H.S. Baseball Preview: A whole new world

  • Franklin Tech’s Nate Sciandra throws against Pioneer during action back in 2019 in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Greenfield baserunner Carlos Cardenales (13) rounds third base before scoring against Easthampton during 2019 action at Vets Field in Greenfield. Staff FILE Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2021 8:38:18 PM

To say it’s been a challenging offseason for local baseball coaches would be an understatement.

It’s been two years since high schools teams were able to practice together. The first (and only) week of preseason was spent trying to figure out what rosters will look like in a year that’s offered much in the way of uncertainty. 

Numbers are scarce across the board, and most teams' key players from the last go-around have graduated. Players who were young sophomores last baseball season are now senior leaders. 

Teams started practice on April 26 and by this Thursday, every area team will have played its first game. 

“It’s certainly a different year,” Greenfield coach Tom Suchanek said. “We’re struggling for numbers. Kids who played in the past don't want to come out and play.” 

On a positive, this spring season also marks a return of sorts to normalcy on the sporting front. 

For the first three sports seasons this school year, local teams were only permitted to compete against each other, but that won’t be the case this spring. 

Athol, Frontier, Greenfield, Mahar, Mohawk Trail, Pioneer and Turners will compete in the Hampshire League this season, joined by Easthampton, Belchertown, Hopkins Academy, Smith Academy and South Hadley. 

Franklin Tech is playing in the Tri-County North League with the likes of Smith Vocational, Pathfinder, Westfield Tech, McCann Tech and Gateway.

The Western Mass. tournament is back for one final go-around, and any team will be able to opt into the tournament this season regardless of record. The winner of the WMass tourney moves on to the state tournament, giving an incentive to play for that hasn’t existed yet this year.

Frontier, Greenfield, Athol, Mahar and Mohawk Trail all qualified for the Western Mass. Div. 3 tournament the last time it was played. The Green Wave and Bears made it to the quarterfinals while the Redhawks fell in the semifinals. 

Turners Falls, Pioneer and Franklin Tech made it to the Western Mass. Div. 4 tournament. 

Though all teams can simply put their name in to enter the tournament this year with no qualifying standards, not every coach plans to blindly follow that model.

“I told our team if we show up and give 100 percent, then we can play in the playoffs regardless if we look rusty and lose seven in a row,” Pioneer coach Jordan Branson said. “I don’t want to put any added pressure on them. It’s an exciting thing to look forward to but we’re not going to make it a guarantee. We need to show we can behave like we belong and if we do, then we can participate.” 

The Redhawks are one of many teams who missed out on a great opportunity last year. Frontier brought back the majority of its roster from 2019 and felt it had the squad to make a run at a Western Mass. title. 

With the season lost, the majority of the Redhawk roster graduated, leaving just two players — Kyle Barnes and Jacob Bryant — with varsity experience on this year’s club.

“We lost some of the core of our team and a lot of really good baseball players,” Frontier coach Chris Williams said. “There was no roof last year. That was tough to get it stripped away but there are so many people at so many levels that are in the same boat. We’re not unique at all. It is what it is.” 

Despite not having much experience, the Redhawk lineup has plenty of talent. Ben Martino is the third captain along with Barnes and Bryant. Martino, who has shown a ton of growth in his two years away, will be starting at second base. 

Jake Dodge will start in center while Ethan Machon, Conner Hoffman, Kevin Baumann, Tyler Baranowski, Sam Schreiber and Iain Spearance will compete for the other two spots in the outfield. 

Bryant stays at first and Barnes plays short, with talented defensive player sophomore Alex Gochinski starting at the hot corner. 

Baranowski, Dodge, Schreiber and Liam Skribiski-Banack will be the pitching rotation for Frontier while Dylan Martin and Shane Prusak battle it out to play catcher. 

“We’re looking for that three-peat in the league,” Williams said. “We’re pleased we get to compete for sectionals. Our goal is to get back to UMass and make a splash with those Berkshire teams and let them know we aren’t going anywhere.” 

The Green Wave have a veteran-led roster, with nine of their 12 players either juniors or seniors. Senior Jake Sak will play in the outfield, with fellow seniors Carlos Cardenales playing behind the plate, Brody Baird on the mound and Nick Bresciano seeing time at second and in the outfield. 

David Carey, Drew Conant, MJ Paulin, Tyler Podolski and TJ Thibeault are all juniors and will be contributors for Greenfield this season. 

