LYNN– Baseball coaches often buy into the notion that a team can only go as far as its pitching carries it. If that turns out to be the case for the Classical baseball team this spring, the Rams could be in a for a solid Division 1 North state tournament run.
Classical’s tournament aspirations ended sooner than the Rams hoped they would last season. The Rams, in their first season in Division 1 North, were bounced in the first round of the state tournament after a 1-0 loss to Lincoln-Sudbury. Classical finished the season at 11-10.
“We struggled in the beginning,” Classical coach Mike Zukowski said. “We were able to kind of steady the ship midway through. We got a lot of our seniors to step up. We got ourselves into the state tournament. That’s always our goal so we accomplished that. We got our first taste of Division 1.”
Offensively, the Rams lose a number of key contributors from last season’s team. AJ Luciano, one of the top players in the Northeastern Conference, graduated last June. Others who left the team due to graduation were Sean Devin, Danny Lilja, Cesar Carrerro and Kevin Durant.
Returning to lead the offense are seniors Brett Bucklin (outfielder) and Dayshon Anderson (infielder), and junior infielders Aidan Dow and Jared DiFilippo. Sophomore catcher Nico Galeazzi will also jump into the batting order.
“Dow and Anderson are going to be in the middle of the order,” Zukowski said. “Hopefully they can come up with some big RBI for us this year. Up at the top of the order with Bucklin, we’ll probably see DiFilippo.
“There are a lot of roles to fill,” Zukowski said. “We lost Luciano and Devin, and those are two all-star bats that we’ll miss big time. We also lost Danny Lilja and he was either batting leadoff or ninth for us.”
Pitching projects to be Classical’s strength. Senior right-hander Kyle Finnigan returns to the rotation after emerging as one of the better pitchers in the Northeastern Conference last spring. Finnigan’s backed by left-hander Dow and right-hander Bucklin. Senior right-hander David Barnard hopes to jump into the mix during the season. Barnard’s currently recovering from an ACL injury suffered during football season.
“We do have experience on the mound,” Zukowski said. “Hopefully all those innings Finnigan, Bucklin and Dow threw last year can carry over to this year.”
Anderson, Barnard and Bucklin are this season’s co-captains.
As far as the NEC goes, Zukowski feels there won’t be any giveaways. With a handful of tournament mainstays in the conference, Classical will have to bring its A-game each time it clashes against a NEC opponent.
“The conference is always tough, no matter what way you look at it,” Zukowski said. “You look at the state tournament at the end of the year and you’re always going to see a good amount of NEC teams. You’re always going to get a good game.
“Our side (NEC North) is strong,” Zukowski said. “Medford’s a tough team. We have Salem, that’s a tough team. (Salem coach) Gavin (Softic) does a good job with them. We have English, our crosstown rival, you can toss the records out there. We also have Revere, Everett, Malden and Somerville.”
Classical opens the season April 9 (4 p.m.) when the Rams host Masconomet in a non-conference game at Fraser Field.
“They’re looking forward to it,” Zukowski said. “The seniors and the returning varsity guys are very aggressive. Everyone’s battling, which is nice to see. It’s nice to see that the guys are helping the newer players, so that learning curve is gone. They’re extensions of the coaches in explaining drills and our philosophy. Everyone’s looking forward to getting outside.”
Zukowkski’s entering his 11th season as Classical’s head coach. On his staff are assistant coach Rick Myette, junior varsity coach Greg Rybak and freshman coach Scott Zukowski.