W-H’s baseball senior captains helped lead the program to two Patriot League Keenan Division crowns, a pair of playoff wins and a 61-25 record.
When Pat Cronin returned to his alma matter, Whitman-Hanson Regional High, four years ago to coach the baseball team after spending the previous 35 springs as East Bridgewater’s skipper, he had a lot of work to do.
That included several decisions, such as: finding out what had and hadn’t worked, deciding who could and should play where and assessing who could be a contributor.
Three then-freshmen —Mike Cook, Ethan Phelps and Rian Schwede — made his life a little easier. They only required a few minutes of observation before making a decision.
“I saw their love for the game — they love baseball — and I saw they were natural athletes,” Cronin said. “They could play at the varsity level.”
So Cronin, who made a four-year commitment to W-H when he was hired in 2015, decided he wanted to take them on the ride with him.
Four years later, the program appeared in the tournament each season — which ended an eight-year playoff drought — captured two Patriot League Keenan Division crowns, won a pair of playoff games and racked up a 61-25 record.
“They’re my three,” Cronin said. “They’re my guys that have been with me since Day 1. They’re legacy is very much tied to those championships.”
A three-time all-star, Cook, who is headed to play college baseball at Babson, was a constant at second base and in the middle of the order for the past three years. He never hit below .300.
“He can run, he can make things happen, so he’s solid,” Cronin said of Cook. “Mike is even going to be better in the next four years when he gets to Babson and starts to really compete against some really good players. You’re going to see him get much better.
Cook said the groundwork for the Panthers’ success during his tenure was laid by the seniors when he was just a freshman.
“They set the tone,” Cook said. “Nick Haley, Nate Perkins, Jared Pendrak, the three captains, they were unbelievable for us. They we had year after year guys that came through and did what they needed to do.”
“We really turned it around my first year with Nick Haley, Brenndan Rogers and Nate Perkins and it was cool to play with them the first year and understand what it’s like to be a part of a really winning program,” Schwede said.
But without Schwede’s arm, that success may not have continued. W-H’s ace for the past two seasons and a league all-star since he was a sophomore, the Endicott College baseball-bound righty pitched to the tune of a 1.47 ERA over 146 2/3 innings. Cronin didn’t mince words when talking about Schwede’s impact.
“He was the guy,” Cronin said. “He was as good as there is in this league. He learned what pitching is all about. He has the big pitchers’ body. He has the big right arm and he understands exactly how I want it done.”
Phelps — Schwede’s partner in the outfield when he wasn’t on the mound — turned in a solid career bouncing between the mound and centerfield.
“He grew a lot,” Cronin said of Phelps. “Our seniors are the guys who hit above .300 and he was one of them.”
Phelps said he felt the culture shift when Cronin took the helm.
“It’s a great program, a lot of history in the past few years,” Phelps said. “When Cronin started, he pretty much changed around the whole program.”
Cronin said his senior captains helped establish the baseball program as a team that’s serious about winning.
“They’re the leaders who talk the game and walk the game in school too, and now the kids in school look at the game differently,” Cronin said of his captains. “It’s manifested in who they are as people. So when they see Schwede or they see Cook or they see Phelps and they know they’re baseball players and they respect them, then they respect the game. I think we’re in a good place.”
Each captain said the biggest thing Cronin taught them was how to stay level headed.
“I think just being a leader,” Cook said. “I’ve always been a hot head growing up. I used to always be the kid crying on the field and throwing a tantrum, but coach and everyone else has always stayed on me and helped me be more composed and that’s definitely helped me a lot.”
Said Phelps: “He taught me to keep my temper at ease because a lot of the times it gets out of hands.”
Said Schwede: “Freshman year I was a little bit antsy, I didn’t really know how to control a lot of things, but I think over the last four years, he’s kind of really kept it pretty strong on me.”
Cronin said there’s really only one way to term these past four seasons. That’s exciting.
“They knew what I thought and knew what they thought and it made it a nice smooth ride,” said the skipper. “We had a lot of great wins here. They’ve helped a lot. I will miss them. It’s been great having them, and I’m going to miss the heck out of them.”