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Spring Sports Preview

New-look Hampshire League loaded

  • Recorder/File photo<br/>Frontier senior Niko Ames is one of the Hampshire League's premier players and will play multiple infield positions for the Red Hawks in what could be a rebuilding year after last spring's WMass Diviison III championship.

    Recorder/File photo
    Frontier senior Niko Ames is one of the Hampshire League's premier players and will play multiple infield positions for the Red Hawks in what could be a rebuilding year after last spring's WMass Diviison III championship.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>This triple-exposure photo shows Greenfield senior righty Garrett Hudson, who will be one of, if not the top pitcher in the Hampshire League this season. At times, some of his stuff may take on this appearance to batters trying to get a piece as the ball darts or drops or soars through the a part of the strike zone.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    This triple-exposure photo shows Greenfield senior righty Garrett Hudson, who will be one of, if not the top pitcher in the Hampshire League this season. At times, some of his stuff may take on this appearance to batters trying to get a piece as the ball darts or drops or soars through the a part of the strike zone.

  • Recorder/File photo<br/>Frontier senior righthander Ben Ruddock is the most experienced arm remaining on the Red Hawks as the team retools this season following its 2013 WMass Division III championship.

    Recorder/File photo
    Frontier senior righthander Ben Ruddock is the most experienced arm remaining on the Red Hawks as the team retools this season following its 2013 WMass Division III championship.

  • Lorden Field UMass 6/9/13. The Greenfield catcher #12 Jacob Elwell, has a word with the Greenfield's pitcher #9 Garrett Hudson during the Div. II MIAA Baseball Championship game at UMass Lorden Field.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts

    Lorden Field UMass 6/9/13. The Greenfield catcher #12 Jacob Elwell, has a word with the Greenfield's pitcher #9 Garrett Hudson during the Div. II MIAA Baseball Championship game at UMass Lorden Field.
    photo by J. Anthony Roberts

  • Lorden Field UMass 6/9/13. The Greenfield pitcher #9 Garrett Hudson, starts his delivery to the plate in the bottom of the 5th inniong at UMass Lorden Field.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts

    Lorden Field UMass 6/9/13. The Greenfield pitcher #9 Garrett Hudson, starts his delivery to the plate in the bottom of the 5th inniong at UMass Lorden Field.
    photo by J. Anthony Roberts

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Junior Kevin Luippold moves over to shorstop this season for Greenfield High School.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Junior Kevin Luippold moves over to shorstop this season for Greenfield High School.

  • Frontier junior Matt Ackerman (sliding) will start in the outfield this season for the Red Hawks and is also slated as one of the top pitchers on the team.

    Frontier junior Matt Ackerman (sliding) will start in the outfield this season for the Red Hawks and is also slated as one of the top pitchers on the team.

  • Frontier sophomore Brandon Bryant was a suprise star during the Red Hawks' WMass Division III title run last season and is a permanent fixture in the lineup this season where he will play first base and hit in the middle of the lineup.

    Frontier sophomore Brandon Bryant was a suprise star during the Red Hawks' WMass Division III title run last season and is a permanent fixture in the lineup this season where he will play first base and hit in the middle of the lineup.

  • Mahar sophomore Ryan Arsenault returns to third base this season after a strong freshman campaign and should help the Senators finish as one of the top teams in the HL East Division.

    Mahar sophomore Ryan Arsenault returns to third base this season after a strong freshman campaign and should help the Senators finish as one of the top teams in the HL East Division.

  • Mahar junior Drew Patria will look to build on a fantastic sophomore season when he finished with a 2.76 earned run average. He will be the ace of the Mahar staff and try to get the Senators back into the postseason.

    Mahar junior Drew Patria will look to build on a fantastic sophomore season when he finished with a 2.76 earned run average. He will be the ace of the Mahar staff and try to get the Senators back into the postseason.

