Hopkins Academy returns to state Division 4 baseball semifinals, will face Oxford again

  • Hopkins Academy’s John Earle, right, eyes the ball while St. Mary’s catcher Hunter Authier looks to make the catch June 16, 2018 during the Western Massachusetts Division 4 baseball championship game at Earl Lorden Field in Amherst.

  • Hopkins Academy’s Kouji Ishida rounds third base under pressure from St. Mary’s June 16, 2018 during the Western Massachusetts Division 4 baseball championship game at Earl Lorden Field in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Hopkins Academy’s Noah Scanlon-Dean, left, Justin Butterfield and John Earle hug June 16, 2018 after winning the Western Massachusetts Division 4 baseball championship game 8-3 over St. Mary’s at Earl Lorden Field in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Hopkins Academy’s Jonathan Morrison, left, congratulates teammate Nathan Kelley as he crosses home plate to score against St. Mary’s during the Western Massachusetts Division 4 championship game, Saturday at Earl Lorden Field in Amherst. Hopkins plays Oxford in the state semifinals, Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Published: 6/18/2018 11:31:21 PM

Only Jon Morrison remains from Hopkins Academy’s last Western Massachusetts championship baseball team. As an eighth-grader in 2014, he pitched a gem against Oxford to put the Golden Hawks in the state championship game.

The rest of the team will play in a Division 4 state semifinal for the first time Tuesday, when Hopkins Academy faces Central Mass. champion Oxford at 4 p.m. at UMass’ Earl Lorden Field.

Fortunately, it won’t be the first big game for any of them.

Hopkins Academy, which is one of the smallest schools in the state, has won three sectional basketball titles, and played in three of the past four Western Mass. soccer tournament semifinals.

“They’ve all played in high-pressure moments in their athletic careers,” Hopkins coach Dan Vreeland said.

Tuesday’s state semifinal will be no different. Hopkins (17-4) won its first sectional title in four years to reach this point. Oxford (22-1) is playing in its third semifinal in the past four years.

The Pirates allowed one total run in three sectional tournament games. They threw shutouts in the semifinals and finals, where they beat Littleton 1-0. They have three pitchers with at least four wins, led by David Meech with eight. Meech pitched a complete game in the Central final. Joel Erickson and Jason Panient are both unbeaten with ERAs under 2.00.

“They don’t allow many runs,” Vreeland said.

Oxford produces a lot of them, too. The Pirates have scored 199 runs this year, averaging just under nine per game. Meech hit .629 with 32 RBIs, and Panient drove in 16 runs with a .463 average.

“You’ve got to be pretty dumb to think someone that’s a Central Mass champion isn’t going to have a ton of weapons,” Vreeland said.

The Golden Hawks have continued to prepare with the understanding that runs will be crucial. They worked on situational hitting, bunting and baserunning during practice.

“We know every run is valuable,” Morrison said.

Morrison won’t take the mound for Hopkins after striking out 16 in a complete game in the sectional final. Vreeland didn’t say who he would start, but Justin Butterfield pitched in the sectional semifinals. Justin Ciaglo and Noah Scanlon-Dean have thrown double-digit innings for the Golden Hawks, while Jack Feltovic finished games from the bullpen.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot of options,” Vreeland said.

Whoever takes the mound will do so in a comfortable setting. Hopkins Academy is playing its third straight game at Lorden Field, which is less than 6 miles from its campus.

“It’s practically a home game,” Morrison said.

The Golden Hawks celebrated their WMass title with a dogpile of Morrison on the mound. Hopkins doesn’t plan for it to be the last one.

“It’s a big relief to have the trophy on their shelf and the banner in their gym,” Vreeland said. “But the goal has always been past that.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.

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