BROCKTON — Matt Stone arrived as the varsity baseball coach at Lowell Catholic last season and immediately went to work.
A Lowell High School product who went on to play at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, he had learned the game inside and out from all of his coaches along the way. A bit unorthodox, he was inspired to create his own style. After five seasons at the helm at Pelham (N.H.) High, he inherited a junior-heavy squad at Lowell Catholic.
One of those juniors, shortstop Craig Maxfield , rose up and stood out in a system in which a leadership role was anyone’s to grab.
For starters, Stone does not believe in captains.
“I’ve never named captains; I like to let captains emerge,” said Stone, now 33-12 in two seasons after piloting the Crusaders (19-5) to a thrilling 1-0 walkoff win over Pope John Paul II in the Division 4 state final Wednesday at Campanelli Stadium, the program’s first championship.
“I feel it takes a lot of pressure off of the kids. Say he had a bad day — maybe a tough test in class — he needs a day off from being captain. It lets someone else step in. We call it our go-to guy. There’s usually one or two [players] that stand out, but they don’t have to do it every day.”
Stone also makes his tryouts very personal.
When a player is cut, he tells the player the reason; likewise for a player who makes the cut.
If a senior is slacking, that player will sit until he addresses the aspect of the game that needs work. A junior varsity player on the cusp of a call-up to varsity will know exactly what he needs to work on to earn a spot.
Maxfield has started at shortstop since day one his freshman season, a player certainly deserving of earning a captain’s “C.”
But it was never an issue with him.
In fact, while Stone said that every player had the opportunity to step up this season — and had taken advantage of the opportunity — if he had to name a captain, Maxfield would have been the player.
Take Lowell Catholic’s Division 4 North semifinal game against Georgetown — a squad that had knocked the Crusaders out of the tournament each of the past two seasons. In the seventh inning, with Lowell Catholic holding a three-run cushion, the Royals put runners on first and second.
Stone surveyed the field and reminded his outfielders to calmly focus and hit the cutoff man, not allowing the batter to reach second base on a potential double.
As he started, Maxfield waved him off — the 5-foot-10 shortstop was locked in and assured that his teammates were too.
“Usually high school kids in that emotional state need to be reminded of the situation,” said Stone. Maxfield “doesn’t panic. He knows. He keeps his cool.”
But that’s what you would expect from the Catholic Central League Small Division Most Valuable Player, who was directly responsible for 63 runs this season. He delivered a team-leading 31 RBIs, and his 27 runs scored were the team's second-highest total. He also banged out 36 hits — including 10 doubles and a triple — and had 12 walks, good for an eye-popping 1.347 OPS.
Maxfield said he has enjoyed playing for Stone.
“I do like the style, although it’s unorthodox,” he said. “You have a whole core of guys leading the team, not just one or two. He’s a great coach. He’s carried us and has done a great job. We can’t take all the credit; he’s had a lot to do with where we are. He’s never lost his cool. He knows the game and what he’s doing, [a] big reason we’re where we are.”
And, like a captain should, the Merrimack College-bound Maxfield never takes the credit.
If he had to name an MVP, it would be senior pitcher Liam Coughlin .
The 6-foot-1 Brandeis University recruit gave up just four runs in a postseason that included a 3-0 no-hitter against Matignon in the first round, followed by a 3-1 win over Georgetown a few days later. Coughlin yielded nine earned runs (and 20 total) all season, good for an incredible 1.26 ERA and an even better 0.84 WHIP.
In addition to the state title, Maxfield was able to share a special moment this season that really hit home. His younger brother, Eric , a freshman, was called up to the varsity late in the season to add depth to the roster. He, like Craig, plays shortstop, and pitches. The two had never played on the same team before. But in the regular-season finale, against St. Joseph’s Prep, Stone started Eric at second so that he could play alongside his older brother.
“I expect so much from him because he’s my brother, and there will be lots of great things to come from him,” said the elder Maxfield. “It was a special few innings we had together.”
And they were both in uniform for the state championship game, in which senior designated hitter Alex Larmand provided the game’s only run, lacing a single to right field to plate Chris Underwood .
Here and there
The Burlington High girls’ softball team earned its second trip to the Division 2 state final in three years. But the road was far from smooth. In the North final against Tewksbury, the Red Devils were comfortably on top, 6-2, entering the seventh inning. The Redmen rallied, however, cutting the margin to one run, 6-5, with the tying run at third. But hurler Kelly McCarthy worked out of the jam, propelling Burlington to the state semis. On Wednesday, the Red Devils stopped Bishop Stang, 4-3, to advance to the final against the winner of Friday’s Grafton-Wahconah game. . . .
The Billerica baseball team captured its first Division 1 North crown since former major leaguer Tommy Glavine suited up for the Indians. But the run ended with a 5-2 loss to Bridgewater-Raynham in the state semifinals. . . .
Central Catholic softball (3-0 loss to Milford), Whittier baseball (10-1 loss to Middleborough), and Masconomet Regional (2-1 loss to Hingham) were eliminated in the state semis.
Pat Bradley can be reached at email@example.com.