  • Recorder/File photo<br/>Frontier senior Niko Ames is one of the Hampshire League's premier players and will play multiple infield positions for the Red Hawks in what could be a rebuilding year after last spring's WMass Diviison III championship.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>This triple-exposure photo shows Greenfield senior righty Garrett Hudson, who will be one of, if not the top pitcher in the Hampshire League this season. At times, some of his stuff may take on this appearance to batters trying to get a piece as the ball darts or drops or soars through the a part of the strike zone.
  • Recorder/File photo<br/>Frontier senior righthander Ben Ruddock is the most experienced arm remaining on the Red Hawks as the team retools this season following its 2013 WMass Division III championship.
  • Lorden Field UMass 6/9/13. The Greenfield catcher #12 Jacob Elwell, has a word with the Greenfield's pitcher #9 Garrett Hudson during the Div. II MIAA Baseball Championship game at UMass Lorden Field.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts
  • Lorden Field UMass 6/9/13. The Greenfield pitcher #9 Garrett Hudson, starts his delivery to the plate in the bottom of the 5th inniong at UMass Lorden Field.<br/>photo by J. Anthony Roberts
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Junior Kevin Luippold moves over to shorstop this season for Greenfield High School.
  • Frontier junior Matt Ackerman (sliding) will start in the outfield this season for the Red Hawks and is also slated as one of the top pitchers on the team.
  • Frontier sophomore Brandon Bryant was a suprise star during the Red Hawks' WMass Division III title run last season and is a permanent fixture in the lineup this season where he will play first base and hit in the middle of the lineup.
  • Mahar sophomore Ryan Arsenault returns to third base this season after a strong freshman campaign and should help the Senators finish as one of the top teams in the HL East Division.
  • Mahar junior Drew Patria will look to build on a fantastic sophomore season when he finished with a 2.76 earned run average. He will be the ace of the Mahar staff and try to get the Senators back into the postseason.

The Hampshire League has undergone a major makeover this season.

Long one of western Massachusetts’ top baseball leagues, the HL proved it last spring when two of its nine teams won Western Mass. championships. Greenfield High School won the WMass Division II title, while Frontier Regional School captured the WMass Division III crown.

The league adds three new teams this spring, running the total number of squads in the HL to 12, forcing it to split into two divisions of six. The HL West consists of newcomers Belchertown High School and South Hadley High School joining holdovers Greenfield, Frontier, Hopkins Academy and Turners Falls High School. The HL East includes newcomer Smith Academy along with holdovers Athol High School, Easthampton High School, Mahar Regional School, Mohawk Trail Regional High School and Pioneer Valley Regional School.

The general consensus among HL holdovers is that the new teams are a welcome challenge, although some voiced concern over the fact that the league has now been broken up into two divisions. That included Greenfield coach Tom Suchanek, who, in his 42nd year, is the longest-tenured baseball coach in western Mass.

“I like the fact that we have a couple of good teams coming in but I’m also kind of disappointed that the Hampshire League was broken up,” he said. “And none of the coaches in western Mass. had any input. It was all done by the ADs.”

There is no longer a WMass Division II baseball tournament, as all the former Division II teams are now Division III clubs, while the former Division III teams move to Division IV because the state has gone to four divisions.

This season the HL could very well again provide multiple western Mass. champions. Here’s a closer look at the 12 teams:

HL West

Belchertown (4-17)

Belchertown hopes that a change of leagues is just the start for a new-look program.

Last season was an Orioles disaster, as the team was rocked by the resignation of former coach John Mayo during the middle of the season after an altercation with a parent. The team finished 4-16 in the regular season but qualified for the postseason based on the 70 percent rule, which states that if 70 percent or more of a team’s assigned games are against competition with a higher division, that team needs only to win 50 percent of its games against opponents in its division or lower. The postseason stay was short, as 11th-seeded Athol knocked out the sixth-seeded Orioles, 4-1, in the first round.

The O’s have a new coach in Tony Pierno this season, and he is looking to bring in a new attitude.

“We’re trying to put up a unified front,” he said. “We’re trying to create a program that gets us back to basic fundamentals, things like hustling, focus, hard work and respect. I don’t like to single any one kid out. We really try to teach the fundamentals, and also positivity. We don’t allow negativity at practice.”

Pierno has a stable of nine arms to choose from. Seniors John Aniolowski, Steve Boudreau, Nick Leduc and Aidan O’Brien join juniors Tommy Daley James Kusnierz Jr. and Thomas Masella Jr., and sophomores John Camerota and Bryan Perlak.

Junior Tyler Gladu and sophomore Jonathan Ingram will handle the catching duties, while four players — John Camerota, Joe Camerota, Aniolowski and Masella Jr. — will compete for time at first base. Junior William Aldrich Jr. and senior Louis Tonelli will play second base, Daley and Perlak are at short, and Boudreau, Andrew Davidson and Kusnierz Jr. can each play third.

