St. John’s baseball eager to get over the ‘Super 8’ hump

St. John's Max Freedman loosens his arm during Wednesday's practice. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

DANVERS — The St. John’s baseball team has followed a familiar path for the past few seasons. St. John’s has come close to bringing a Division 1A ‘Super 8’ state championship home but hasn’t quite been able to do enough to get the job done.

Eagles coach Dan Letarte hopes this is the year St. John’s makes it happen.

“The ‘Super 8’ has been around for five years and we’ve been in all five,” Letarte said. “Getting in (the ‘Super 8’ tournament) is great but we’re hungry to get a little further.”

Last year’s Eagles finished the season at 17-7. They qualified for the ‘Super 8’ and beat Lexington in their opening game. Back-to-back losses to Franklin and Walpole ended St. John’s season earlier than the Eagles hoped.

“I think (2018) was a good year but also a year riddled with injuries,” Letarte said. “We have a lot of guys with experience this year. We have a lot of guys who’ve played in the tournament. We’re hoping that carries us forward.”

The talent’s there for St. John’s to take the next step. In the rotation, the Eagles return a group of experienced arms that can cause headaches for opposing batters. It starts with senior right-hander Max Gieg, who returns to the diamond after missing the 2018 season with an injury. A Lynn native, Gieg committed to Boston College during his sophomore year. Gieg’s fastball tops out at 93 miles per hour.

“Max is the key to our staff,” Letarte said. “He’s our true ace. He feels really good, really healthy. He’s going to get us outs. He needs to stay ahead of teams. He had a very effective sophomore year. We shut him down for last spring. He’s completely fine now, he’s 100 percent. We need him to throw well and really lead us. He’s definitely one of the better pitchers in the state.”

Senior right-hander Sean Letarte (Dan Letarte’s son) returns to lead the bullpen. Letarte went 3-0 last season and has committed to UMass Lowell. Also expected to log innings on the mound are senior left-handers Kevin Dewing and Eddie Hardiman.

Senior catcher Alex Lane will lead the offense. Lane finished the 2018 season with a .424 batting average, 20 RBI and three home runs.

“Alex has great leadership as a catcher,” Letarte said. “He has a great pop-up time, he blocks everything. He provides a lot of juice. He’s basically a guy that drives in runs. We need him to drive in runs at crucial times.”

Others who’ll help St. John’s score runs are Jack Cairns (junior second baseman), Will Frain (junior outfielder), Max Freedman (senior outfielder), Rodney Nyborg (senior first baseman), Zeke O’Connell (senior outfielder), Will Potdevin (senior shortstop), Noah Schott (junior outfielder) and Richie Williams (junior outfielder).

“I feel strongly that guys are going to hit well,” Letarte said. “We’ll really determine it more after the scrimmages  and we’ll evaluate it. I’m confident with hitting and pitching. We have to keep evaluating our defense daily. We have to make the plays. I’m pleased with this team in terms of leadership. The chemistry is there, they’re doing great things out on the practice field.”

St. John’s welcomes three newcomers in Peabody residents Ryan Bradley (junior outfielder/left-handed pitcher), Joe Castrichini (junior right-handed pitcher) and JC Espinal (junior first baseman).

Per usual, St. John’s will test itself with a competitive schedule. The Catholic Conference, always one of the tougher conferences in the state, carries no lack of state tournament mainstays. The Eagles will also play non-conference games against Haverhill, Peabody and St. Mary’s.

“I know all (Catholic Conference) teams are going to be good,” Letarte said. “Every team’s returning great players. We’re not taking everybody lightly. It’s going to be competitive throughout the league, very equal. It comes down to who can throw strikes and make plays. I think there’s a lot of returning talent in a lot of teams. That’s going to make for a competitive league title. Whoever gets it this year will really have to earn it.”

St. John’s hosts Haverhill April 8 (4 p.m.) in its season opener.

“The kids have been working hard in the offseason, in the weight room,” Letarte said. “I know that for a fact. You can see things are starting to pay off. They really put the time in to put themselves in a good position this year. I feel good. For them, this is what they’ve been looking forward to since we ended the season last year. I know they’re ready.”

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