By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Region – St. John’s High baseball has long been synonymous with winning baseball and the squad’s fast start to the 2016 season has done nothing to dispel its reputation as one of the area’s finest.
Competing in the state’s highest division, the program has won three state championships. Since 1990, the Pioneers have captured 19 league championships and eight district championships.
In 2015, it was a berth in the coveted Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Super 8 baseball tournament and an overall impressive 16-8 record. And now with 2016 well under way, the team has a 5-1 record with the team’s only loss, a 2-1 extra-inning defeat at the hands of Pope Francis High. They sit atop Central Mass polling and are the team to beat following a 13-1 drubbing of Worcester’s Doherty High School April 19.
So just why is Pioneer baseball so successful?
“We get great kids from great families. We have a tradition of success,” explained veteran head coach Charlie Eppinger, who is assisted by Brett Ford, Ed Shoro, Jim Ritchie, Tom Feraco and William O’Connor. It’s real easy to coach here because we have good kids raised well by their parents. They love baseball. They’re dedicated to it.
“The other thing we try to take advantage of is the kids compete with each other, not so much against each other. A lot of schools have 10 great baseball players but we’re lucky to have 16. They bring out the best in each other with that competition.”
The outcome versus Doherty was never in jeopardy as St. John’s plated a single run in the first when Jack Gardner belted the first of his three doubles on the day and later scored on an infield groundout. The team would add three more in the third, enough to put this one away as it would turn out. Jake Rosen led off as a hit batsman, stole second and scored on an Ian Seymour single. Seymour would come across on a Sam Shaw RBI double to left before Gardner smacked another double, this one scoring Shaw.
The fifth inning would see seven more Pioneers cross the plate with Tim Cassidy, Rosen, David Turco, Seymour, Jack Fields and Gardner smacking base bits. Patrick Galvin would double and score in the seventh, rounding out the offensive surge for St. John’s.
Meanwhile, junior Parker Browne, making his first career varsity start, tossed six innings yielding just a single run on five hits before Matt Stansky laid down the side to end it in the seventh.
“Parker Browne did a great job for us,” said Eppinger. “I thought he threw strikes and hit his spots. We didn’t break through until later in the game so Parker really did what he needed to do to make sure there was no doubt about the outcome.”
“My teammates give me a lot of confidence when I’m on the mound because if I can get a lot of run support, it helps,” said Browne who mixed fastball and slider with success. “And if I can pitch to contact and know that my defense is going to consistently get me outs, that takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders.”
This is a team with many extraordinary attributes but the most highly regarded by Eppinger is a luxury that many competitors this season do not possess.
“I really like the versatility on this team,” he said. “Parker Browne can play all nine positions. There’s a lot of kids here who play multiple positions. We have just 16 kids on the roster but we can do it because so many kids can play different positions. It’s a smaller roster but it has kind of a close-knit feel because they have to complement each other.”
And getting off to such a fast start with still a lengthy slate of games to play? All good, say senior co-captains Derek Lefebvre, Rosen and Shaw.
“We lost to Pope Francis yesterday and so this was a really big win for us,” said Lefebvre. “It’s a short season but it goes by quickly so it’s good to get off to a quick start as we have.”
“Our goal is to get to the Super 8 final and win that so that’s what we’re focusing on doing,” added Rosen. “Getting off to a fast start builds confidence and camaraderie on the team. It’s definitely good. We know what we need to do game in and game out so we have to work hard and play together and we’ll be fine.”