Baseball preview: Pioneer looks to make another state tournament run

  • Pioneer players celebrate after defeating Sutton 10-7 in Northfield to advance to the MIAA Div. 5 state semifinals last spring. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier third baseman Grayson Loos (9) throws to first for an out against Amherst in the top of the second inning Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 4/3/2023 9:14:26 PM
Modified: 4/3/2023 9:12:47 PM

It was a disappointing inaugural state tournament on the baseball diamond for many area teams.

Well, for just about everyone except the team in Northfield.

Franklin Tech won its preliminary round game but fell in the Round of 32 and Turners Falls lost in the prelims while Frontier and Greenfield were both upset in the Round of 32. All the while, No. 12 seeded Pioneer kept finding ways to win games and advance.

The run saw the Panthers reach the MIAA Division 5 semifinals, as it opened with an 11-2 win over St. Joseph’s Prep in the Round of 32 before going on the road and upsetting No. 5 Oxford, 10-6, in the Round of 16. 

Pioneer got to host its Round of 8 matchup against No. 13 Sutton and pulled off a 10-7 victory to advance to the semis where it ultimately fell to Hopedale, 17-2. 

Not many expected that run from the Panthers last year, as they got to play the role of pesky underdog that wouldn’t go down in the tournament. That won’t be the case this year, as Pioneer isn’t sneaking up on anyone in 2023. They’ve quickly gone from the role of hunter to the hunted.

“I got to see it a little last summer with Legion after returning as the league champs,” Pioneer skipper Kevin Luippold said. “We knew everyone would be coming for us and that’s what it’ll be this year for us at Pioneer. We’ve started doing some skill things to get the guys rolling and trying to get them to take the next step. Last year we found our identity early. I told the guys that this year we have to find our 2023 identity and learn about ourselves in a new way.

“We know people will be throwing their best at us,” Luippold continued. “We have to be smart, overcome our youth and have an attitude of not thinking about how good we are, rather how good we can be.” 

With nine returning players from last year’s Final Four squad, expectations are high for the Panthers. Hugh Cyhowski and Ethan Quinn will lead the rotation for Pioneer, giving it two strong, experienced arms who have gotten better and stronger since last season. 

At the plate, the Panthers will be tasked with making up the 70 hits lost to graduation by Jason Quinn, Sean Allen and Jared Hubbard, as all three played key roles for Pioneer a year ago. 

Aside from Quinn and Cyhowski, Braeden Tsipenyuk will be one of those players who will look to lead the charge at the plate, returning as the Panthers’ leadoff hitter. Ian Simpson, Peter Loud, Ben Werner, Luc Belhumeur and Ethan Mauthe are fellow returners who Luippold hopes will step up at the plate this year. 

As for the high expectations placed on the program? The Panthers aren’t running from them.

“I told the guys last year on the first day of varsity practice that if we weren’t in the Western Mass. championship game then I did something wrong as a coach,” Luippold said. “Knowing we made it to the final four of the state tournament and can compete, if we don’t make it to the state finals [this year], I did something wrong. It’s a tall task and the pressure will be on them and on me. Still, I think it’s a good goal to strive for where we were, a game away last year.” 

The most anticipated games in the area last year were between Greenfield and Frontier, simply for the pitching duels that took place. 

Greenfield’s David Carey and Frontier’s Tyler Baranowski had three head-to-head battles last year where neither gave an inch on the hill, showing why they were two of the top aces in the area. 

It’ll look a little different when Greenfield and Frontier meet this spring. Carey and Baranowski both graduated, while the Green Wave also graduated their Nos. 2 and 3 pitchers in TJ Thibeault and Tyler Podolski and the Redhawks lost their No. 2 in Sam Schreiber to graduation. 

Frontier also lost two of its top hitters — Tyler Dubreuil and Kevin Baumann — from a team that made it to the Western Mass. Class C finals and took home the Suburban League West title. 

Despite those losses, Redhawks coach Chris Williams said he likes the way his offense is coming together, hoping to once again end the season as league champs. Frontier won its opener last week, outlasting Amherst in a nine-inning affair.

“Repeating as league champs is 100 percent the goal and expectation,” Williams said. “We have guys on the roster who have done it before, know what it takes and know how to win close ball games. That’ll be huge. We have some competition. There’s a lot of really solid teams in our league. It’s as up for grabs as ever. It’s a new year and we have to prove ourselves and play to the level I know we can play at.”

Liam Skribiski-Banack and Alex Gochinski are two of the players Williams expects to be big contributors at the plate for Frontier this year, both showing well in practice. Tyler Cusson, Grayson Loos, Nico Fasulo, Max Skribiski-Banack, Wyatt Edes, Hayden Heffernan, Miles Ferreira and Kaden James are others who will be asked to step up for the Redhawks to produce runs. 

On the hill, Liam Skribiski-Banack will slot in as the Redhawks’ ace, with Cusson, Loos and Edes a few of the other arms that will see innings this year. 

Greenfield coach Tom Suchanek has a young squad that he hopes will continue to grow throughout the season with more experience on the diamond. 

