Wamps Baseball Preview

by Mark Dunphy
BHS News

On the pages of the calendar, the first day of Spring is March 20th. In Braintree, Spring does not begin until the local boys in blue and white begin their season. After an early postseason exit last year to eventual Division One state champions Bridgewater-Raynham, the Braintree High boys’ baseball team looks to return to the tournament with a strong core of experienced players and make a deeper run this time around.

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I sat down with the captains of the team, seniors Matt Bickford and Billy Keane, to talk about the upcoming season. The Wamps are currently only one game into their schedule due the sudden appearance of a second Sunset Lake in center field. However, the team is not letting the swamp-like condition of the field stop their preparations. Bickford said, “We’re in [the batting cages] hitting. We’re in the gym. We’re on the turf taking ground balls.” The new turf football field, installed two years ago, allows the team to practice outside while the pond in center field subsides.

Another helpful addition to the team’s facilities is the Braintree Baseball Club – a new in-door complex in town, complete with batting cages, that gave the players a place to work during the offseason. Keane said, “It definitely helped. It gave all of our players a place to go when there was no place to play. Most teams in the conference probably had no place to go but their gym, while we got hundreds of swings in every practice.” The Wamps worked hard over the winter and will be looking to reap the rewards of their toil as the season progresses.

This season will be the first for Massachusetts’ new Super 8 playoff system. The top eight teams in the state, regardless of division, will be selected by a committee and battle for baseball supremacy. The Wamps are expected to be among those teams, having been ranked fourth in the state by both ESPN Boston and The Boston Globe. Defending champs Bridgewater-Raynham are number one, and if the teams meet Braintree will be hungry for revenge. For the time being, the captains said they are focused on their next opponent and “one thing at a time.”

The Wamps are well equipped to be successful, with an incredibly deep crop of pitchers, strong hitting, and young blood ready to fill in the gaps left by last years seniors. As Sandy Koufax once said, “Pitching is the art of instilling fear.” Any opposing coach taking a glance at the Wamps’ rotation this year will have chills running down his spine. With Bickford, Bobby McNiff, Scott Creedon, Kevin Howard, Ryan Martin, Kyle Carvello, Scott Strachan, and Brandon Fein on the mound, Braintree’s pitching staff is deeper than the pond in center.

The Wamps have plenty of bats to match their pitching prowess, with players including Keane, Joey Harrington, Connor Columbus, and UMass Amherst commit Gino LaRossa returning to the lineup. There are two major holes to fill for the Wamps this year, as they lost shortstop Steve Lee and center fielder Alex Alexander to graduation. Bickford said, “Obviously Slee and Zanda are irreplaceable players. As a pitcher you didn’t even have to turn around. If a ball went to center you knew Zanda was gonna catch it.” However, Keane added, “They’re hard to replace but it’s next man up. We always find another guy to go.”

Bickford and Keane both described their personal style as “lead by example.” After high school, these young men will be taking their talents to the collegiate level, Bickford at Northwest Oklahoma State and Keane at Mass Maritime Academy. Before they move on, they are building a legacy on the diamond and in the locker room.

The young guys on the team are earning their respect, and they singled out Creedon, McNiff, Fein, Cal Berman, and freshman Justin Files as underclassmen to watch for the future. The captains have been successful in fostering great chemistry in the dugout. Bickford described the team’s attitude as, “laid back- just play your game and enjoy the game.”

In Braintree, baseball isn’t a matter of life and death; it’s much more important than that. The town has a great youth organization and the varsity team is a perennial powerhouse in the Bay State Carey Conference. When asked about the baseball culture in town and the large crowds at the games, Keane answered, “It doesn’t put any more pressure on us but it definitely motivates you. You want to show [the alumni] that nothing ended once they left. You’re still here to win. You’re still making Braintree a winning town.”

The Braintree Wamps baseball team, led by Matt Bickford and Billy Keane, is primed for a deep run in the Super 8. After the longest winter in recent memory, spring is here again, and the boys in blue and white plan to win a state championship before the calendar turns to summer.

Schedule
April 5 Middleboro A 12:00
April 9 Newton North H 3:45
April 11 Brookline H 4:15
April 14 Framingham A 3:45
April 16 Needham H 3:45
April 17 Marshfield H 3:45
April 23 BC High H 12:00
April 25 Quincy A 11:00
April 28 Weymouth H 3:45
April 30 Wellesley H 3:45
May 1 Natick A 6:30
May 5 Walpole A 3:45
May 7 Newton North A 3:45
May 9 Milton H 3:45
May 12 Brookline NU 4:00
May 14 Framingham H 3:45
May 15 Norwood A 3:45
May 19 Needham A 3:45
May 21 Weymouth A 3:45
May 23 Walpole H 7:00

Coaches
Head Coach: Bill O’Connell
Assistant Coaches: Joe Belmosto, Jim Joyce, Dom Zingarelli, Cam Fox, Joe Gaughan

Roster
Matt Bickford S P C
Billy Keane S RF C
Ryan Martin S P
Joey Harrington S LF
Kevin Howard S P
Gino LaRossa S C
Dylan Casserly S 1B
Nick Cadigan S C
Cal Berman J 1B
Kevin Troy J LF
Bobby Lawton J RF
Bobby McNiff J P
Connor Columbus J 3B
Anthony Venuti J 2B
Jeff Diauto J 2B
Colin Rios J LF
Dino DiCienzo J SS
Kyle Carvello J P
Scott Strachan J P
Erik MacDonald So CF
Scott Creedon So P
Brandon Fein So P
Justin Files F CF