Leduc and O’Brien will join juniors Jacob Girard, Ian Kozlik and Jacob Mastorakis as outfielders.

Frontier (18-7)

Frontier Regional School won its second WMass Division III title in six years with a wild, 10-inning, 8-7 victory over Smith Academy last spring.

While it was junior Niko Ames who hit the walk-off double in the 10th inning for Frontier, last year’s team was laden with seniors and the Red Hawks come into the season missing eight faces from the squad that hoisted the WMass trophy before falling to Hopedale, 5-1, in the state semifinals.

The good news for Frontier is that it has a talented crop of sophomores invading the varsity roster to fill the voids. On top of that, the team has some very talented holdovers who should help smooth the transition.

One of those seniors is Ames, who was named the top Division III player in western Mass. last season. Ames can do it all and would be one of if not the best catcher, shortstop, second basemen or center fielders in the league, depending on where he was positioned. His baserunning smarts, plate discipline and defense makes him one of the league’s premiere players. Senior Sean Doyle trades in his skis from the winter season for the tools of ignorance and will start behind the plate with Ames as the other option. Those two, along with No. 1 pitcher Ben Ruddock, are the three returning regulars from a year ago, and second-year coach Chuck Holt said that trio has been great in helping bring along the youngsters.

“Those three are super into baseball and it’s like having three coaches on the field,” Holt said.

Ruddock has been a workhorse pitcher since his sophomore season and leads a mostly inexperienced staff. Junior Matt Ackerman is a lefty that made three starts last season, showing flashes of what’s to come. From there, Holt has four sophomores of which a few will have to emerge to fill out the staff. Nate Patterson, Noah Barnes, Nolan Muzyka and Evan Bourque each will get a shot.

Sophomore Brandon Bryant returns to first base after he jumped onboard for last year’s postseason run as a freshman and came up with some pivotal hits. Second base is a battle between sophomore Bailey Powers, freshman Seth Gewanter and Barnes, while Ames will start at short and be backed up by Muzyka. Third base is between Muzyka, Doyle and Gewanter.

Ackerman is back in the outfield, while senior Khalil Taylor saw some time last year but will be a bigger part of the outfield rotation this spring. Barnes and Bourque will also get time in the outfield.

“It’s a very talented sophomored class,” Holt said. “We will be getting to know each other on the fly and see who’s ready and who’s not. It could be an up-and-down season, but it should be a fun season because the guys are excited to be here.”

Greenfield (19-5)

It was a Western Mass. title 21 years in the making.

Greenfield won the WMass Division II crown last season to give the school its first title in baseball since 1992. The Wave, which won the HL regular season title, earned the third seed, and used a pair of electric pitchers and solid defense to march through the bracket, allowing just two runs in three WMass tournament games. Pitcher Garrett Hudson fired a pair of complete-game shutouts, and the team got enough timely hitting to support the best pitcher in the HL.

It was exactly how coach Tom Suchanek would have wanted it. Suchanek, who returns this season for his 42nd stint with the team, is big on pitching and defense, and he said if the team is going to make another run at a title, it’s going to again rely on those two factors.

“You don’t have to be a great hitting team to win games when you have good pitching and defense,” he said.

Greenfield will once again feature the best pitcher in the HL as Hudson returns for his senior season before heading to pitch at Merrimack College next year. The righthander has equal parts control and power, which he showed it off in the WMass title game last season by one-hitting Mt. Greylock Regional High School, 2-0.

The Wave will have to replace his pitching cohort Mike Duclos, who graduated and is pitching for Worcester Polytechnic Institute this season. Duclos and Hudson were perhaps the strongest 1-2 punch in western Mass. If Greenfield is going to make another run in the tournament, it will need another arm to step up. The most likely candidate is senior Drew Barisano, who saw a lot of time last season as the team’s third pitcher. Barisano pitched well but struggled to get run support. He should be a nice No. 2. Senior Connor Eckstrom returns to baseball after not playing since middle school. Eckstrom has the build of a pitcher and could prove to be a huge pickup for the team. Juniors Connor Zabko and Caleb Eagle, and sophomores Axel Vasquez and Owen Schilling all pitched well at the junior varsity level last season and will battle for time on the mound.

