The Whitman-Hanson Regional High baseball team is returning some pivotal players from last season’s team that went 16-5 and was bouced in the first round of the tournament.
Whitman-Hanson Regional High baseball head coach Pat Cronin has always had a vision for the future.
Back in the spring of 2016 when Cronin took over the W-H program after spending the past 35 years at the helm of East Bridgewater, this was the season he was building toward.
“I will say this that in the three years that I’ve been here this was the year that I’ve had kind of circled as a year where I was really excited and interested in seeing how much our work paid off,” Cronin, who has recorded 452 wins as a head coach, said.
In the Panthers’ first campaign under Cronin, they advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2007 and won their first-round game 11-0 against Somerset-Berkley before falling to Falmouth, 4-2, in the semifinals. Last season, they finished 15-6, which included a 4-2 loss to Sandwich in the first round. W-H did, however, claim the Patriot League Keenan Division along the way.
“This is a team game more than anything else, so I think implementing a team-attitude that you may want to play short, but you’re a great second baseman or you may want to play center, but you’re a great left fielder,” Cronin said of how changed the culture of the team. “All of the kids bought into that.”
As part of Cronin’s forward vision, he doesn’t just account for the season at hand.
“We plan two of three years ahead when we’re putting our team together,” Cronin said. “I always have planned two or three years ahead.”
While the Panthers may be down Patriot League All-Star at short stop and captain Luke Tamulevich, who helped turn seven doubles plays last season, due to graduation, fellow league all-star junior Mike Cook, who hit .302 and helped spin nine double plays last spring, will slide over from second base to shortstop.
“When he first came up as a freshman, I put him at short when Tamulevich got sick and he played there as a freshman and helped us beat Stoughton,” Cronin explained. “So, I told him later, ‘I need you to go to second base. I’ve got Tamulevich there and I need the big arm to take [Nate] Perkins’ place.’ And then this year, he knew he was stepping in and the beauty of that is we’ll have him for two years now. And he’s perhaps, if not the best, one of my best hitters.”
Senior Ryan Sawtelle, who backed up Bobby Caliri behind the plate last season, will assume the catching duties and will be looked upon to supply some offense.
“He dinged and donged and his stroke has really improved,” Cronin said.
Sawtelle will be tasked with handling a lethal Panthers pitching rotation anchored by their two captains. Senior James Dolan enters the year having posted a 0.35 ERA over 40.33 innings last season while junior Rian Schwede hurled 39 innings to the tune of a 1.44 ERA. Both were Patriot League All-Stars.
“You’ve got your No. 1 and 2 back and they’re both all-league players,” Cronin said. “I think pitching is going to be the strength and then defense, we will work the defense. I hope this, out of the three years, will be our best hitting team of the three years.”
Dolan, who plays first base while not on the mound, also hit a team-high .389 last season en route to being tabbed Patriot League Keenan Division MVP.
Cronin is also high on junior Ethan Phelps (.319 last season) who he will let roam center field and use as a third starter.
“He’s certainly one of our best hitters and he’s back for two more years, too,” Cronin said. “Plus, I’ve held him off because I didn’t need him last year. You should see him on the mound, he’s another pitcher. We worked with him a lot last year, every day to get him ready for this year.”
Senior Caleb Burke is back at third base and senior Jason Green returns as the designated hitter and will see some action on the mound.
The Panthers are scheduled to begin their season at home Tuesday, April 3 at 4 p.m. against Middleboro.
“We won the first game in ’16 and we lost the second game to a good Falmouth team with the kid going to BC,” Cronin explained. “We lost to a good Sandwich team last year with a kid that threw well. We are not ready to hit at that level, that’s what takes time to build in a program and it did the same thing at East Bridgewater. You have to get them in the cages and get them to commit. Defense and pitching, we can work in early on and day in and day out, but to build a good hitter, it’s a different mindset from what they’re used to.
“A good hitter is also somebody who has some varsity reps. You can’t take a kid from the JV and have him step to the varsity and expect him to hit .350, it’s just not going to happen. They need to see those good guys and in this league and there are a lot of good guys. That’s the step and they know it. That’s the step to take this program go to the next level is we need to have them hungry as hitters every free moment they have during the season and during the summer. They need to dedicate themselves to hitting.”