PEABODY — Throughout the Division 3 North state tournament timely hitting has been a driving force for the Bishop Fenwick baseball team. The Crusaders can rely on anyone in their lineup, one through nine, for a clutch hit when they need one.
But no one has put the bat on the ball quite like senior captain Keegan O’Connor.
O’Connor has been a huge part of the Crusaders’ offensive success all year, posting an even .500 batting average with 27 RBIs. His success at the plate has Fenwick on the doorstep (two wins away) of a Division 3 state championship.
“When I step in the box I just breathe, focus on seeing a strike,” O’Connor, a 2-sport athlete who also plays football, said. “I want to hit the first strike I see. Coach (Russ) Steeves and the coaching staff have been great with the scouting reports. We all just focus on our mechanics and the ball seems to be falling all season so it’s been good.
“It’s just been clicking this year,” O’Connor said. “I had a tough game against Austin Prep but you just come back out. The coaches help calm me down a little more. My swing was getting a little too long but I’m feeling good now.”
For O’Connor and many of his teammates, it still hasn’t set in that they’ll be competing in the Division 3 state semifinal Tuesday.
“It’s huge,” O’Connor said. “We’ve just been trying to take every game like it’s any other game in the season. We play like it’s our last game but don’t overthink.
“Everyone on the team is stepping up,” O’Connor said. “We’ve struggled with starting pitchers but we have had relievers and other pitchers step up. Our top five has hit well, everyone has been getting big hits for us which is huge. The coaching has been great. All our scouting reports have been on point. It’s just a mix of everything and we’re playing well which is good.”
One of the best words to describe this Crusaders team is “versatile.” O’Connor, like many of his teammates, was a big contributor to that mentality before establishing himself as Fenwick’s starting catcher.
“Keegan brings versatility to us,” Steeves said. “Early in the year we were trying to figure things out and he played first base and center field. He played anywhere we asked him to. We have guys playing all over the diamond that don’t really belong there. Versatility and leadership have been key for us.
“Once we solidified our lineup he’s been our leader behind the plate,” Steeves said. “Obviously he throws guys out and he has a strong arm. He’s a great leader.”
At catcher, O’Connor has helped more than a few inexperienced pitchers step up in key spots for the Crusaders.
“We had a lot of injuries at the beginning of the year and a lot of guys have stepped up,” O’Connor said. “Position guys like Trey DeLoury and Cory Bright who don’t usually pitch have thrown a lot of innings for us this year. Jake Miano has stepped up. A lot of young guys, young arms but it has been good.”
Another strength for the Crusaders has been its experienced group of leaders. O’Connor is one of four co-captains, but he gives credit to all six members of Fenwick’s senior class for stepping into leadership roles.
“It’s been huge to have that group,” O’Connor said. “All the seniors, we’ve all been captains in other sports. It’s been huge for our team to have that leadership. It’s not just the captains. Every senior has stepped up. We look at it as everyone who is a senior is like a captain.
“And it was definitely hectic when the tournament started,” O’Connor said. “We graduated earlier than other schools. But that week was hectic not being able to practice. Everyone stepped up and worked on things on their own time during that week. Everyone had picked right up where the season ended. We’ve just been rolling and we’re on a win streak so it’s been good.”
The Crusaders shift their focus to South champion Medway. The Mustangs have allowed just one run in four postseason games, so the Crusaders offense will have to continue to come through in big spots.
“Our bats have been there,” O’Connor said. “We just want to focus on making (Medway) put the ball in play. We want to make them beat us with their bats. If we keep swinging the bats like we have been we will be good.”
Fenwick and Medway will clash in the Division 3 state semifinal Tuesday (4) at Alumni Field in Lowell. The winner advances to the state championship game.