BEVERLY — After last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Masconomet in the Division 2 North final, Beverly baseball coach Dave Wilbur offered unwavering credit to his team’s seniors.
“This is the best senior leadership of any team I’ve ever coached,” Wilbur, in his 17th season at the helm at Beverly, said. “I’m just following in their lead. These guys want it, these guys are into it and I’m just making sure I don’t mess a thing up and follow them. We’re a hungry baseball team and we’re tough to beat.”
This year’s Panthers are co-captained by Beverly seniors Matt Collins and Tim McCarthy. Both came into the season with high expectations for the team, which returned 11 seniors from last year’s roster.
“Going into this year, I think a lot of us felt we’d have a pretty special season,” Collins, who plays shortstop, said. “A bunch of us have played together for a bunch of years and started together now for three years. We felt this was our year to make a run like this. We were bounced in the first round of the state tournament the past two years so we wanted to make this our year.”
McCarthy and his senior teammates carried vivid memories of last spring’s first round exit into this season. Instead of dwelling on the 5-1 loss to Gloucester, the Panthers learned from the defeat.
A year later, they find themselves one win away from claiming the Eastern Mass. Division 2 state championship. Beverly will clash against South sectional champion North Attleborough Thursday night (6:30) at Lowell’s LeLacheur Park for the state crown.
“Last year we had all our (current) seniors on varsity and it was tough having a first-round exit,” McCarthy, a second baseman and outfielder, said. “We knew from that moment that we wanted to make a deep run in the tournament and we’re fortunate to have. It’s a tribute to all our guys, they all work hard. Every win involves every single one of us.”
No. 3 Beverly’s run to the state final began with a 8-2 win over No. 14 Tewksbury in the Division 2 North first round. It continued with a 3-2 win over No. 11 St. Mary’s in the quarterfinals, a nine-inning affair that saw McCarthy score the game-winning run on an inside-the-park home run.
In the semifinals, Spencer Brown tallied three RBI and McCarthy scored three runs in a 5-1 win over No. 10 Burlington. Brown tossed seven stellar innings and fanned 10 in last Saturday’s win over No. 1 Masconomet in the sectional final.
“Getting that win over Tewksbury in the first round helped us get a weight off our shoulders, especially the guys that have been here since our sophomore year,” Collins, who’ll play college baseball at St. Anselm, said. “We lost in the first round twice. Getting that win in the first round was a relief for all of us and now we’re just playing baseball.
“After that first win we’ve all felt loose,” Collins added. “We’re not overconfident but we know what we can do. We know we can beat any team when we step out there, especially when we have Spencer on the mound. We all have confidence. We all feel we can beat anybody.”
Both Collins and McCarthy have enjoyed their season serving as co-captains for the Panthers this spring. They’ve also made it a point to enjoy their tournament run.
“We’re definitely enjoying it,” McCarthy, who’ll play college baseball at Suffolk, said. “You enjoy it most the night of the win. The next day you come back to practice ready to go. We all got together at (senior) Nick Berry’s house after Saturday’s win and we all got to say ‘Wow. We’ve made it this far. We have one more to go but we’ll enjoy this one tonight.'”
The co-captains have also given thought to the reality that Thursday’s game will be the last of their high school baseball careers. But with a state championship on the line and an opportunity to be remembered with a banner, McCarthy and Collins are right where they’d hoped to be.
“I’ve talked to some of the guys about it,” McCarthy said. “We all know, win or lose, it’s going to be the last game. It’s going to be sad either way but I’d rather have a win and reflect on it all after the win.”
“It’s sad because it’s been four great years of my life,” Collins said. “It’s been a great four years with everybody that’s involved with this team, the coaches and players. It’s kind of sad that it’s over in one game but hopefully we make it a good one. Knowing that I have a chance to go out on top makes it less sad than it would’ve been. I’m more driven and focused. We’re ready to go for this game.”