Hadley community supporting Hopkins Academy’s deep postseason runs

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-16-2023 6:40 PM

Patrick Fitzgibbons winced in the MacKenzie Stadium dugout.

The Hopkins Academy senior catcher wasn’t hurt. His No. 9 Golden Hawks baseball team had just taken a 5-0 lead over No. 5 Pioneer in the MIAA Division 5 state semifinals, everything was good in Holyoke. But Fitzgibbons  heard the softball state semifinal score between Hopkins Academy and Turners Falls: the Thunder led 8-3 after four innings. The softball score meant just as much as what happened on the baseball diamond to he and his teammates.

“It’s a small school so everybody knows everybody and we’re friends with a lot of people on the softball team,” Fitzgibbons said.

Their state semifinals began within an hour of each other Tuesday – baseball in Holyoke and softball in Westfield. The teams followed much of each other’s paths that same way after playing on the same day Sunday in the quarterfinals, baseball in Georgetown after a Saturday rainout and softball in Williamstown, about as far apart as two games can be held in Massachusetts.

“We’re a small school, but we definitely show up at these big games,” Fitzgibbons said.

Hopkins Academy has around 220 students in grades seven through 12, among the smallest in the state, but it put teams in both the baseball and softball Final Fours. Only Taunton, a Division 1 power with 2,700 students, accomplished the same feat. The Golden Hawks’ expanded playoff rosters included 16 baseball players and 18 softball players, which means more than 15 percent of Hopkins Academy’s total student population competed for a state championship berth.

“Two Final Four teams for a school this size, it’s amazing,” Hopkins Academy athletic director Fred Ciaglo said.

It’s also been a small headache. The Golden Hawks played just three home games during the dual Final Four runs: two at the softball field for the No. 7 seed and one at the baseball field for the ninth-seeded side. Ciaglo had to find buses to Douglas, Georgetown (twice), Williamstown, Holyoke and Westfield, and schedule games around graduations and proms from all sides.

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“All the logistics that go with it, I’m figuring it out as I go,” Ciaglo said. “I’m more than willing to do it to have both teams there.”

Even as the teams haven’t been able to physically support each other, they’ve remained connected. They often mingle in the parking lot on the way to and from games or before and after practices.

“Coach (Dan) Vreeland and I work very closely together. Our fields are side by side. We talk all the time,” Hopkins Academy softball coach Paula Cristoforo said. “We have to share spaces a lot. The collaborative effort and recognition of how close baseball and softball are is important.” 

They also collaborated to rally community support to both teams. Camp chairs and umbrellas lined the third base line at each softball home game. Parents and friends trudged all the way out to the North Shore for six pitches in Georgetown on June 10 before rain flooded the field and postponed the game to the following day, when many of them turned around and did it again.

“The beautiful thing about Hadley is it’s wonderful to have this kind of support from the community all the time,” Vreeland said. “There’s been people who come to our games all the time that I’ve been assuming are peoples’ grandparents, and somebody told me the other day a couple of them have no relation to anybody on the team.”

The baseball team put away Pioneer 9-4 at MacKenzie. The softball team couldn’t complete the comeback and fell 9-7 against Turners Falls. Their buses arrived back in the Hopkins Academy parking lot around the same time. Fitzgibbons and his teammates acknowledged the season the softball team had, making the Western Massachusetts final for just the second time ever and advancing further than it ever had in the state tournament.

“It was bittersweet to know they were there supporting us and congratulating us and they were gonna keep moving forward. It was good to know they have a chance to be state champions,” Hopkins Academy senior Izzy Palmisano said. “This was my favorite team I’ve ever been on. I’m so proud of everyone.”

Now they’ll throw their support fully behind the baseball team, which will face Bourne at noon Sunday at Polar Park in Worcester (the game was postsponed from Saturday due to weather by the MIAA). The Red Sox’s AAA affiliate’s stadium holds more than 9,500 seats. There will certainly be a fair number of those seats full close to the visitors dugout decked in white, blue and gold.

“There’s 13 kids on a Hopkins Academy team, but there’s 5,400 people in Hadley, and that’s really what’s keeping this tournament run alive,” Fitzgibbons said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>