It has been a rough start for high school teams playing in local ballparks. The Manchester Essex baseball team was 1-4 to start the season at the start of this week, while the Hamilton-Wenham/Manchester-Essex co-op softball team is still searching for its first win at 0-4.
With that in mind, both the Hornets (baseball) and Generals (softball) will be looking to finish strong after the bumpy beginning to the spring. Both teams have hurdles to overcome. The softball team is transitioning to a co-op for the first-time pulling players from four different towns while also trying to overcome a small roster. The baseball team boasts an inexperienced roster that missed out on the seasoning it needed in 2020 when the spring season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, there are reasons to believe there are some good performances in store for both squads further down the road.
“There were some question marks going in, we’re young in certain aspects and we weren’t sure what we had,” explains Manchester Essex baseball coach BJ Weed. ‘I know we will play better by the end of the season, hopefully make some kind of run by the end. But until then, we will take it one day at a time, one inning at a time.”
For the 1-4 Hornets, it’s about getting this group of younger, inexperienced players playing time at this level, while attempting to build some team chemistry after a year of not being able to do any of that.
“Our team is all sophomores,” says Weed. “The freshmen from last year haven’t really had a chance to develop, and you can tell it’s affecting them. Our freshmen are really good, and maybe a little bit ahead of the sophomores.”
While there isn’t a ton of experience to work with, the baseball team can boast 22 players on the varsity roster and just under 20 on junior varsity, a slight uptick in numbers from previous years. The Hamilton Wenham softball team has no such luxury.
“The numbers are very low,” explains Hamilton Wenham coach George Shapiro. “We lost some people because of higher user fees, and we’re down to 15 girls playing a varsity and jayvee schedule.
It’s very taxing on them, but nobody is complaining.”
Add in the fact that the team itself is going through a period of transition – it’s the first year of a co-op between student athletes from Hamilton-Wenham and Manchester Essex – and the elements are in place for a rocky beginning to the spring season. It also doesn’t help that the roster took a drastic hit with the loss of Manchester Essex standout Abby Taron for the rest of the season. Taron – one of five ME students playing on the team - fractured her ankle sliding into second base in the season opener.
“She’s our starter, it’s her first game in right field, and she gets injured sliding into second,” says Shapiro. “It’s very unfortunate. She’s a great kid, I really enjoyed talking to her. The good news is that surgery was successful and the prognosis is that she will have a 100 percent recovery within a year.”
Aside from Taron, there are four other Manchester Essex students looking to contribute for the Generals in 2021. Senior Molly Moore is one of the team captains, and her coach lauds her as a stellar fielder at first and the number four hitter in the lineup. Sophomore Kyra Levasseur is the team’s starting pitcher and the number five hitter in the lineup. Celia Mann is a versatile option for the team, having already played shortstop, second and two spots in the outfield (The freshman stepped in to replace Taron in right field after her injury). Freshman Naia Zacharias has played every inning of every game at the junior varsity level for the Generals, playing multiple positions.
Despite the injury to Taron, the integration of the ME students onto the HW team has gone well.
“It’s been very smooth,” says Shapiro. “I do travel teams in the summer, fall, winter, indoors and out, and I’ve had girls from different schools on those teams. I always make sure everyone is treated the same. We’ve got everyone from Manchester Essex and Hamilton-Wenham, and it’s like one big town. It’s worked out well.”
The key transition for the baseball team, meanwhile, is looking for rapid development from a younger team. Thankfully, the Hornets have a core of talented, experienced players to build around. Jack Shaw is ME’s ace, and Mike Quill returns behind the plate, lending experience to one of the most important positions on the field. Kellan Heney and Vaughn O’Leary also return to bolster the pitching staff, while Will Levendusky returns to patrol right field. This group played in the state championship two years ago, and their contributions will be invaluable.
“Kellan has been lights out so far, and Vaughn is finding his way,” says Weed. “It’s a good core, we’ve got to fit the pieces around it. When the young guys figure it out, we can make a run.”
While the pitching has been pretty good to this point, the Hornets need to cut down on defensive errors, and are focusing on this during practices.
“Our problem has been us not catching the ball,” explains Weed. “Our starters are letting up only two or three earned runs a game, but we are making four-to-six errors a game.”
The baseball team was looking to improve on those numbers this week, with scheduled games against Rockport (May 18), Georgetown and Triton. At the same time, the softball team will be looking to pick up its first win of the season, with opportunities against Georgetown (May 17), Amesbury (May 19) and North Reading (May 21) scheduled.