PLYMOUTH — A few games into their final season on the diamond at Plymouth North, David Murphy and Ryan Moskos , a pair of senior captains, were not satisfied with the Eagles’ start.
North won its first four games over the course of a week, but the offense, renowned for outslugging foes in the past under 19-year coach Dwayne Follette , was not overpowering.
And the pitching, a huge question mark coming into the season, was a more pleasant surprise, allowing just five runs in four games.
“After the first games, seeing how everything folded out, we definitely found out we weren’t the team we thought we were heading into the season,” Murphy said.
“We definitely thought we were going to overpower people. We thought we were going to be a home run-hitting team.
“But we worked around that and we’re doing well. We’re finding ways to win.”
With an offense that has gone yard four times this season and a pitching staff that had thrown a combined four innings before this season, Plymouth North has found ways to win.
With a 5-2 victory over Plymouth South Wednesday afternoon, North improved to 12-4, clinching at least a share of another Atlantic Coast League crown.
“We make games a little too close for ourselves and we have to find our way out of it. We’ve been doing that successfully, and a W is a W,” Murphy said, noting that North plays quite a bit of “small ball.”
“Scrappy. We’re that type of team, definitely. That’s how we look at ourselves.”
The scrap and grit starts with Moskos, who uses his blazing speed at the top of the lineup. He has stolen 27 bases in as many tries this season; Follette said the 5-foot-8, 150-pound center fielder has not been caught in more than 50 attempts the last three seasons.
“Once I get on, I know I have potential to make a double out of it,” said Moskos, a .291 hitter who has an on-base percentage of .400. “If I get a good enough read from second base, I know I can steal third. That calculates to offense.”
With Murphy batting a team-high .408 with 21 RBIs, and senior captain/catcher Jake Prifti (.341) lining up behind Moskos, the Eagles’ lineup is a bit top-heavy. The top two hitters, Moskos and senior Corey Boudreau , have scored more than a third of the team’s runs.
But if the offense scuffles at times — it averages five runs per game and has reached double digits just once — Follette said the pitching has been what carries his team.
“I thought pitching was going to be one of our weaknesses going into the season, but it’s actually been one of our strengths,” Moskos agreed.
“And with us not hitting how we expected, they’re keeping us in games.”
As a unit, the hurlers allow 3.4 runs per game. Junior Brian Christian (6-1) has earned the “ace” label from Follette with his 1.88 ERA and 12.7 K/9 rate, though junior Kenny Drew (1.88 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) and freshman Kyle Mann (0.83 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) have also performed well. Senior captain Zach O’Reilly has been solid when called upon, allowing five runs in 9⅔ innings. All four are righthanders.
“I knew they were good,” Follette said. “I just didn’t know what they were going to give us . . . [but] we generally have a good pitcher on the mound all the time.” The coach was not on the bench for first five games of the season, suspended for a violation of MIAA rules regarding consumption of tobacco or alcohol by athletes or coaches, stemming from a team party following a loss to South Hadley in the Division 2 state final last June. Assistant Pat Lamb ran the team in his absence.
With the lack of power, and the increased importance of small ball and the talk of being gritty and scrappy, the Eagles might profile as an underdog.
History says, though, they are anything but.
Follette has guided his crew to the Division 2 South sectional title four out of the last five years. The lone year the Eagles didn’t get that far — 2010, when the current seniors were freshmen — they advanced to the sectional final. That half-decade run includes a 2011 state title team featuring Murphy as the starting shortstop and Moskos as a pinch runner, and a loss to South Hadley in last year’s state final.
The two cited the 2012 team, which went 13-7 in the regular season, in discussing how “things just really seem to click,” as Moskos put it, when the Eagles need them to most.
“Come playoffs, we tend to be a different team. We step it up and almost play over our heads a little bit,” Murphy said. “We’re good at knowing when to turn it up, too.”
Given the pedigree of success, Follette expects nothing different this season.
“With our margin for error this year, every game is going to be tough,” Follette said. “But our expectations are — and it never changes — to win a state title. We’re not trying to win a sectional title. Our goal is to win the state title.
“The kids have been around it, they saw the success, and they want to do it themselves.”
Lancers’ busy week
The season is a marathon, not a sprint, but for Norton High softball, this week might feel like the latter. The Lancers (13-2) will play four games in five days — including back-to-back contests against Hopkinton and Bellingham, the only teams to beat them — to cap the regular season.
Coach Brian Clemmey isn’t worried, though.
“Toward this point in the season, it really doesn’t matter,” he said of the heavy workload. “To have a game situation before the tournament comes up is good. I think it’ll be good prep for the talent we’re facing [in the postseason.]”
Junior Jess Pieterson (10-1) will handle pitching much of the week, just as she has all this month (she missed most of April with a bad ankle).
With six girls batting .400 or higher, including Pieterson’s .500 mark, the righthander’s 1.44 ERA mostly stands up.
Clemmey also said this is a good final test before the Lancers start the Division 2 South sectional tournament, their first postseason bid since 2006.
“When I took over last year, I said the biggest thing I wanted to do was . . . get them into the tournament,” Clemmey said. “That’s something these girls are looking forward to.”
The Bridgewater-Raynham baseball and softball teams clinched their Old Colony League titles within minutes of each other Tuesday. Baseball edged Dartmouth, 2-1, while softball blew the Indians out, 12-0. . . . In a rare Sunday game, Abington freshman righthander Katie Donovan no-hit Rockland, the same team she was shaky against April 9.
Tim Healey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@timbhealey.