|Jarrod Casey makes a pitch against North Middlesex. Milford is switching to the Hockomock League next year. switched leages this season. (Jon Mahoney for The Boston Globe))|
Milford aims for a three-peat
The Milford High baseball program has always been synonymous with success, but this year's team can be the first in school history to win three consecutive league titles.
That includes the Scarlet Hawks’ years in the old Midland League, according to coach Steve Manguso, whose team is competing in the Mid-Wach A for the final spring.
Milford is moving from the Mid-Wach, a Central Massachusetts league, to the Hockomock (Eastern Mass.) this fall in every sport except for football, which will follow in 2013.
"I think it's a good idea," said Manguso, in his ninth season at the helm.
"We belong in Eastern Mass. Our location makes travel so difficult. The Hockomock is a good fit. It gives us 16 league games. We had to schedule 10 non-league games this year to get to 20 games."
The Scarlet Hawks have more than a three-peat on their minds.
Under the direction of Manguso and his predecessor, the late Charlie Stand, Milford has qualified for the postseason every year since 1978.
"I don't know of anyone who has done that," said Manguso. Milford hasn't had a losing season in all that time. At 8-2, the Scarlet Hawks are on course to keep both streaks going.
"We always have high expectations," said senior lefthander Jarrod Casey, the reigning league MVP in the Mid-Wach A who is headed to Bridgton Academy to play football.
"Jarrod's our ace," said senior rightfielder Jim Sanchioni. "I feel confident when he's pitching. I don't worry. And I don't get many balls hit to me either."
Manguso raves about Casey's arm -- “a very good pitcher” -- and his legs.
"Jarrod's a lefty batter and he runs so well,” said the coach. “You have to hurry to throw him out." It's hard for pitchers to fool the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Casey, who started last week hitting .500 and in one eight-game stretch had struck out only once.
Seniors J.J. Branch and Steve Morganelli round out the rotation. "Morganelli won four games for us last year," said Manguso. "And J.J. has pitched very well." Two juniors, lefty Eric Fernandez and righty Michael Tracy, have contributed as relievers..
"We've got some pitching depth," said Manguso. "I thought our pitching was going to be good, and it has been. Every time we take the field, we have a shot."
Milford's pitchers can hit too. Morganelli and Branch split third base duty when not on the mound, Casey plays left field
Senior first baseman Matt Ferrelli has been a good fit as the cleanup hitter and very good defensively. Senior Dan Rice is steady at shortstop.
"Defensively we're very strong," said Sanchioni. In the outfield, “we trust our arms that we can throw anybody out."
Senior centerfielder Chris Casey (no relation to Jarrod) has been a standout in the leadoff spot and is terrific defensively.
Casey split time between shortstop and centerfield two years ago, but played only shortstop last season. He enjoys both positions, and said "I love tracking flyballs in the outfield. I like to take charge out there."
At bat, Casey said "I like to think of myself as a tough out. I'm a contact hitter. I just try to put the ball in play and see what happens."
Milford has been without junior catcher Rob Benjamin (arm), forcing Manguso to shift senior Corey Pratt from second base to behind the plate. Junior Brandon Pounds has filled in at second. Manguso hopes to get Benjamin back soon.
The Mid-Wach A league is a long and tricky one for Milford, crowded with talented teams like Algonquin, Shrewsbury, Leominster. "St. John's is always the team to beat [in Central Massachusetts]," said Manguso.
His team is in the mix though. "We've had our ups and downs, that's part of the deal," said Manguso. "We're just trying to get better."
Speaking for the seniors, Jarrod Casey said "winning a third straight league title is important." And every day he's on the mound, his coach and teammates expect good things. He prefers the mound to the outfield because, "You've always got the ball in your hands, and that's nice."
Manguso, who was Stand’s assistant for 20 years, just competed his 28th season as head boys' basketball coach. "I love my job,” he said.
“We're still attracting good kids. I love going to practice. When I don't want to do that anymore, I'll be done."
Bellingham High softball coach Dennis Baker said he has been “pleasantly surprised" withh the Blackhawks 11-0 start (9-0 in the Tri Valley League) Bellingham graduated three players from last season's 17-5 season. "I thought it'd take a while to get the chemistry together," said Baker, in his 14th season.
Many softball teams rely on one ace; Bellingham has two. Megan Cook (7-0) was a TVL all-star last year as a freshman, when she went 9-4. "Megan is around the plate" said Baker. "She has a high strikeout ratio. She gets into a rhythm at her own pace and we just let her go."
Junior Gabrielle "GG" Ricciardi, an eight-game winner in 2011, is undefeated, and is hitting over. 400. But it's sophomore catcher Rachel Kuhlman who's leading the offense, hitting over .600. "She knows the strike zone," said Baker. "She has a real good eye. And she calls a good game." Kuhlman is on pace to make her second straight league all-star team.
Smooth-fielding junior shortstop Nicole Reed is hitting over .500.
Baker has also coached baseball at Bellingham and been the school's athletic director. He's a proud native of Ashland, but calls Bellingham "my second home."
"This is my best team in my 12 years here," said Marian High softball coach Lou Tredeau. The Mustangs are 9-1 overall and 5-0 in the Catholic Central (Small) League.
Sophomore pitcher Alex Fantasia is 3-0 with an ERA under 1.00. She's a southpaw.
Junior righthander Katie Rufo began the week 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA.
"She pitches against the Large division teams in the league," said Tredeau. "She has struck out 61 in 44 innings."
Rufo also plays first base and bats cleanup. She's hitting .593 with four homers and 19 RBI.
Lenny Megliola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.