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Ethan Belt is one of Fenwick's returnees this spring. (Item file photo)

Bishop Fenwick baseball team welcomes back old coach

PEABODY -- With a new season quickly approaching, the past two weeks have been all about gaining familiarity and building chemistry for new Bishop Fenwick baseball coach Russ Steeves and the Crusaders.

The former Crusaders head coach from 2008-2011, Steeves returned to Fenwick in December when athletic director Dave Woods tabbed him to replace Kevin Canty. Now the head coach at Wakefield, Canty coached the Crusaders to a 13-10 record last spring and a postseason run to the Division 3 North quarterfinal.

Steeves, who also played baseball at Fenwick, graduated from the school in 1985.

"The most difficult part is meeting kids, most of them for the first time, with having zero knowledge of their skillset other than talking to coach Kevin Canty or Dave Woods," Steeves said. "Even with the returning players, I don't know what they can or can't do. That's been the biggest challenge for me as a coach. And then not getting out on a field, that's been a challenge."

Like most other area teams, Fenwick has been limited to indoor practices thus far. The Crusaders have an indoor cage and have worked specifically on fundamentals over the past week and a half.

"We're fortunate to have a cage so we're getting some chances to toss in there," Steeves said. "In the gym, we're working middle infielders, pitchers covering, catchers receiving. We're doing a good job maximizing the gym floor. We're putting in our bunt defenses and things like that. We're maximizing our time and space, and I'm not disappointed in that at all."

Key returners on the mound for the Crusaders are senior right-hander David Furtado, senior left-hander Tyler Thomson and junior right-hander Nic Pignone. Steeves added that a handful of underclassmen are battling for open spots in the pitching staff.

"I like what I see," Steeves said. "I'm going off a year of experience that they've all been out there. They aren't rookies by any means. They battled to win 13 games last season so that's a good thing. We have some sophomores and freshmen that are battling and they seem interested. They're unknown but it'll be good to see."

At the plate/diamond, senior center fielder Nick Fowler returns to the team and will bat leadoff in the order. Also returning are third baseman Ethan Belt, catcher Keegan O'Connor, shortstop Angelo McCollough and second baseman Harrison Brickett- all juniors.

"I don't have a lot of statistics, I'm judging from the cage and the mechanics that I'm seeing," Steeves said. "I'm excited about the front part of the lineup. We have some younger players in the back part of our lineup and we'll get a good look at them once we get outside for some scrimmages this weekend."

\The Crusaders are still looking for a first baseman and two corner outfielders, meaning there's competition in the early going of the preseason.

"We have a lot of exciting freshmen and sophomores working really hard," Steeves said. "They're challenging themselves to earn those three spots that are open."

Although Steeves hasn't coached the team since 2011, he remembers the Catholic Central League as a competitive conference. Steeves comes into the season expecting no change in the level of competition across the CCL.

"I remember that there's always great competition," Steeves said. "I coached a little AAU over the past years. I know (Archbishop) Williams gave us great games last year. St. Mary's and Austin Prep are always tough. It's a fun league because it's always competitive. I've always liked it."

Fenwick opens the season Friday, April 6 at Archbishop Williams.

"The chemistry's real strong," Steeves said. "A new coach always brings an element of unknown. We're getting to know each other. They're adjusting to my style. I'm excited about it. We have a combination of hard work and fun.

Right now it's an exciting group. They're having fun and they're working hard."

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