“We need to come up with a couple more guys who, when they go out there, they can throw strikes,” Suchanek said. “There’s going to be plenty of innings this year, especially if we get backed up because of the weather.”

Greenfield is missing a total of eight seniors from last year’s team, including a number of high-profile starters. Senior Jake Elwell is back behind the dish and will be backed up by the more-than-capable Andrew Toritto, a sophomore. Taking over for Duclos at first base will be either Schilling or junior Parker Brown, while senior Parker Hickey returns to second. Zach Bartak had been handling the shortstop duties since he was a freshman but has graduated, which leaves the door open for junior Kevin Luippold, who played at third base last season. Hudson will play third when not pitching, while Toritto will back him up. Barisano and senior Jourdan York-Welcome return to the outfield, while Vasquez, Zabko and Eckstrom are each battling for position.

Sophomore Tyler Jacques is an infielder and catcher.

Hopkins (8-11)

Teams better not snooze on Hopkins Academy.

The Golden Hawks hit a mid-season slump last spring before hitting their stride toward the end of the year, but the team fell two wins shy of qualifying for the postseason. Coach Jordan Branson, who was in his first season, said he felt like it had to do with the team acclimating to his style of coaching.

“Honestly, what we were missing last season wasn’t the talent, we were just a team that needed to gel,” he said. “I can tell that we are on the same page this season.”

Hopkins also lost four one-run games, and with many of its top players back this season, the team should be a postseason contender. The Golden Hawks have a number of experienced arms in senior Andrew Omer, junior John Jacques and sophomore Brett Morrison. Omer was the No. 2 last season, while Jacques saw a lot of time in relief. Sophomore Pat Michalak was the ace on the junior-varsity team last year and will move up, while junior Evan Delaney is one of the best baseball players in the HL and can pitch if needed.

Delaney will start at shortstop again this season. He has been the starter there since eighth-grade, and can field and hit. Morrison is another slick fielder and will start at third. Junior Pat Knightly and senior Jacob Kosakowski are vying for time at second, while junior Zach Kelley and seniors Nick Bernard and Austin Brighenti are all in the mix at first base. Sean Quill is gone after catching for the past four years and will be replaced by sophomore Matt Garrand, with Morrison serving as a backup.

Kosakowski, Omer and Jacques are all potential outfielders, while sophomore Zach Yahmen and junior Cole Burdell are both in the mix.

South Hadley (6-15)

As if the HL wasn’t stacked enough, it just added perennial Division II power South Hadley to the mix.

The Tigers move into the HL and could easily jump to the top of the pack. After going 6-14 during the regular season in the now-defunct Suburban League last spring, the Tigers qualified for the postseason and met eventual WMass-champion Greenfield in the first round. Green Wave hurler Garrett Hudson and Tigers’ junior pitcher Joe Ciolek matched wits for eight innings before Greenfield finally got to Ciolek for a run. Ciolek returns this season to lead the staff after posting a 1.78 ERA last season with 45 strikeouts. Seniors Patrick Sears and Nathaniel Flachs will be top pitchers on the team, while classmates Peter Luchini and Alex Ziomek are also in the mix and return to the team. Junior Nick Harris and sophomore Adam Pilachowski are both new to the team but could see time on the mound.

Junior Ryan Klesczynski returns behind the plate this year with senior Chris Zuchowski and junior Brian Bak serving as reserves. Sears will be back at first base and hits in the middle of the lineup, batting .382 last season. Ciolek is likely at second base and hits in the middle of the lineup, while senior Pedro Santiago is back at shortstop for the third season and hit .360 last year. Luchini is likely to start at third base.

Flachs is a three-year starter in center field and hit .328 last year, while Ziomek and junior Liam Medina are both outfielders. Newcomers include utility players Tom Desrochers, Cam Earle and Chris Jarrett.

“Moving to Division III and the newly formed Hampshire League is very exciting for us,” 18-year South Hadley coach Matt Foley said. “We know that Greenfield, Frontier and all the other teams in the league have a great baseball history and we look forward to contributing to making a very competitive league. It will give our team a true test each game as to where we stand within the division. In the past, it has been difficult to truly gauge where we are, as we had played 16 Diviison I games. Although there were advantages to play ‘up,’ I feel that playing within your division will have even more advantages and we are looking forward to the new challenge.”

Turners Falls (14-7)

For the second consecutive season, Turners Falls found itself in the postseason last spring.

