First place in the Patriot League Keenan Division is up for grabs tomorrow as the Whitman-Hanson Regional High baseball team kicks off a four-game week with a home contest against Plymouth North.
Three weeks ago, the Whitman-Hanson Regional High baseball team took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning against Plymouth North, only to have the Blue Eagles put up five runs — three of which were unearned — as they handed the Panthers their first loss of the season, 8-3.
“We kicked a couple of balls on the turf that we haven’t kicked since,” W-H head coach Pat Cronin said.
The setback occurred after an 11-day layoff due to the weather, which came off the heels of W-H opening the season 2-0. Since then, the Panthers have not lost and sit with a record of 9-1 overall and in the Patriot League as they prepare for a rematch with Keenan Division foe Plymouth North (11-2, 9-1) tomorrow.
Set to toe the rubber for the Panthers tomorrow is junior captain Rian Schwede, who sports a 3-1 record and 1.84 ERA. Schwede excited the earlier game against Plymouth North with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
“He’s clearly established himself as the ace, and that game got away from us down there in Plymouth,” Cronin said.
Schwede’s emergence as the ace came after 2017 Patriot League Keenan Division MVP James Dolan exited W-H’s second game of the season — against Plymouth South — with tendentious. Dolan, who boasted a 6-1 mark and 0.35 ERA over 40 1-3 innings last spring, hasn’t thrown since, which makes the Panthers’ 9-1 start even more of a surprise to Cronin.
“Given that we lose the MVP, one of the best pitchers in the league to start, anyone who evaluates it and access it has to say this is really remarkable,” Cronin said of his team’s record. “So, I am thrilled but also I live with these guys now.”
Also logging some significant innings for the Panthers have been seniors Korey Howard (1-0, 1.97 ERA, 10 2-3 IP), Jason Green (2-0, 1.50, 14), and junior Ethan Phelps (2-0, 0.44, 16).
“I know what they’re capable of and having coached a long time you can project into the future what is their possibilities — what is possible if they work hard, so on the other side they never really surprise me either,” Cronin said.
At the plate, senior Ryan Sawtelle is hitting at a .407 clip to pace the Panthers.
“He’s another guy that’s been there for three years with us and he’s worked his way through” Cronin said.
The Panthers’ most recent victory (3-0 over Hingham last Thursday) marked their seventh victory in an eight-day span. Other victories came over Quincy (13-1 on May 2), Pembroke (6-0 on May 3), Hanover (3-2 on May 4), Duxbury (5-2 on May 5), North Quincy (7-5 on May 7) and Silver Lake (11-2 on May 9).
“What I did this week is when I got to Friday and I got up in the morning and I was tired Friday morning,” Cronin explained. “Seven games in nine days and I was tired and I’m saying — If I’m tired and I’m coaching, these kids are taking AP exams last week, they have National Honor Society, I said, ’It’s a beautiful day, give them Friday off, give them Saturday off, let all the arms recover.’”
Cronin said keeping his players fresh and not overworked is a constant battle for him.
“You have to find ways and I get torn because old school says work ‘em, work ‘em, work ‘em,” Cronin said. “These kids are so busy that if they’re playing well — I learned that from my old football coach here at Whitman-Hanson, Bob Tan — I mean we hardly ran any conditioning because we were undefeated, and if you’re successful, keep them fresh and keep them enjoying the game so I don’t know if I’m always right, but I’m always trying anyway.”
Cronin said he tries to keep his practices in the range of an hour and a half to at most two hours during the heart of the season.
“One day I could see we were a little tense, I brought in 20 pizzas into the dugout and I called them in and I had them go to my car and get the pizzas and they go crazy for food,” Cronin said. “You have to do things like that. We bring them in and had some pizza and then they did a little 10 minutes of work and I sent them home. We’ll play a little bunting game out here, we try to compete and have fun in games when we can.”
After tomorrow’s tilt with Plymouth North (4 p.m.), W-H will travel to Brockton to play the Boxers (9-3) on Tuesday, before returning to league play as it visits Duxbury (5-4, 4-4) on Wednesday and hosts Quincy (2-9, 0-8) on Thursday.
“It’s four games and we’ve set up the pitching pretty much the same way that we did it the first time, fortunately we’ve been through a four-game week,” Cronin said. “As I told the kids, ‘We’re going out there and just do it the same way.’”