By BOB YORK
When it comes to the Central New England Baseball League, everyone’s accounted for when it comes to postseason play. The top four teams in the final standings annually shuffle off to Worcester, where the Final Four battle it out for the CNEBL crown in the Blackburn Tournament, which is hosted by Holy Cross. The league’s other three clubs, meanwhile, head out to Wallingford, Conn., where Choate entertains the Walker Invitational Tournament.
And Deerfield knows both quite well. Since the CNEBL began operation back in 1985, the Big Green has earned a postseason pass following 21 of those 27 seasons and has four league crowns to show for its talents since the turn of the century. In fact, over the past four years, it has been spending weekends in late May dabbling in some heavy medal. This spring saw Deerfield capture its second Walker crown in three years, while it won the Blackburne tourney in 2009 and placed second there last year.
“It makes for a great situation,” said Dave Irwin, the Big Green rookie head coach. “The Blackburn Tournament gives you a chance to win the league title, while the Walker Tournament gives you a chance to end your season on a positive note. And that’s exactly what it did for us this year.”
Half of the Big Green’s (4-15) wins this season came during the Walker tourney, as it pounded Choate, 10-4, before blanking Northfield Mount Hermon School – a team Deerfield had split its two meetings with during the regular season – by a 5-0 margin in the title tilt.
Nolan Doyle (’12) was the king of the hill in the finale, as he tossed a three-hitter at the Hoggers for six innings, while Bill O’Neil (’13), Deerfield’s closer, iced the affair with a scoreless seventh. Offensively, Nick Grupen (’12), who received this year’s Arthur S. Williams Jr. Baseball Trophy, led the Deerfield attack by collecting five hits in nine trips to the plate on the day. Nick Goss (’13) meanwhile, led the RBI brigade on the day with five, including a two-out, two-run single in the second inning “that really got things rolling for us in the final,” said Irwin.
In the opener, Luke Barkowski (’12), who was the recipient of this year’s Rev. G. Richard McKelvey Spirit Award, went the seven-inning distance on the mound. The Big Green batters, meanwhile, pounded out 16 hits against Choate pitching including three hits and one RBI by Conor Quinn (’13).
“One couldn’t have scripted a finer ending for this hard-working and tenacious ball club,” said Irwin. “Both games proudly went down as solid and complete team victories. Excellent pitching, tight defense, aggressive and heady base running, situational hitting and a tremendous Deerfield spirit were all on display during these two games.
“I’m both very proud and very happy for these kids,” added Irwin. “They started playing a much better brand of baseball over the last three weeks of the season and although the record didn’t particularly show it, their confidence level began to rise and they knew they could win some of these games. It was just a matter of putting it all together at the same time … and that’s exactly what they did during that tournament.”
In addition to being a key element on the mound, Doyle set the table for the Big Green offense, as he batted .358 from the leadoff position. And as every good leadoff hitter does, he got on base a lot. In addition to his hefty batting average, he struck out just five times in 59 at bats.
Grupen finished up with a .353 batting average, posting an average of nearly a hit a game (17) and he drove in 10 runs. Mike Barry (’12) led the club in batting with a .425 average, but he went down with an ankle injury just 11 games into the season. Nevertheless, he earned a berth on the All-League team, “and needless to say, we really missed him, both at the plate and behind it,” said Irwin.
“But I have to say that Nick Rault (’13), who is not a catcher, stepped right in and did a great job defensively behind the plate,” added the Big Green skipper. “His only prior experience was catching a few games for the JV team when needed. In fact, he got better every day.”