Salem News Article: Around the Horn: Hawks fly into state playoffs

Article courtesy of the Salem News. Link to the original: Around the Horn: Hawks fly into state playoffs

What’s next?

That’s the question that can be heard from the Essex Tech dugout any number of times in any game. After a minor mistake, an error, a good play, or at the end of an inning, the Hawks make sure they turn the page by reminding themselves that the next play is the most important one.

Now, after a dramatic walk-off win on Senior Day last week, Essex Tech can answer “What’s next?” by saying “the Division 3 state tournament.”

“I’ve been on varsity for three years and it’s the first time we’ve gotten to 10 wins, so it’s pretty huge,” senior captain Harry Lynch said after the Hawks came from behind to beat Rockport in extra innings and earn that critical 10th win.

“This year we’re competing for seven full innings … and today, for nine.”

Needing one win with two games left to qualify, Essex Tech made sure it took care of business even after falling behind Rockport 4-1 and 5-3. A year ago, Essex Tech was in a similar spot but lost its last three games to fnish 7-11.

With a new head coach in Sean Sullivan, the Hawks went 3-5 out of the gate but turned things around with a victory over Arlington Catholic. They went on to win seven of their final 12 games to clinch a spot in the Division 3 postseason, with the state announcing seedings and matchups on Wednesday.

“It took until about the AC game, probably halfway through the season, for us to start believing in ourselves,” Sullivan said. “Once we started to believe, it’s been totally positive since then and we’ve been rattling off some wins.”

That “What’s Next” philosophy bore itself out in last Thursday’s Senior Day win. The Hawks made a couple of defensive mistakes that helped Rockport build its lead. They had two runners cut down at home plate, including a mis-timed squeeze bunt, that could have derailed the comeback bid if they weren’t mentally tough.

To their credit, Essex Tech shook those mistakes off and tied things up in the sixth on a Jack Tsoutsouris double and an Andrew Skorry sacrifice fly. After leaving the winning run on third
in the eighth inning, the Hawks won in the ninth when Cole Waterman singled and Jacoby Casinelli-Tarasuik plated him with a walk-off single.

“It’s been our motto and we saw it in this game,” said Sullivan. “We didn’t execute for parts of the game but when it came down to the end, we did. I’m so proud of all these players for that.”

Two phenomenal defensive plays turned the tide, too. Right fielder Xavier Parsons made an amazing running catch and doubled off a runner at first to end the seventh. In the ninth, second baseman Tsoutsouris slid almost into the outfield to snare a ground ball and end the inning.

“A diving play like that is going to get us going pretty quickly,” said senior captain Chriz Itz. “That’s a great example of how we compete, 100 percent, for every inning.”

Lynch has been the most consistent hitter for the Hawks with 25 hits and a .431 average. The catcher, Skorry, has emerged as a run producer in the clean-up spot and Parsons and Tsoutsouris have been outstanding at the top of the order.

It’s a deep lineup, however, with Waterman capable of doing damage along with senior Shawn O’Keefe, a Salem native who will play college basketball at New England College and belted a grand slam in the regular season finale against North Reading.

“Everyone battles in every count and stays aggressive,” said Lynch, who hails from Peabody and is already working as an electrician. The on-the-job training and field work opportunities he got as a student at Essex Tech have been invaluable, he said. “It’s a game-changer.”

Not many teams in the state tournament will have players coming to the diamond from work, the case for Itz as an HVAC technician for Fleet Refrigeration in Woburn. The Topsfield native is also very grateful for his classroom and field experience at Essex Tech.

“Working full-time besides baseball is like another world. This school gives you such a leg up on everyone trying to enter the workforce and go into the trades,” said Itz, who also admires he’s team approach in the batter’s box. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 0-2 or 3-2, it stays the same. Bat on ball.”

Joe Bono (IT), Luke Joyce (carpentry) and Mike Pelletier (electrical) are the team’s other seniors.

“It’s a lot of balance throughout the entire lineup, which has been great to see,” Sullivan said.

Pitching-wise, junior James Levesque leads the team in wins with five and sophomore Jordan O’Malley had displayed a live arm with 37 strikeouts across 31 innings. Lynch has also been a horse on the mound with three victories and 36 2/3 innings under his belt.

“Those guys have done all we’ve asked them to all year. They’ve been rocks,” Sullivan noted.

The Hawks were No. 50 in last week’s D3 power rankings, so they’re likely to hit the road for a preliminary round game later this week. Their schedule hasn’t been easy, though, as they’ve faced four league champions: Commonwealth champ Shawsheen plus Northeastern Conference Lynch winner Salem and the champs of the Cape Ann League Kinney (North Reading) and Baker (Georgetown); that’s a big plus for the Hawks since they’ll be joining the CAL next spring.

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