December 30, 2016
Christian Burt delivers a pitch during the Babe Ruth World Series in Williston, N.D. this summer.
By STEVE KRAUSE
In baseball’s hierarchy, they would be classified as “tweens.”
They’re not cute Little Leaguers who can be marketed by ESPN, and they’re not high school varsity players who end up getting all the coverage in the local newspapers.
But as consolation, perhaps, they play for an organization named for, unarguably, the most mythical athlete in the American ethos. And last August, the Lynn Babe Ruth Baseball 15-year-old all-stars were front and center as the region’s No. 1 sports story when the won the New England regionals in a tournament at Fraser Field, and went to the national World Series in Williston, N.D.
This particular group came together, for the most part, in 2013 when manager Leon Elwell managed them in the Gallant Tournament in Salem, which consists of the cream of the North Shore youth baseball crop. They stayed together, with some modifications, just missing the state championship both as 13s and 14s.
In its last attempt before aging out of Babe Ruth, Lynn, still directed by Elwell, knew it was hosting the regionals, and because of that, it automatically qualified. However, because it wanted badly to win a state championship, Lynn decided to go through the process of competing for one. First, it had to get past the local teams in the District 1 tournament, which it did without losing a game.
Lynn did lose one game in the states, to Medford, but rallied from that defeat to win the tournament. At Fraser, Lynn lost its first game to Pittsfield, and then ran the table thereafter, beating Medford, Apple Valley, Maine and Trumbull, Conn., before facing off against North Providence/Smithfield, R.I., and winning the final, thanks to the clutch pitching of David Barnard Jr.
That punched their ticket to Williston, a one-time oil boom town, which is nestled in the northwest corner of North Dakota, just a handful of miles from the Montana border.
The City of Lynn came together for the series. Though it wasn’t on ESPN, the way the Little League World Series was, it was streamed live and broadcast in several locations, including Gannon Golf Course and Tony’s Pub. It was not uncommon to see every seat in the house filled when Lynn played.
Lynn went 2-2 in the four preliminary games, good enough to advance to the quarterfinals against Eau Claire, Wisc. Along the way, Lynn had several outstanding performances, including Anthony Nikolakakis, who hit a grand slam in a win over West Fargo, N.D.; Dayshon Anderson, who also hit a home run in that game; Aedan Leydon, who pitched a crucial game against Columbia Basin, Wash. — a game Lynn had to have in order to advance.
Lynn started out well in the Eau Claire game, but ran into an unfortunate circumstance when one of Wisconsin’s players collided with pitcher Christian Burt, knocking him out of the game. Though reliever Matt Gisonno kept Lynn in the game, Eau Claire eventually came back and won the game in the bottom of the seventh inning to advance to the semifinals and send Lynn home.
When it was all over, Nikolakakis had made the all-tournament team, Lynn had won the hearts of the city, which turned out for a welcome-home reception upon the team’s return.
If Lynn’s trip to the World Series was the overall highlight of the year, then Lynn Classical’s last-second, improbable win over crosstown rival English on Thanksgiving provided an instant thrill that ended up being one of the most talked-about plays in the country (judging from the amount of airplay it received on ESPN).
It was, for 43 1/2 minutes, a rather ordinary game between two teams trying to salvage disappointing seasons. Each came into the game with 2-8 records. And although Classical led throughout, sophomore quarterback Matt Severance hit Jonathan Kosmas with a perfectly-thrown ball with eight seconds left in the game to put English ahead.
The English student body was so sure the game was over it stormed the field when Classical fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
But English was called for a penalty, and had to kick over. And when the Bulldogs did, Classical’s Melvin Nieves picked up the squib kick and began running, all the while looking for senior Marcus Rivera so he could give him the ball.
Rivera, too far away, doubled back to receive a lateral just as Nieves was being surrounded by Bulldogs.
Rivera dodged a tackle, barely, and then took off down the near sideline. He received several blocks, including one by Chase Buono that sprung him, and completed the 83-yard run (officially; unofficially it was almost 90) to score the touchdown that gave Classical the incredible 21-20 win. The play was the No. 2 play of the day on ESPN, and Rivera was interviewed for a Sportscenter segment.
Sadly for Classical coach Tim Phelps, the win did not save his job. It was announced earlier this month that the school was opening up the head coaching position.
The region had two state champions this year — both in basketball. The St. Mary’s boys defeated Maynard in the Division 4 state final, 61-52. In the game, the Spartans took a commanding halftime lead before Maynard began pecking away. However, eighth-grader Matt Cross asserted himself in the paint, and St. Mary’s was able to regain its edge to win going away. Cross, a promising star, broke his leg during the Spartan’s football Super Bowl game, however, and is out for the season.
Bishop Fenwick’s girls basketball team, behind the stellar play of a group of seniors led by Colleen Corcoran, defeated Hoosac Valley, 57-48, to win the Division 3 crown.
The Spartans went 1-for-2 on championship weekend, as the boys hockey team lost in the Division 1 state final at the Boston Garden, 3-2, to Franklin in double overtime. And immediately following, St. John’s Prep fell to Malden Catholic, 2-1, also in overtime.
Also this winter, St. John’s Prep’s Hunter Costa and (138 pounds) and Jay Carnevale (285) were state wrestling champions.
In the spring, both Danvers and St. John’s Prep baseball made state finals, but fell in Division 2 and the Super 8 respectively; and the Marblehead girls lacrosse and Lynnfield girls tennis captured sectional championships, but fell short in their respective state semifinals.
Justin Lewis of Lynn Tech won the state and New England outdoor track high jump titles, and competed at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.
On the collegiate front, former Classical star Hulerie McGuffie, running for UMass Boston, won the NCAA Division III championship in the 400 this spring. And former English left-handed ace Ben Bowden, who already has a College World Series title to his credit, was taken in the second round of the Major League draft by the Colorado Rockies. Also taken in this year’s draft was Swampscott’s Ryan January (Arizona Diamondbacks), St. John’s Prep’s Brandon Bingel (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Peabody’s Pat Ruotolo (San Francisco Giants).
In Little League, the Swampscott boys and Wyoma girls won the District 16 title, but neither made it past the states. The Wyoma girls also won the junior softball district title, but could not make it past the state tournament either. Peabody did win the senior league state championship, but fell in the New England regionals finale.
This fall, two of the area’s football teams, St. Mary’s and Marblehead, reached the Super Bowl earlier this month.
The Spartans went 11-0 before encountering East Bridgewater at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. St. Mary’s turned the ball over six times and fell to East Bridgewater, 34-8, in the Division 3A Super Bowl. Later that day, Marblehead, which also went 11-0 during the regular season and playoffs, was on the wrong end of the Division 2A Super Bowl, 34-13. Tragically, two players from that Falmouth team — James Lavin and Owen Higgins — died in an auto accident Dec. 22.
In soccer, the St. Mary’s girls made the Division 4 North final, but lost to Amesbury.
Peabody’s Marcelo Rocha won the cross country championship.
In other news, the football season was played with eight divisions this fall instead of six, and due to that, the Divisions and 4A games were played elsewhere. The Division 1 game between Xaverian and Everett occurred at Manning Field in Lynn, with Everett winning easily.
Also on the subject of alignments, the Northeastern Conference voted in June to merge with the four remaining teams in the Greater Boston League, with Everett football playing an independent schedule for the foreseeable future.
In early June, area residents recalled their meetings and experiences with Muhammad Ali after the legendary boxing heavyweight champion died.