By Bob York–
Deerfield Academy spent the past two months compiling the kind of resume the Central New England Baseball League Tournament Committee just couldn’t resist: a 9-1 record against league opponents.
Although a .900 winning percentage is nothing to sneeze at, the CNEBL tourney officials aren’t known for going overboard when it comes time for a shout out to its member schools to “come on down!” These guys, who oversee the seven-team league, hand out just four invitations a year, so think of it as a little like Christmas and Santa Clause — they always know who’s been naughty and nice. And, as it turns out, Deerfield’s been great. It put up an overall record of 11-5 during its regular-season run and earlier this week, Christmas came early for our boys of spring. They not only earned an invite to this year’s Blackburn Tournament, but were named its number-one seed as well.
So, Deerfield will be heading off to Worcester on Saturday, in search of its second league title in the past five years and its fifth crown since the 2000 campaign. The tourney, which will be hosted by Assumption College, is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., when Worcester Academy, the tournament’s second seed, takes on third seed Exeter. Deerfield, will then take the field at 12:30 p.m., to face fourth-ranked Andover. The two winners will then square off in the title game, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
Irwin’s charges better plan on packing a bag lunch for their trek to Worcester, “because we’re hoping to make a day of it,” quipped Dave Irwin, the Big Green mentor, and with the way Deerfield has been playing this spring, don’t bet against it.
The Big Green shows a 3-1 record this season against would-be opponents come Saturday. It swept a doubleheader from Exeter in April by scores of 2-1 and 12-1, and has split a pair of games with Worcester, winning, 8-3 at home, and losing 4-1 on the road. Deerfield and Andover have yet to cross base paths this spring, however, as their doubleheader, which was scheduled for last Saturday at Deerfield, was cancelled due to rain.
The key to success this spring are those three magical words that never fail to bring a smile to a baseball coach’s face: hitting, pitching and defense, “and we’ve gotten all three from these kids this year,” said Irwin, through that inevitable smile.
“I must say that I felt confident about our chances of being a good team coming into the season,” added the Deerfield coach, “but I never quite expected this amount of success so far.”
That’s probably because he never expected the perfect storm on the statistic sheet: a team batting average of .314, a team earned run average of 3.86 — which takes into account a 24-4 loss to a Springfield College JV team – and a fielding percentage of .920.
Offensively, the Big Green has had at least five of its members consistently lugging some big sticks to the plate this season. The biggest of which belongs to shortstop Conor Quinn (13). He either leads or is tied for the lead in just about every offensive category there is. He’s tops in batting average at .515, having produced 24 hits, which is first on the team, in 24 plate appearances. He’s first in RBI with 17, as well as home runs, with two and doubles, with seven, and runs scored with 19. His three triples tie him with Justin Finan (13) with the lead in that category. Finan’s other offensive stats show him with a .350 batting average, after having collected 14 hits in 40 at bats, while he has also driven in 13 runs.
First baseman Nick Goss (13) has chipped in a .341 batting average with 14 hits on the season, while catcher Colton Dana (13) owns a .341 average as well, with three doubles, a pair of triples and has scored 18 runs to date. He also brag of having produced a pair of Deerfield’s biggest hits this season: a walk-off single that produced a 2-1 victory over Exeter and a game-winning single that finished off Cushing Academy, 9-7, in extra innings. Centerfielder Billy Smith (13) has also been chipping in at the plate all season long, as he heads into tourney action with a .304 batting average on a 14-for-46 campaign and has scored 11 runs.
Irwin has also been blessed with an outstanding pitching corps this spring — in both the starting and relieving departments. Drawing the starting nods this spring have been Finan, Bill O’Neil (14) and Ben Wood (13). Quinn, meanwhile, has been the guy Irwin has handed the ball to in closing situations.
Finan, who has gotten the starting nod from Irwin to face Andover on Saturday, owns a 3-0 record on the season. That record has been highlighted by a stingy 1.52 earned run average, as he has allowed just five earned runs in 23 innings. During that span he has also fanned a team-high 27 batters and walked just five. O’Neil stands in at 4-1, with a 2.37 ERA, having issued eight earned runs through 23 2/3 innings. He has struck out 14 and walked four in that time. Wood, meanwhile, has a 1-1 record and a 2.80 ERA, having allowed eight earned runs in 20 innings. He has 18 strikeouts and eight walks.
When making his relief appearances, Quinn has a very short walk from shortstop to the mound, and he has been very effective whenever he has climbed the bump. Heading into tourney action, he has posted a 2-0 record with one save. More impressively, he has allowed just one earned run over eight innings for an 0.84 ERA. He has also averaged one strikeout per inning.