“We have less time to get ready than we have in the past,” Suchanek said. “Plus with the kids not playing last year, it’s a lot of review. Luckily we have some kids that can give us some innings and we have others who can give us some stuff. Right now our pitching is going to be OK and defensively we’ll do a pretty good job. Hopefully the hitting will get it done and improve as the season goes on.”

Opposing teams won’t be pleased to find out that Keegan Lutz and Dilan Fountain are back with the Bears this season. Both Athol seniors were selected to the all-league team as sophomores, and both have looked sharp early in practice. 

Noah Pottinger is a big left hander on the mound for Athol who has propelled himself to the top of the rotation, with coach Josh Talbot expecting big things out of the senior. Evan Mayer and Jack Bonenfant are the remaining Bears who have varsity experience. 

Talbot said he is going to be leaning on his returning players throughout the season. 

“For being incredibly inexperienced, we do have some guys with experience,” Talbot said. “We’ve tried really hard to get as many authentic opportunities as possible for our players so far since it’s been two years since they’ve seen a baseball. The kids are excited to be back and us coaches are as well.”

Pioneer was a young team in 2019 and is now a veteran-led group. Jared Hubbard was the Panthers’ No. 2 pitcher as a freshman and will now be looked on as the team’s ace as a junior this year.

Troy Emond plays just about everywhere for Pioneer while Jason Quinn, Dylan Fisher and Jalen McGraw all made contributions as freshmen two years ago. 

“We have a handful of guys talent-wise who’d be good enough to play with any of the teams in our league,” Branson said. “It’s a group that’s played together from Little League to Legion to here. It’s nice to see that they’re still connected after such a long break.” 

While most teams in the area are down in numbers, Franklin Tech has a full roster — over 40 kids showed up for tryouts — and has a pitching staff it thinks will be tough to face on a day-to-day basis. 

The Eagles have four starters — Nate Sciandra, Cayden Lehtomaki, Alex Sulda and Jake Whitney — who can all get the job done on the mound. Franklin Tech coach Dan Prasol feels confident in each of them and knows Gavin Rubio can also be called upon to close out a game if needed. 

“I’m really excited about our pitching,” Prasol said. “I’m excited about us being young. These kids are coming in and working their butts off. My expectation level is high for this group and they’re rising to the occasion. They’re showing up every day and working hard.”

Rubio will have an impact at the plate and in the field while Ty Sadoski will be a utility player seeing time all over the diamond. 

Mahar also had strong numbers at tryouts, with a senior group of Jake Tenney, Noaha Chabot and Matt Lyesiuk returning. 

Tenney will man the center field spot while Chabot will play in the middle infield. Lyesiuk will see some time on the mound. 

Juniors Cole Johnson and Liam O’Donnell will be the top two pitching options for the Senators, and both are throwing the ball well at practice.  

Seniors Ayden Sevigny and Eli Spencer should crack the lineup after a few years removed from playing. 

“I want to be competitive,” Mahar first-year coach Chris Bailey said. “I told the kids what I'm looking for is to control the things we can control. If we hustle and limit the mental mistakes, we'll be alright. Those are the things we can control.”

Senior Shawn Davenport will be Mohawk Trail’s ace this season, while also playing center field and around the infield. Senior Reuben Bassett will be the Warriors’ man at first while fellow senior Cam Lococo will catch. All three are expected to hit near the top of their lineup. 

Junior Tyler Dubreuil has impressed early and will be playing shortstop while freshman Wyatt Edes and eighth grader Sam Thompson could find their way onto the mound. 

Like Pioneer, Mohawk Trail is trying to earn its way into a postseason spot. 

“We’ve talked about trying to have a record that is good enough to make the playoffs,” first-year coach Craig Suhre said. “I would like to pass that mark whether we opt in or not. We have a 12-game schedule so we want to be over .500 which I think is reasonable. We have the talent to have a successful season.” 

With no returning players from the 2019 team and no seniors on the roster, it’s truly a developmental year for Turners Falls

Levin Prondecki will be the Thunder’s top option on the mound with eighth-grader Alex Quezada in the No. 2 spot. Quezada is showing a ton of promise at third and shortstop as well. 

Freshman Cam Burnett will play first while fellow freshman Joey Mosca and Derek Wissman will also crack the lineup. Mosca will play third and pitch while Wissman can play behind the plate and has shown he can hit the ball. 

“We’re starting from scratch,” Thunder coach Scott Minckler said. “We have zero returners and it’s going to be tough because we’re so young. We might take some lumps but it’s going to get better. We’re excited to get out there and play.”

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2020 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy