Haverhill Hillies Baseball '08

Wed, Apr 09, 2008 03:45 PM @ Newburyport
Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Final
Haverhill 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 3
Newburyport 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 2
Bryan Eaton, Staff PhotographerMore photos

Newburyport trying to establish new identity

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Thursday, April, 10 By Dan Guttenplan
Sports editor

Few Newburyport baseball players remain from the team that clinched its third consecutive Cape Ann League title in 2006.

And perhaps that's a good thing for the Clippers.

No longer harbored with the pressure of continuing a run of CAL titles, Newburyport continued to establish its new identity yesterday in a 3-2 loss to Haverhill at Lower Field. Hillies pitcher Leif Sorenson was the difference, earning the complete-game three-hit victory.

But for a Clippers team that was plagued by one-run losses en route to a 10-11 record last year, yesterday's loss provided evidence that the team may be turning the corner. Whereas last year's team appeared tight in close games | making costly errors in the infield or struggling to find the clutch hit | this year's version appears more suited for close games that are commonplace in the competitive CAL.

Infield defense would appear to be the biggest positive for Newburyport. With starting shortstop Joe Clancy relegated to the designated hitter with a bruised hand against a Haverhill team slated to contend for a Merrimack Valley Conference Small title, freshman Matt Mattola showcased his defensive skills in making six putouts without an error. One such play came in the second inning when the freshman dove to stab a screaming one-hopper up the middle, bounced to his feet, and retired the Haverhill runner by a step at first base.

"Matt was great filling in for Joe," Newburyport coach Bill Pettingell said. "And the fact that Joe played DH hurt the way he did, that showed the other guys something."

The challenge for Pettingell will be finding the sure-handed Mattola a spot on the field as third baseman Tyler Stotz and second baseman Richie Burke are as sharp defensively as any infielder in the CAL.

Another early positive sign for Newburyport is its ability to manufacture runs. Gone are the days of year-round high school baseball players. This year's team boasts natural athletes from top to bottom.

r Leadoff hitter Richie Burke is a five-sport letterman who scored a run yesterday by legging out an infield single, moving to second on a sacrifice, moving to third on a wild pitch, and scoring on a groundout to short.

r Second-batter Mattola was the backup quarterback on the football team who would've started Thanksgiving Day had he not been injured the week before the game.

r Third-batter Tyler Stotz and cleanup-hitter Kyle LeBlanc are members of the Newburyport indoor track team's record-holding 4 x 100 meter relay.

r Fifth-hitter Kevin Holmes tallied 40 points during the hockey season.

r Sixth-hitter Joe Clancy is the starting quarterback and a Daily News all-star in basketball.

And so on, and so forth.

Another bright spot for Newburyport through three games | despite its 1-2 record | is its starting pitching. In yesterday's loss, Kevin Holmes nearly matched Sorenson, who Pettingell called an NCAA Division 1 prospect with his 88 mile-per-hour fastball. Holmes actually took a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning, when his one mistake resulted in a two-run home run by Taylor Robinson.

In Sunday's 4-1 victory over Amesbury, Kyle McElroy earned the three-hit victory. Clancy will be available to pitch once his hand heals.

"(Holmes) made one mistake all day," Haverhill coach Chip Dunn said. "(Pettingell) does a very nice job with his teams. They're always well-prepared. This year's team looks like it can play."

Time will tell whether or not that statement will prove prophetic. Starting Saturday, the Clippers play three games in five days against the likes of Triton, Pentucket and Amesbury.

A Newburyport squad that yesterday boasted a starting lineup of one senior, four juniors, four sophomores and a freshman will be thrown to the fire quickly. The Clippers can no longer rely on experienced veterans who have shared in CAL championship seasons.

"If we play like we did today, we'll win a lot of games," Pettingell said yesterday. "I like the makeup of this team."

The team | now two seasons removed from a CAL championship | will need to start a legacy of its own. Perhaps that will prove easier than continuing one from previous seasons.

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