The Indians ended an 11-year drought in 2012 and made it two-straight last spring after finishing third in the HL standings. The Indians earned the sixth seed in Division III but suffered a 1-0 upset loss to 11th-seeded Granby High School in the first round. The loss also ended the high school career of 11 senior graduates, leaving the Indians with just a handful of experienced returnees. Despite that, second year coach Jay Liimatainen believes he has plenty of young talent to get the Indians to a third straight postseason.

“We have a lot of kids to replace, but when our 11 seniors took off last spring on their senior trip, I called up pretty much all the guys who make up the team this year and I really liked what I saw,” Liimatainen said.

The Indians have just three seniors and one of them will return behind the plate in Brody Markol, who is full of varsity experience, and with a number of young pitchers, gives the team an anchor to call the balls and strikes and help the battery of arms built on experience and confidence. Markol will also hit in the middle of the order. He will be backed up by junior Tanner Jones.

Another senior is Marcel Ortiz, who will play in the infield, mostly shortstop. Ortiz is likely to hit near the top of the order, possibly even lead off. The third senior is Eric Ferguson, who will see some time pitching and at first base.

The Indians are full of juniors and the pitching staff has three at the top. Tyler Charboneau is the top returnee of the class and will be a horse on the bump, having pitched more innings himself than possibly every other pitcher on the staff put together. Charboneau is both tall and strong and has a live arm, and he will also hit in the middle of the order. Behind him is classmate Nick York, who saw the second most action of any returning pitcher after making a few starts last season. York pitched well in his time on the mound and could develop into a very reliable No. 2 on the team. The third returnee is junior Zach Wright, a lefty who made a couple of appearances but is developing nicely. Joining Ferguson as new arms are sophomores Jalen Sanders, Jay Fritz and Trevor Mankowsky, and freshman lefty Quinn Doyle. Sanders is returning to the sport but has a live arm and is a solid athlete.

The Indians have a lot of new faces all over the field, including a brand new outfield. Junior Trent Bourbeau will take over nicely in center field this season, but the two corners spots in the outfield are still up for grabs as Doyle, Sanders, Mankowsky, Fritz, junior Emmett Turn and senior Melvin Moreno are each fighting for time. Moreno took the last two years off but played for Liimatainen as a JV freshman and is a speedy option near the top of the order. Wright and Ferguson will platoon at first base, while junior Alex Carlisle is battling with Moreno and junior Zach Demars at second. York and Ortiz will both play at shortstop, while York and Charboneau will both see time at third.

HL East

Athol (11-11)

After a four-year postseason hiatus, Athol has quietly put together back-to-back tournament appearances.

The Red Raiders have gone 10-10 during the regular season for the past two years, but once qualifying for the postseason, Athol has been a thorn in opponents’ side. The Red Raiders have knocked out higher-seeded opponents in back-to-back tournaments, beating Greenfield in 2012 before taking out Belchertown last season.

Athol will have its hands full if it is going to make it back to the postseason for a third straight year. Fifth-year head coach Josh Talbot has just four returnees to varsity and will be plugging holes throughout the lineup. The good news for Talbot is that he has a number of experienced arms coming back. Senior Brad Bousquet logged a heavy workload last season and is a strike-throwing machine. Classmate Jerry Parker has a chance to be a difference maker after being used a closer last season due in part to an injury that limited his workload. Sophomore Bryce Melanson, whose brother Dakota was a horse for the Red Raiders over the past three years, is also a hard thrower who hits his spots. Senior Jamie Posk and junior Kevin Hume round out the stable of pitchers.

Talbot said that in Posk he believes he has the best defensive catcher in the HL and the senior will be backed up by junior Jake Lapointe. The first base job is still open with Hume, Lapointe and sophomore Nick Whelpley all in contention. Senior Alex Page will hit leadoff and play second base, with classmate Andrew Poor backing him up. Bousquet is back at shortstop with Parker and Page behind him, while Melanson and sophomore Tyler St. Cyr will both play at third.

Parker returns to center field, while Poor, Lapointe, and sophomores Shawn Smart and Owen King will see outfield time.

“We could finish anywhere this year,” Talbot explained. “We have confidence in ourselves and, as long as we hit our stride, we should do well. But we are thin and inexperienced.”

Easthampton (11-9)

Ed Zuchowski is in his 16th season at Easthampton High School and he hopes that the Eagles can use a mix of leftover talent from last season and a wealth of new blood to get back to the postseason this spring.

Easthampton went 10-8 during the regular season last year, then went 1-1 in the postseason but suffered a 2-1 loss to St. Joseph’s in the quarterfinals of the WMass Division III tourney. The Eagles graduated six seniors from a year ago but have a strong cast of returnees.

Junior Erik Fickett and sophomore Dakota Wheeler are both returning pitchers, as is sophomore Hunter Leveille. Sophomore Brandon Bennett and freshman Anthony Redfern are two newcomers to the staff.

Senior Andrew Lavalley returns to the team and will take over the starting job at catcher with Leveille and freshman Zach Crisafulli backing him up. Junior Jacob Laprade is a newcomer to first base, while senior Nick Grise returns to second base. Sophomore Shy Torres is turning into one of the best players in the HL and will play shortstop and outfield along with Wheeler. Fickett will play third base. Lewis will be in the outfield, while junior Kyle Richard will also see time there.

Mahar (12-10)

Mahar is one of the front-runners to win the HL East this season after going 11-9 last year and returning all but one regular from that team.

After an abysmal 2012 campaign in which the team won just two games, the Senators earned the ninth seed in the WMass Division III tourney last year and knocked off eighth-seeded Ware High School in the first round of the tournament. The Senators then gave top-seeded Monson High School all it could handle in the quarterfinals before falling 9-8 to end the season. Art Billings, in his 10th season (92 career wins in his nine years), said the team will now have a target on its back.

“When you play well the year before, teams come out playing a little harder,” he said. “I saw tremendous improvement in attitude. The guys left from the 2012 team vowed not to let it happen again.”

The Senators only major loss from last year was pitcher Cody Iozzo but the team is stocked and loaded to make another run tourney room. Junior Drew Patria had a big season last year, throwing 45 innings and finishing with a ERA of 2.76. Senior Jake Paul did a lot of catching last year and appeared in just four games as a pitcher but in 24 innings had an ERA of 3.41. Senior Zack Adams was one of the team leaders in innings along with Patria, finishing with 48 innings pitched and a 3.74 ERA. The team has a number of other up-and-coming pitchers, including sophomores Hunter Richardson and Austin Leary. Senior Cody Marshall saw a lot of time on the JV mound last year, while senior Logan Barrett is a middle-relief guy.

The Senators still have a number of young players, including sophomores Jed Richardson and Hunter Richardson. Jed is in a battle along with Adams, Paul and Patria for the starting catching job, although each will see some time at the position. Hunter returns to shortstop and will be backed up by Adams, while Paul returns to first base, and seniors Brendin Woodard and Ryan Murcel are fighting for the job at second. Sophomore Ryan Arsenault will get the nod at third, with Patria serving as the backup.

Barrett will start in center field, with Leary the likely starter in left. Marshall and junior Matt Simmington are in the running for the right-field job.

Mahar will be playing on a brand new infield built in the fall by Billings, who said he hopes it will help his team cut down on errors.

Mohawk (8-12)

Sure, it’s been three years since Mohawk has made it to postseason play, but this year’s team doesn’t want to hear about it.

The Warriors have a number of talented young players who’ve been developing together for years, and this season the Warriors are full of seniors and juniors looking to put an end to the streak.

Mohawk hit rock bottom in 2011, when it won just three games but the last two seasons have seen the team get back to respectability, and despite missing the postseason both years, the team has won seven and eight games, respectively. The team lost just four players from a season ago and returns nearly its full complement of starters. The biggest turnover may in fact be at the head coach position, where Bill Buck jumps on board. Buck is a Mohawk-district guy who has coached numerous varsity sports at the school. He is also the head coach of Teddy Bear Pools of the semi-pro Tri-County League during the summer, giving him plenty of experience.

Buck enters the fray with a lot of experienced arms. Senior Ryan Spitzer and junior Billy Gray are a 1A/1B tandem at the top of the pitching chain and each comes back after a strong season. Sophomore Gabe Seaver is a darkhorse, while junior Andrew Doty, the quarterback on the football team, has some pop. Other players that will also see time on the bump is senior Tucker Jenkins, and juniors Liam Datres de la Blotier, Stephen Reynolds and Lucas Markham.

Buck said that while he knows little about last year’s team, looking back in the books he can tell that the fielding was not the most efficient, and it’s an area he says has to be better in order for the team to be competitive. But with little turnover, he sees no reason why it shouldn’t be.

“I think defense was their Achilles heel last year,” Buck said. “They could hit, but in the books it looks like they averaged two or three errors a game. You can’t be giving teams extra outs. But they are a year old and they seem ready to go. It shows in the way they are practicing.”

Datres de la Blotier returns behind the plate this season, although he has been dealing with a nagging toe injury that will keep him out for the first couple of weeks. Senior Luke Looman will back him up and get the nod in the early going. Datres de la Blotier is also likely to hit third in the lineup. Spitzer is projected to start at first base and hit fourth or fifth. When he pitches, senior Javius Johnson or junior Levin Finck will step in. Senior Sam Slowinski will get the nod at second and hit second, while senior Tucker Jenkins will start the year at short, with Spitzer serving as a backup. Senior Sean Eckler is likely to start at third with classmate Javier Morales backing him up and possibly serving as the team’s designated hitter. From left to right in the outfield is Reynolds, senior Mark Buck and Doty. Buck has developed into one of the best leadoff hitters in the HL, while Doty is a power hitter in the middle of the lineup. Reynolds will likely hit sixth. Juniors JJ Burt and John Dawicki are utility players on the team.

Pioneer (2-16)

Pioneer will try to put last season behind it.

It has been just three years since the the Panthers won the WMass Division III crown and made it to the state title game. The Panthers followed that up with a run to the WMass Division III semifinals the next season. Then last year struck and things took a nosedive. Pioneer won just two games and finished dead last in the HL.

Dan Abrahamson takes over the program this season after a one-year stay by Scott Minkler, and Abrahamson comes in with some familiarity with the program, having served as a juinor-varsity coach just a few years back. Abrahamson believes the pieces are in place for the Panthers to not only put last season behind them, but to make a run into the tournament.

Abrahamson has a pair of top pitchers in junior Jake Hale and sophomore Kyle Hubbard, who both pitched last season. Junior Cole Tognarelli also saw quality time on the mound last year, while sophomore Blake Bashaw is an up-and-comer to give the team a solid top 4. Senior Matt Faulkner and sophomore Matt Kenny round out the arms.

“I think Jake and Kyle are going to be two of the best pitchers in the league,” Abrahamson said. “They are still young but experienced.”

Bashaw is a new catcher but looks solid and can hit the ball well. Junior Noah Marchand will back him up. Senior Roger Doiron is another strong bat and will start at first, with classmate Lennon Robichaud behind him. Junior Jordan Cutting will start at second and hit leadoff, while junior Tim Atkins and Faulkner are both in the mix at second. Hale is the starter at short, with Cutting taking over at the position when Hale pitches, while Tognarelli and Robichaud will both see time at short.

Hubbard, who is another middle-of-the-lineup hitter, will start in the outfield, while Kenny, sophomores Zach Lambert and Ben Tufano, and junior Tyler Wheelock will play in the outfield.

“The kids seem focused,” Abrahamson said. “They are all buying in to our goal of making the playoffs. They all have real good attitudes, responsibility and accountability, and that??s where it starts. Then the skill comes in. I believe they have what it takes to be a really good team.”

Smith Academy (20-4)

Smith Academy is not just going to come into the Hampshire League, it’s looking to win the East in its first season.

The Falcons went 20-4 last season and made it all the way to the WMass Division III title game, where it suffered a 8-7, extra-inning loss to Frontier. The Falcons return their entire team from a season ago and should be in the running to win the East and make another run back to the Division IV title game.

The Smith Academy stable of pitchers includes senior Keith Natale, juniors Christian Smiarowski and David Longstreeth, sophomore Kevin Banas and freshman John Ferrara. All five of them return this season and will be joined by newcomer Nick April (senior). Longstreeth is beginning the season injured after an ankle injury from basketball season but will reach the 400-strikeout mark this season and pick up his 30th mound win.

Senior Cam Woodward returns behind the plate. Junior Austin Rogers will start at first, while junior Jojo Afflitto will start at second. Smiarowski and junior Stevie Bruscoe will play at short, while senior Harry Kennedy and Bruscoe will play at third. Natalie, Kennedy, and Ferrara will each see time in the outfield, along with junior newcomers Tony Pedruczny and Joey Thomas.

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