ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Classical baseball coach Mike Zukowski talks to his team at practice on Monday.
By HAROLD RIVERA
The Lynn Classical baseball team is on a mission this season. After the Rams rallied with a late-season surge to qualify for the state tournament last season, and lost a heartbreaker to Burlington in the second round, Classical’s looking to pick up where it left off.
“This year’s senior class has qualified for the state tournament for the past three years,” Classical coach Mike Zukowski said. “Four of them have started for us since (they were) freshmen. Those guys are hungry, especially the senior class. They’re itching to get back in. They have something to prove.”
The upside for the Rams is that the team returns a talented nucleus of experienced players. Offensively it starts with senior Tyler Way, who’ll play centerfield and bat leadoff. Senior Matt Lauria, a catcher, will also return to Classical’s lineup after leading the team in RBI last season despite missing five games due to injury. Herbie Newton, a senior, will look to contribute from a utility role and could see action at first base. Senior shortstop Andrew Moccia will round out a talented offensive core.
“He (Moccia) ended the season on fire for us,” Zukowski said. “If we can get him going, that’d be great.”
On the mound, Classical will lean on Newton, senior George Dimis and David Barnard. A sophomore, Barnard threw a handful of innings for the Rams last season and looked sharp.
“He came up and threw some strikes for us last season,” Zukowski said. “We’ll be looking for him to throw some innings for us this year.”
Way, Lauria, Newton and Moccia will all serve as captains for the Rams this spring. Zukowski is confident that his group of captains will provide strong leadership on the diamond.
“The senior leadership is going to have to be our strength,” Zukowski said. “Right now it is. They’re taking control and being extensions of the coaches. Hopefully the experience we’ve had over the past few years will help us.”
Classical held its first team practice on Monday and so far things are looking good. The Rams will look to take things slow as they re-introduce themselves to baseball drills throughout the preseason.
“Everyone was excited to be there,” Zukowski said. “We had about 62 kids show up, which is big for us. It went well, slow and steady. We introduced a lot of drills and techniques to some of the younger kids. We introduced new things to new kids and a lot of the older guys were introduced to things they need to brush up on.”
The Rams open the season on April 10. In preparation for the season opener, Classical will scrimmage against a tough slate of opponents that includes Manchester-Essex, Masconomet, St. Mary’s and Cambridge Rindge and Latin.
The goal is for the players to get as many live looks as possible.
“We’ll get some at-bats and live looks at pitches,” Zukowski said. “We’ll work the count and make some live plays. It’s one thing to hit the ball and see it inside the gym for a few weeks but you need to see live ground balls to make plays. Same thing goes for the hitters. The more looks we get, the better off we’ll be.”
Zukowski, in his 10th season, will be joined on the coaching staff by assistants Rick Myette, Greg Rybak and Kevin Fidrych.
As for what opponents can expect from the Rams this upcoming season, Zukowski feels that nothing will come easy against Classical.
“They (opposing teams) can expect a tough game,” Zukowski said. “We’ll go out there and do little things right. We’ll try not to make mental mistakes. We’ll try to go out there and give everybody a game, in a tough Northeastern Conference. We’ll look to cut down on the mistakes, make the plays and the runs will come.”