By BOB YORK
The Big Green won the marathon, but lost the sprint.
We’re talking baseball here, not track, but when you liken a marathon to a two-month regular season and a sprint through a same-day postseason tournament, the similarities become quite clear.
Deerfield Academy’s baseball team prevailed over the long haul this spring, finishing first in the Central New England Baseball League’s regular season standings. It did so by downing nine of 10 league opponents, while finishing with an overall showing of 11-5.
The Big Green received the number-one seed in the league’s Blackburn Tournament but in reality, it was more like the kiss of death. It put Deerfield up against Andover in the semifinal round and the Big Blue hung a one-and-done on Deerfield, ousting it by a 10-7 margin. Deerfield, which never squared off against Andover during the regular season due to a rain-out, saw its hopes of capturing a fifth league crown since the 2000 campaign dashed early on. Andover, which would go on to successfully defend its title later in the day by thumping Worcester Academy, 3-0, jumped out to a 6-0 lead after three innings of play and never looked back.
“We got it back to within two at 6-4 in the fourth,” said Big Green coach Dave Irwin of a game that saw Billy Smith (13) Jackson Dayton (13) and John Dillon (13) lead the offense with two hits each, “but Andover answered that with four more runs of its own in the sixth to make it a 9-5 game. We got two back in the seventh, but it just wasn’t enough.”
“It was a tough way to end the season,” added Irwin, “because, overall, it was a great year … we had a lot of fun.”
The Big Green had a lot of fun because it had a lot of success along the way – both team wise and individually. On the team front, Irwin’s crew provided plus ratings in the three categories that the sport of baseball hinges on: pitching, hitting and fielding.
When Deerfield occupied the mound, Irwin was blessed with both outstanding starters and relievers.
Justin Finan (13) owned a 3-0 regular-season showing before earning the starting nod against Andover in the league tourney. During his starts, he posted a stingy 1.52 earned run average, allowing just five earned runs through 23 innings. He also struck out a team-high 27 opponents and walked just five. His mound work earned him a spot on the CNEBL All-Star team, along with shortstop Conor Quinn (13) and catcher Colton Dana (13).
Bill O’Neil (14), who has been elected one of next year’s co-captains, finished up at 4-1, with a 2.37 ERA, allowing eight earned runs in 23 2/3 innings of work. He fanned 14 batters during that span and walked just four. Ben Wood (13) was 1-1 with a 2.80 ERA, allowing eight earned runs in 20 innings. Wood also rang up 18 strikeouts and eight walks.
As for the bullpen, Quinn proved to be Irwin’s go-to guy whenever the situation warranted. This spring, Quinn was 2-0 and posted one save during his relief appearances. He finished the season allowing just one earned run over eight innings of work for a 0.84 ERA. He also averaged one strikeout per inning.
Offensively, the Big Green wielded some pretty hefty bats to the plate, as at least five members of the Deerfield lineup card literally crunched some lofty numbers this season. The biggest cruncher was Quinn, who could be found playing a solid shortstop when he wasn’t cleaning up on the mound.
Quinn, who was the recipient of this year’s Arthur S. Williams Jr. Baseball Trophy, culminated his prep career either leading or tied for the top in just about every offensive category there is. He topped the team charts in batting average at .515, having produced24 hits, which was first on the team, in 46 plate appearances.
He was first in RBI with 17, as well as in home runs, with two, and doubles, with seven, and runs scored with 19. His three triples tied him with Finan atop that category. And speaking of Finan, he proved to be another of Deerfield’s big boppers, posting a .350 batting average on 14 hits in 40 plate appearances. He was second in the RBI department with 13.
Elsewhere in the batting order, co-captain first baseman Nick Goss (13), who was named winner of this year’s Rev. G. Richard McKelvey Spirit Award, sported a .341 batting average this spring by producing 14 hits, which tied him with Finan and Smith for third in that listing.
Dana also posted a .341 average on a 15-hit season. He rang up three doubles, a pair of triples and scored 18 runs. He can also lay claim to a pair of Deerfield’s clutch hits this season, a walk-off single that produced a 2-1 win over Exeter and a game-winning single that allowed the Big Green to slip past Cushing in extra innings, 9-7. Smith, the club’s centerfielder, was a consistent plate producer this spring, sporting a .310 batting average, with 14 hits and 11 runs scored.
Elsewhere around the Deerfield lineup, Dillon, a third baseman, posted a plus .300 batting average and knocked in seven runs, while Luke Bakker (15) spelled Dillon at third and hit .294 this spring. Andrew Shediac (13), meanwhile, was stationed at second base, and batted .276 on the year. Flanking Smith in the outfield were Dayton in left, with a .326 batting average, and Cullen Geary, next spring’s other elected co-captain (14) in right, who owned a .303 batting average.