By Joyce Erekson
If you’re a Classical High baseball fan, life is good.
The Rams are off to a 12-0 start (not including last night’s game against Danvers) and they’re doing it with a combination of experience (senior captains Andrew Moccia, Matt Lauria, Tyler Way and Herbie Newton) and a youthful pitching staff led by sophomores David Barnard, Brett Bucklin and Jonathan Nicosia.
Throw in some big bats (Sean Devin and AJ Luciano come to mind), and some talented other players like Christian Burt, Kevin Durant, Nick Lilja, Mike Tarasuik and George Dimis and you have a recipe for success.
“There’s a little bit of a target on our backs,” coach Mike Zukowski said. “We’ve got to be prepared every game.”
The baseball team has been happily sharing the spotlight this spring with the softball team which, prior to losing to Medford on Monday, was riding a 9-0 record under coach Erica Richard.
“It’s great seeing the other coach’s success,” Zukowski said. “It’s like a family (at Classical). It’s a tightknit group.”
Zukowski expected his team to do well this year, but even he didn’t see a 12-0 start to the season coming.. The pitching staff has been very effective despite its youth. Barnard and Bucklin are both 4-0 and Jonathan Nicosia is sporting a 3-0 record that includes a no-hitter against Beverly.
Senior George Dimis, who had been sidelined with a sore shoulder since the Newburyport game the second week of the season, was back into action Monday against Medford.
Dimis struck out eight to help the Rams squeak by, 3-2. That win was just one of several close calls for the Rams, who also had nail biters against Gloucester, Saugus, Beverly, Peabody and Medford.
“Those are the types of games that show you something, not just about the character of each player, but how they’re going to be when the pressure is on,” Zukowski said.
Zukowski pointed to the Peabody game as a defining moment of sorts in the season. The Rams were 6-0 heading into the game, but Peabody had defeated St. John’s Prep and was looking good. Classical took a 2-0 lead that held up until the fifth inning, but Peabody came back and went up 3-2.
“That’s when I as a coach am looking to see who is going to step up,” Zukowski said “We got some baserunners on, went ahead. We took advantage of a lot of their mistakes. We didn’t play our total best, but we had timely hitting and pulled out a win. I think that’s the game where I started thinking that we have something here.”
Zukowski said he has seen his pitchers’ confidence grow as the season has gone on.
“It’s very encouraging. They’re just throwing strikes, pounding the strike zone. I see their confidence building from their success. Each start they’re a little more composed, a little more poised on the mound. They’re more comfortable out there, and they’re fielding their position well.”
Zukowski said it helps the pitchers to know they have a catcher like Lauria and a solid defense behind them. Moccia, who is going to Assumption College where he hopes to play, is at shortstop, Newton is a first, serves as the designated hitter and does a little pitching. Way, the centerfielder, is the lead-off hitter. Left fielder Devin sprays the singles and doubles around and is hitting in the neighborhood of .550. Luciano, at third, is also in the 500s and a bunch of guys are in the 400s. Seniors Lilja and
“One through nine we’re swinging the bat well,” Zukowski said. “Everyone is playing well. Everyone is doing their job, making the routine plays. It adds to the confidence of the pitchers. They know they don’t have to be perfect out there. They’re throwing strikes and they’re making the plays behind them.”