From the season’s first tryouts for pitchers to the last postgame team bus trip to McDonald’s, Division 1A trophy in tow, it was a triumphant spring for the Newton North baseball team.
Their record was not perfect. They went 23-1 en route to a Super 8 championship win on Monday over Bay State Conference rival Braintree, 6-2.
But for what they wanted to accomplish, their approach was.
“We knew what our goal was once we started,” said catcher Alex Joyce, a senior captain. “We were rattling off wins, and our motto all year was we never had to win the game in front of us. We just had to go out and play our game and play good baseball.”
From the rainy start of the season, they were better than good. In particular, their pitching was on point.
Through the team’s first five games, the staff only gave up one run. Senior pitchers Dylan Sbordone , Tommy Hodgson, and lefty Teddy Rodliff led the Tigers to 10 consecutive wins over Bay State and Catholic Conference lineups alike before a 2-1 loss to Braintree.
After that blemish, Newton North went back to racking up wins, with added help from relievers Curtis Beatrice , Spencer Anderson, and Theo Resnik , who did not give up an earned run in a whopping 32 innings.
Ever since a 1½-mile cool-down run after bullpen workouts at the end of the team’s first tryout, Hodgson said, the pitching staff knew it could be special.
“We were talking about goals for the season and we knew our staff was pretty strong and that we could compete for a state title,” he said. “I think all of us knew we were going to have to step up, and we did. Every pitcher we had we were able to trust to get the job done.”
With a stable of strong arms and a lineup flush with capable hitters, it gave longtime coach Joe Siciliano plenty of options to tinker with once Newton North reached the Division 1A playoffs, and faced the best teams the state had to offer.
The man his players call “Coach Sis” — who captured his first state title in 28 years of coaching — said that playing nine-inning games during the regular season in the Bay State Conference helped his team develop the depth it needed to thrive in the Super 8, where the games were the same length; most other high school baseball leagues in the state play seven innings.
“The key is the pitching, but we’d been going nine innings all year; when we had to mix and match we were used to doing that,” Siciliano said. “Some days, some times during the year, we had three games in four days. It was not something we were not used to doing. I think that was important for us. The other teams, besides Braintree of course, they really were in uncharted waters. We did that all season long.”
Joyce came through with a go-ahead two-run single in the seventh inning Monday, sparking a five-run rally that the Wamps could not overcome.
“There would be nobody else you’d want up there,” said Siciliano. “Even if he struck out, the pitcher would have worked so hard that I think the next guy would have got a hit.”
Fittingly, Joyce found himself at the center of the celebration when Sbordone closed things out by inducing a fly ball that landed in the glove of Joyce’s sophomore brother, Tommy, in left field.
“He was camping under it,” Alex said, “and I just started running out to the mound, threw my glove up in the air and tackled Dylan. It was a great feeling to finally get that feeling of being relieved and let it all out. You could just relax. The stress was gone. It was over and we’d done it. We’d won.”
After about an hour on the field at Brockton Rox Stadium filled with celebrating and picture-taking, the players piled onto the team bus with their coaches and fulfilled what had become something of a tradition during the postseason: a victory meal at McDonald’s, courtesy of Coach Sis.
“They’re killing me on that one,” Siciliano said. “I’ll have to remortgage my house.”
Then he added: “I told myself, ‘It’ll be worth it.’ And of course it was. When you think about it, how many times is this going to happen, you know?”
Tournament a success
The MIAA’s inaugural Division 1A baseball tournament is in the books, and director Don Fredericks could not have been happier with how it went.
“I didn’t see one negative in the whole thing from the start of the selection of the teams right until the final game,” Fredericks said. “It went wonderfully. The site at the Brockton Rox Stadium was just absolutely excellent. The kids were super on all the teams. We had good crowds at all the games. The competition was excellent. I’d have to really reach to find something that I didn’t like about it.”
Fredericks said that the tournament committee — which selected the teams and organized the brackets — will meet again this summer to discuss any potential changes for the second installment of the two-year pilot program. But he did not foresee any major alterations.
His son, Kirk Fredericks , the varsity baseball coach at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional who initially proposed the idea for an elite tourney in the mold of hockey’s Super 8, said the new system accomplished what he hoped it would, creating excitement and encouraging strong competition throughout the year between teams looking to earn an invitation.
Although he would have liked to see Central and Western Mass. teams in the tournament, Kirk Fredericks said, he believes that the committee picked the eight best teams in the state. Other than a possible tweak to the selection process — in which any team receiving a unanimous vote would be moved to the second round of the selection process, as opposed to automatically receiving a bid — the event’s organization and the tournament itself was “everything I imagined,” he said.
Lincoln-Sudbury, the sixth seed, won two games before being eliminated by Braintree.
While Kirk Fredericks said he hopes the tournament will stick, he understands there are many factors that will go into the decision-making process on its future.
“How much did it cost? Did it break even? Did it make money? Did it lose money? If it put a financial burden on the MIAA that could be a negative,” he said. “I don’t hear a lot of the chatter from athletic directors and things like that. I think a lot of information needs to be taken in and discussed. How did the other Division 1 schools feel in their tournament? How did the ADs feel? But from where I’m sitting, I thought it was unbelievable.”
Don Fredericks said that one change he would consider — though he raved about the Brockton venue — would be to hold at least a part of the tournament at Fenway Park.
Big finish for Franklin
For the second straight year, Franklin’s softball team made an unexpectedly deep trip into the Division 1 South bracket.
As the No. 18 seed out of 24 teams, the Panthers (14-10) rolled all the way to the sectional semifinals before falling to North Attleborough, 5-1.
“They knew they could do it, it was just getting over that hurdle,” said coach Kate Fallon . “Once we got over that first one, we had momentum to get over a second one and a third.”
Last season as the No. 11 seed, Franklin also made it to the semifinal before losing to eventual state champ Milford.
This spring, the Panthers were the first team to beat Milford in tournament play in two years when senior pitcher Elizabeth Criscione helped lead them to a 5-4 win in the preliminary round.
Criscione pitched all four tournament games, striking out 16 and compiling a 1.41 ERA to finish the season.
For Fallon, who began coaching at Franklin four years ago and made Criscione a starting pitcher as a freshman, it was a special run.
“It was so nice to see because I’ve had her for four years,” Fallon said of Criscione. “She had her ups and downs like every pitcher. She’d thrown great games, had some tough games. But it was just so nice to see that fire in her eye and that confidence. She went out there and she got it done.”Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.