One pitch at a time for strong-starting Spartans

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Blink, and you just might have missed an 11-0 start from St. Mary’s baseball team. 

Granted, the Spartans have since dropped two games against Malden Catholic and Bishop Feehan, but responded with victories against Pope Francis and Masconomet to capture the weekend’s Spartan Invitational. 

Those two losses – by a combined four runs – never slowed them down.

“The kids have done a great job. They prepared in the offseason. We only lost four seniors, two starters,” said coach Derek Dana. “These guys made a good run last year, making it to the (Division 3) Final 4. The kids set their sights on getting better.”

Dana believes it’s the defense that has been the catalyst to the strong start. From throwing strikes (7 shutouts through 15 games), to making plays in the field and limiting errors, the Spartans are a tough team to score on. 

And a lot of that is because of the experience, per Dana.

“I think any time you have a young group of kids, they don’t really know what the state tournament is. They don’t understand what a good run in the tournament looks like,” he said. “So, each year they’re in it, the excitement gets bigger and bigger. It’s a fun time of year when you’re making it as far as we did last year, especially when the school gets involved and the fans are there supporting.”

Dana isn’t short on depth, either, and isn’t afraid to use all of his guys – no matter the scoreline. 

“With the team that we have, we have great depth and have kids that are pushing the starters for playing time. We’re playing up to 14 kids a game, even in a tight game,” he said. “The kids know they’re going to be involved. When you have 20 kids on the roster and they know they’re going to get into the game, it’s beneficial. They know they’re getting put in the game to make a difference, not just to get playing time in a blowout. I’ll put kids in during a tight game, whether it’s to pinch hit, pinch run, split time behind the plate, in the field, etc.” 

Then, there’s the fact that competition is making his players better versions of themselves.

“With their opportunities, they’re making themselves available for more playing time the next time we play,” Dana said. “We prepare for each game and we talk about how the game we’re playing today is the most important game of the season. When you get to the postseason, you win or you go home… I’ve tried to get that mentality in from game one. This group of kids has bought into it.”

For the Spartans, who rank No. 3 in the power rankings, you could say their pitching core is one to envy.

“It starts on the mound with our four pitchers. Josh Doney started 5-0 with two saves,” Dana said. “There have been times when Josh and Jack Zimmerman have gone the distance. Josh, Jack, Matt Lewis, and Jake Peterson have been absolutely phenomenal.”

And when the opposition does find a way to hit the ball, the defense – more often than not – is there to make a play.

“Devin Duval has been a human highlight-reel in the outfield – unbelievable plays this year. It’s been a rotation in left and right field. Isaiah Weston, Gabe Diaz, Maxwell Parent, and Rowan Merryman have all been great in the outfield,” Dana said. “In the infield, they all have returned from last year. The newest addition has been Jared Paone, and he might be playing the best of them all at third base.” 

In the end, Dana remains patient, adding, “There’s only so much you can control.”

“You can’t look down the road and you can’t look behind because none of that is going to help,” he said. “These kids have done a great job of buying into that and really believing it.” 

  • Mark Aboyoun is a New Jersey born sports writer at The Daily Item. Aboyoun is a graduate of Saint Joseph’s University ’18 and went on to earn his Juris Doctor at Western New England School of Law in 2021.

    [email protected]

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