Jackson Campbell and Caleb Thomas are the lone returning arms who saw innings on the mound last year for the Green Wave, with both expected to step up and lead the rotation this year. 

Deven Dubie, John Marchefka and Michael Pierce are others who will get an opportunity on the hill. All five of those pitchers will also serve key roles in the lineup and in the field for Greenfield, as that contingent represents the only varsity returners from a season ago.

Pierce is expected to do some catching along with freshman Luca Siano. Malik Moore and freshman Rylin Koscinski will see time at first base, Thomas, Campbell and freshman Arthur Fitzpatrick will play the middle infield spots while Siano and Preston Lafleur will round out the infield at third base. 

Dubie, Marchefka and Moore will see time in the outfield while Keegan Fisher, Bryce Hamon and Christian Velazquez could see time at a variety of spots. 

“We’re working at it,” Suchanek said. “We have some young guys and we’ll see how they improve over time. We had six seniors graduate from last year and five were starters. We’ll have to see what the young guys do while under fire. There’s some good players; they just need more playing time and experience. We’re looking to get better every game.” 

Franklin Tech, which knocked off Ware to advance to the Round of 32 of the Div. 5 state tournament, lost one of its key players during the basketball season due to injury. 

Cayden Lehtomaki’s knee injury will knock him out for the season, as he was a player who would have served as one of the top arms and bats with the Eagles. 

Kyle Begos will step into the No. 1 role in the rotation for Dan Prasol’s squad, with Mason Lehtomaki and Alex Sulda a few of the others who will be pitching for Tech this spring. 

“Losing [Cayden] Lehtomaki hurts a lot,” Prasol said. “He’ll be an honorary captain for us. I think we’ll be competitive. Everything will come down to how well we’re hitting the ball.” 

Nate Fuess, Tucker Hicks, Gavin Crossman and Ben Dodge will contribute both on the mound and at the plate. Sammy Knight will be a key hitter for the Eagles once again this spring, with Sulda staying in the leadoff spot and Ty Sadoski another who will be asked to step up to drive in runs for Tech. 

After a few years of taking its licks, Turners Falls has a veteran, battle tested roster that is a year older and stronger. 

Alex Quezada will be the Thunder ace once again this spring. Head coach Scott Minckler said they’re working on fixing some mechanics that he feels will help the sophomore take his game to another level.

Levin Prondecki, Jake Murray, Joey Mosca, Cam Burnett, Derek Wissmann, Deven Sloan, Kainen Stevens, Jackson Cogswell and Ledwin Villafana also return for Turners, a team which has been young and inexperienced the last two years but now has a roster full of players with multiple years of varsity experience. Mike Shinall comes over from Franklin Tech and will also have a role in the lineup.

“We’re still young but some of these juniors have been starting since they were either freshmen or in eighth grade,” Minckler said. “They’ve been playing together for a long time and we expect some big things out of them this year. We’ve taken our lumps when they were younger. I look back to when I played in the late ’90s at Turners and it was the same thing; we took our lumps, got beat up pretty good and came back as juniors and competed for Western Mass. That’s what I’m looking at with these guys. They showed signs last year but couldn’t get over the hump. This year, if things come together, we can have a pretty good season. So far, they look good and are hitting the ball well.” 

Dan Guertin takes over for Chris Bailey at Mahar, and thus far, has seen his group receptive to a new regime.

“They’ve been really receptive to learning and instituting those changes,” said Guertin, who also coaches the varsity boys’ soccer team at Mahar. “We’ll see if they keep this patter and keep that growth going.”

The Senators won’t have a JV team this spring, though there is a sizable contingent at the middle school level that will eventually populate the high school rosters. 

Nate Danielson and Sam Connors are the two seniors on the Mahar roster, both expected to see time on the mound and at short. Jeremy Vezina returns behind the plate, Will Barnes will once again be in the outfield while Lucas Isrow, David Vitello and Jayden Delgado are some of the other players who will see time in the Senator lineup. 

“We want to be a solid second half team this year,” Guertin said. “They’re working hard and have been receptive to learning. We’re growing as a team. If we can put together a solid first half of the season and get through the growing pains of developing a pitching staff, the potential is there. We have plenty of talent to work with.”

Athol finished last spring with a 4-15 record, though closed out the year on a high note by winning two of its final five games.

Logan Cormier, Gabe Hume, Noah Wein, Riley Young, Anthony Lopez, Aedan Erickson, Aidan Melanson, Mark Gauthier, Jacob Rathburn and Trevor Bullock are returners who were on coach Josh Talbot’s varsity lineup last year, though the Bears graduated a good portion of their starting lineup from a season ago.

In its opener Monday against Ludlow, Athol had just 61 games of total varsity experience in its lineup, as the young Bears hope to grow as the season progresses. 

Mohawk Trail was a team full of young players last season, not graduating a single senior from its roster. While the Warriors took their lumps they were able to end the season with a win over Pathfinder, their first of the season. 

Another year older and Mohawk Trail is hoping to take a step forward this spring under new head coach Doug McCloud. Further information on the club was not provided by press time, though the Warriors open Tuesday on the road at Mahar.


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