Cards Get Out Through the Indoors
Stevens coach Paul Silva, second from left, rallies his team during a game at Claremont’s Barnes Park on Friday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Stevens’ Chase Hussey warms up before stepping up to bat against Monadnock on Friday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Claremont — When spring sports season arrives in the Upper Valley, high school teams don’t necessarily get outside right away to celebrate it.
The Stevens High baseball team was one of many in the area confined to the school gymnasium for the better part of its preseason, yet seventh-year Cardinals coach Paul Silva thinks the work indoors may have done his team some good.
“No one likes to be stuck inside, but I was pleased with what I saw from this group,” Silva said at Barnes Park following Friday’s 5-1 loss to Monadnock, the Cards’ first setback of the year. “When you’re inside, you kind of don’t have a choice but to work on fundamentals. So we did some soft toss, some live hitting on the quick (gym floor) surface. That’s helped us get used to fielding balls up the middle. Just little things like that, I think we made the most of.”
Stevens certainly made the most of its first three games of the season, outscoring area rivals Newport, Windsor and Mascoma a combined 20-4 while starting 3-0 to match last season’s win total.
Cardinals pitchers Ryan Tanguay and Logan Batchelder were outstanding during Stevens’ stellar start, allowing no earned runs and walking just three combined. Tanguay, a junior, started with a complete-game shutout with six strikeouts in blanking the Tigers 5-0 in the opener, then twirled a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts and just one walk in last Monday’s 5-1 win over the Yellowjackets.
Batchelder, a senior, sandwiched a three-hit gem between Tanguay’s efforts on Wednesday, walking none in the Cardinals’ 10-3 walloping of the Royals.
Stevens pitching refused to issue many free passes during its torrid beginning, a key emphasis of Silva’s heading into this season.
“That’s what killed us last year, was letting guys get on base without earning it because we just couldn’t find the plate,” said Silva, whose squad trudged through a 3-14-1 campaign a year ago. “Throwing strikes is the best way to get people out. Like I tell the guys, the best hitters in the game are still going to make outs seven out of 10 times they’re up. So if you make them put the ball in play, the percentages are going to work in your favor.”
Stevens junior Caleb Beckley was strong in defeat during his first start of the season Friday, striking out nine against two walks in a tough matchup against Huskies ace Ben Mallet. Mallet, a sophomore, came into Barnes Park fresh off of last Monday’s no-hitter in a win over Newport.
Beckley’s fourth walk of the game forced in a run to give Mondadnock a 3-0 lead with none out in the sixth inning. The pitcher recovered to induce a fly out and strike out two straight as the Huskies left the bases loaded.
Stevens got within 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth after Donald Pellerin, Batchelder and Austin Tenney all led off with singles to load the bases. Trey Dansereau hit an RBI fielder’s choice before Mallet struck out Tanguay — reinserted after leaving the game in the second inning with an injury — and induced a line out from Mike Puksta to escape further damage.
Beckley threw several wild pitches to help the Huskies pad their lead in the seventh, but overall, the junior looked like he should be a solid No. 3 starter this season.
“I think he was getting tired toward the end of the game, but overall, he did a good job keeping their hitters off balance,” Silva said of Beckley. “He had a good breaking ball, got out of some jams and finished with nine strikeouts. ... A big part of hitting is confidence, so if you can keep guys off balance by mixing it up, it helps you a lot, and all of our pitchers have been able to do that for us so far this season.”
Stevens’ hitting was a combined .289 through the first three games, highlighted by junior third baseman Austin Tenney’s 8-for-10 start. Batchelder (4-for-10), Chase Hussey (3-for-8), Dansereau (3-for-10) and Tanguay (3-for-10) all were batting at least .300 heading into the Monadnock contest. Tenney went 1-for-3 against the Huskies and its still batting .692 through four games.
“Austin’s a great hitter who attacks the ball and doesn’t make many mistakes,” said Silva. “He hit .386 for us last year and it’s good to see him off to another great start.”
The Cards as a unit have been steady at making contact and forcing opposing defenses to field the ball cleanly, another one of the coach’s points of emphasis.
“If you put the ball in play, the defense has to do three things to make an out. They have to field the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball. If you strike out of pop up, they only have to do one thing. We play a lot of good defenses, but if you put the ball in play enough, sooner or later they’re going to make a mistake and that’s how you get on base.”
Having returned eight of nine starters and carrying eight seniors this season, Stevens has strong chemistry and should be a contender in New Hampshire Division III this season.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of hard work and we’ve been playing together for a long time now,” said senior and backup catcher Justin Corbett, a tri-captain and the team’s emotional leader. “This is an aggressive team. We’re much better this season.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.