Belmont Hill came into the baseball season with just two returning starters. The team now finds itself in a four-way battle for the ISL title with Governor’s Academy, Rivers, and BB&N after its 8-0 victory over Rivers Saturday.
“I can’t say I expected to be here but we’re happy to be here,” said Belmont Hill coach Mike Grant.
Keelan Smithers is the lone holdover in the starting rotation and is just one of eight seniors on the 21-man roster. Inexperience has not hurt Belmont Hill this year, however, as the team owns a 9-2 record and is allowing fewer than three runs per contest.
“It’s an interesting group. We graduated so many position players last year and I’m impressed with some of the upperclassmen stepping up. We’ve had guys waiting in the wings that we thought could perform and they have performed,” said Grant.
Grant preaches grinding out at-bats and smart defensive play, a philosophy that came in handy during Belmont Hill’s toughest stretch. The team faced St. Sebastian’s, Milton Academy, and Lawrence Academy, going 3-0.
“We had a really hard stretch in the middle of the season and we were able to get on a run,” said Grant. “Any time you beat [those teams], it’s big.”
Grant’s team has given up more than five runs only once, an 11-8 road victory over St. Sebastian’s.
Smithers has anchored the pitching staff and Grant believes the Princeton-bound hurler is one of the best in the ISL.
“There are many good arms in the league, and he’s one of the best,” Grant said. “You just know you’re going to get a quality start from him every time he goes out. It’s hard to string hits against him because he gets a lot of strikeouts. It’s important for us that he’s so consistent because you know he’s going to get the ball over the plate and not give up a ton of walks.”
Nolan Brennan, Graham Stack, and closer Danny Kelly also have given Belmont Hill quality innings this year.
“Graham just pounds the strike zone. Nolan’s stepped up and gotten better and better for us. It’s been great to have Nolan, Graham, and Danny step up after not having thrown a lot of innings last year. They’ve just made our season go,” said Grant.
Belmont Hill has been involved in some tight contests, with five games decided by three runs or fewer. While the pitching has been key, so have batters such as shortstop Harry Roberson.
“He’s a junior captain and that’s something you don’t usually see at Belmont Hill,” said Grant.
“We talk so much about grinding out at-bats and he models that the most for us. He’s sort of our mental center. Position-wise, he’s the guy everybody looks [to] and I’d be hard pressed to find someone better. He’s a gamer and he compete’s every at-bat. He’s the center of our whole team.”
Belmont Hill will need leadership from Smithers and Roberson as it chases the ISL title. But that doesn’t mean the team is getting too ahead of itself.
“Our team mantra is one pitch at a time,” said Grant. “We’re only focusing on the next pitch and the next inning. If you look to far ahead on the horizon, you generally stumble. Our most important opponent is our next one. We’re just going to grind in day in and day out.
ISL Games of the Week
Belmont Hill at Groton, Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. — Belmont Hill needs a win to keep atop the league. Groton hopes to play spoiler, and with a 7-4 league mark the Zebras are still a threat.
Governor’s Academy at Nobles, Wednesday, 3:15 p.m. — The Govs, who have won four of their last five ISL games, cannot take 4-8 Nobles lightly if they want to stay tied for first.
Rivers at Lawrence Academy, Wednesday, 3:45 p.m. — Rivers will need to have a big day after Saturday’s 8-0 loss to Belmont Hill. The Red Wings have arguably the toughest game of the day between all the teams tied for first. Lawrence Academy is still alive for the league title at 7-3.
Alex Hall is a high school sports correspondent for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.