games, and nine were come-from-behind victories.

“We tell them, never give up,” Taft said. “Always believe in your team, and believe in each other. If we can accomplish those things and stay positive, we should be able to come back from anything.”

Behind hard-throwing righty Zeke O’Connell , clutch-hitting catcher Brandon Lee and dynamic 6-foot shortstop Dante Taylor , Newton will attempt to build on its District 10, Section 3, and state championships as the Massachusetts representative in the New England Regional, which opened this weekend in Bristol, Conn.

The team is guaranteed four regional games, and will play its second game at 2 p.m. Sunday against Lincoln, R.I.

Phil Perry can be reached by
e-mail at paperry27@
gmail.com.
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