Upon his hiring as baseball coach at Merrimack in October 2010, Jim Martin noted the presence of a freshman third baseman, Eddie Newton , on the roster.
Martin needed a shortstop.
“When I inherited the team, he was the best guy for the spot,” Martin said of Newton, a two-time Catholic Central All-Star at Arlington Catholic, playing the hot corner, not shortstop
“His work ethic really showed.”
So the freshman from Billerica appeared in 34 games at short. Last season he made 46 starts back at third after winning the position 15 games into the season, according to Martin.
In his third season, Newton is firmly entrenched at the hot corner and is a key cog for a Warriors squad that is putting together a turnaround season. He struggled (.143 average) at the plate as a freshman, but improved steadily (.261) as a sophomore. This season, he has emerged as a catalyst — hitting at a .374 clip in Merrimack’s 18-9 (9-4 NE-10) start, which ranks fourth overall in the Northeast-10 Conference.
“He’s made tremendous strides each and every year,” Martin said. “He’s really doing well all around, driving guys in and stealing bases. The biggest thing is he’s adjusted mechanically and is an intelligent player who is very knowledgeable of the game.”
The Warriors dropped their third straight game with a 3-1 loss to University of Massachusetts Lowell on Wednesday, but Newton has continued to be a consistent, productive presence at the plate.
“Up to this point, he has consistent at bats and hasn’t gone through a long streak of not having a quality at-bat, and his experience shows,” said Martin.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-handed hitter, who has played all but one game this season, has hit safely in the last nine games.
“I think always having a plan up at the plate and in the field helps,” said Newton, who has delivered nine RBIs and scored 19 runs. “Expecting everything that can come your way made me focus a lot harder. Sometimes, you get down and think it’s not going the right way for you and it can be mentally exhausting — the previous years have been tough.”
With help from Martin, Newton said he takes a more even-keeled approach. In the offseason, he also tweaked his stance to more effectively time the delivery of opposing pitchers to the plate.
“Coach always reiterates going back to the basics and he hammered home the fact that you always have to focus on the next thing,” said Martin. “It’s a huge adjustment [from high school]. It’s better competition and you’re playing with men — everyone who takes it more seriously.”
In the field, the transition from short back to third base was rather seamless for Newton. He had played both at Arlington Catholic, and he did not have a preference
“As long as I can make myself one of the nine on the field, I’d play anywhere,” Newton said. “I think it’s good to have consistency knowing every day you have to work hard to make sure you can do the best for your team — it’s a little extra added motivation.”
At the start of the season, Newton even opted to play first base when an illness sidelined freshman Matt Brown for seven games during the annual spring trip to Florida.
As the Warriors embark on the second half of their season, they are in search of their first regular season conference championship since 1999.
In Martin’s first two seasons, the Warriors were 31-60 overall. But they’re now poised to challenge Franklin Pierce (22-10, 12-1) for the top spot in the conference.
“We just need to keep playing well and staying with the process of not getting too high or too low,” Martin said. “We’re in a situation where we’ve worked hard and had a lot of success, so we’re just trying to stay with it.”
At Norwich University, the nation’s first military academy, the schedule is rather demanding.
Abby Belcher missed the final two games of last season, a pair of losses in the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference softball tourney, for basic training.
This season, the Winthrop High graduate intends to be in the lineup until the end as Norwich (19-4 overall, 14-0 GNAC) make a push for the conference title.
Her bat certainly is a difference maker. A junior shortstop/catcher enlisted in the Army ROTC and the National Guard, Belcher hit .696 (16 for 23) in a 6-0 run for the Cadets to earn Player of the Week honors in the conference.
Through Thursday, Belcher (.561) was leading the conference in hitting — ranking sixth in Division 3 — while also pacing the GNAC in runs scored (41), hits (46), and home runs (six).
“In past years, I’ve been a little nervous,” said Belcher, who will be commissioned as a second lieutenant when she graduates.
“Our team dynamic has helped a lot and the team gives me all the confidence.”
Belcher is up at 5:15 every morning for a physical training session at 5:30, and then attends formation before going to class. On game days, she is excused from training, but if she is in a leadership position that week, it is mandatory.
Despite the rigid schedule, she has managed to lead the country with two runs scored per game, and her .976 slugging percentage leads the conference.
“From freshman year, you get sideswiped because you miss a lot of class and have a lot of things going on,” Belcher said. “But I’ve gotten more comfortable and know how to balance things. I can’t wait for the playoffs, because I felt horrible leaving the team [last season].”
Senior guard Allen Williamson of Saugus averaged 17.5 points and eight rebounds in Amherst College’s march to the Division 3 national championship. The 6-foot-4 Pingree School grad netted 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 52-44 semifinal win over North Central and then connected for 18 points and 6 boards in the championship game last Sunday in Atlanta, an 87-70 victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Lord Jeffs finished 30-2 under Andover native Dave Hixon. . . . Salem State senior second baseman Kevin Salines of Melrose earned MASCAC Player of the Week honors after batting .591 (13 for 22) with three doubles, five runs, and five RBIs. Salines sparked the Vikings on a 4-1 week and had three RBIs in a sweep at Massachusetts Maritime. . . . Chelmsford’s Alec Tiche passed a milestone at St. Michael’s College with a single against Saint Anselm April 9. With the hit, he surpassed the 100-hit plateau, becoming the eighth player and first junior to do so in program history.Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.