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Up-and-down Panthers aim for postseason.

Byline: Kevin O'Malley

COLUMN: H.S. Baseball

You never really know what to expect out of a high school baseball team until they get out of the gym and take the field for the first time each spring. Sometimes, even then, it can still be confusing.

Take, for example, David Prouty, which entered the fourth annual John Ahearn Memorial Tournament with a 4-3 record, having knocked off ranked teams in Auburn and Grafton but with lopsided losses to Northbridge, Uxbridge and Shepherd Hill.

"We've been up and down," Panthers coach Chuck Fahey said. "Hopefully we're going to be more up than down. We want to kind of level out here. We lost to Northbridge, Uxbridge and Shepherd Hill by a (combined) score of 37 to 5. Those three games we were out to lunch. We just hope to get them on track, and for us, it's all pitching. If our pitcher throws strikes, then our defense plays pretty good."

David Prouty got some solid starting pitching performances during school vacation as John Tretheway and Josh Nicol pitched the Panthers to their second Ahearn Tournament title with wins over North Middlesex and Quabbin.

Tretheway struck out 12 Patriots in the opening round, and Nicol added a solid five-inning effort in the final. The tournament also saw the emergence of freshman Lucas Davis, who was throw into the fire with the game on the line against Quabbin in the championship and earned his first high school save with a gutsy effort two-inning effort through the heart of Quabbin's lineup.

Winning the tournament, as enjoyable as it may be, didn't move the team any closer to its goal for the season, however.

"Our No. 1 goal is always to win our division, the Southern Worcester County League West, because we preach to them that if you win the division usually good things happen after that," Fahey said. "It means you have a pretty good record, you get a pretty good seed in the districts; everything kind of falls into place. So that's our first goal that we talk about. If that falls apart, like it has the past couple years, than we battle for that plus-.500 record just to get to districts. But our No. 1 goal is to battle for the SWCL West title."

David Prouty reached the tournament last year with a 10-10 record, only to have Auburn send it packing in the first round.

"We battled hard, but we didn't get it done," Fahey said.

Battling and, occasionally, the old hidden-ball trick, are signatures of Fahey's squads, as well as aggressive base running, and solid fundamental hitting approaches to put maximum pressure on opposing defenses.

"We're always looking to put pressure on the defense whether it's stealing, bunting, sacrifices, drag bunts; we like moving," Fahey said. "When we get guys on base we want to move people, whether they can steal flat-out or we are bunting and trying to move people that way, or even hit-and-run. We have to create offense, we can't just stand there and slug away; that's not our M.O."

The Panthers have just four seniors this season - Tretheway, shortstop Mike Mattei, left fielder Tyler Keyes and Patrick O'Connor. The Class of 2009 is represented with nine players, led by tri-captain Nicol, Ahearn Tournament MVP second baseman Justin Hyland, first baseman Justin Kresco, catcher Jeff Goparian and pitcher Mike Letendre. Sophomores Christian Ricard (designated hitter) and Joe Martin (center field) already have joined the starting lineup, giving Fahey a well-balanced squad of youth and experience. Juniors Dan Lajoie, Peter Mitchell, Justin Jodaitis and Scott Ritze; sophomores Dan Fish and Ben Romano and freshman Clayton Fahey round out the roster.

"We're looking for big things from these guys, but it's game by game, we've got a game tomorrow against Southbridge, which always battles us tough," Fahey said. "Even though they're struggling a little bit they battle us tough year in and year out so we have to wake up and be ready (today)."

Gardner hosts archrival Oakmont in the final of the annual Jim Taddeo Tournament at 1 p.m. today at Stone Field in another good matchup. Gardner defeated Fitchburg in the first round, while Oakmont earned its spot with a win over Narragansett.

Quabbin working hard

It's been a tough start to the season for the Quabbin Panthers, who lost coach Rich Zalneraitis before the season started, as the coach and father of starting catcher Kellin Zalneraitis was fired for using profanity during a team meeting.

Assistant coach Mark Battista was promoted and has done admirably, leading the Panthers to their second straight Ahearn Tournament final with a win over perennial Division 2 powerhouse Hudson for the second straight season.

"We've come a long way. We've certainly turned the corner compared to a few years ago," Battista said after the Panthers' 5-3 loss to David Prouty in the Ahearn final. "We were always in the consolation game, there was never a year that we weren't. So we're getting there, but we've got to do a little better job, We're really planning on making districts this year, but we need to play better than we did today."

As for Zalneraitis, he doesn't plan on missing any games, even if he isn't allowed to coach the kids anymore.

"My kid is on the team, but really they are all my kids," Zalneraitis said. "I miss the team, but I won't miss any games."

Hawks ranked again

It should come as no surprise the Milford Scarlet Hawks are back in the Telegram & Gazette Central Mass. Media Poll, despite graduating ace Bryant Johnson from last year's CMass finalist squad, as Milford is virtually synonymous with the sport of baseball hereabouts.

Senior tri-captains Tom Kane and Eric Driscoll, who patrol center and right field, respectively, and pitcher Barry Fitzgibbons lead the Scarlet Hawks, who were ranked 10th in the T&G Poll this week with wins over Fitchburg, Shrewsbury, Westboro, Marlboro and Nashoba.

Milford, which travels to Riverside Park to take on Hudson tonight, has a single loss, to Hopedale in the first week of the season.

Fitzgibbons anchors a deep pitching staff, which also includes Mike DeSisto, D.J. Gerard, Jason Dennis, Jack Murray, Steve Shaddock and Tommy Leung.

Defensively for Milford, Michael Spates starts behind the plate, while Rick Gala mans first, Alan Bishop second, Evan Burns shortstop, Brendon Casey third, and Sam Perkins plays left field. Ed Rivera is the designated hitter.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 25, 2008
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