HOPEDALE — Hopkins Academy’s roster bottom gave the defending state champions a chance. The No. 1 seed overall just wouldn’t crack.
The No. 17 Golden Hawks fell 5-0 to No. 1 Hopedale in the MIAA Division 5 Round of 16 at Hopedale Town Park. The Blue Raiders will host No. 8 Carver in the quarter-finals.
Hopkins faced that five-run deficit as he came up to bat in the top of the seventh inning with his No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 batters slated to bat. Junior Patrick Fitzgibbons batted to start the inning, but Cody West singled out to the field for Hopkins Academy’s first hit of the game. He wouldn’t have reached it safely if Hopedale pitcher Ryan Reynolds covered first base after first baseman Jacob Smith fielded the ball. But no one was home to throw him.
Then Reynolds drilled Liam Flynn in the back to put two Golden Hawks on base for the first time all game. Dom Aloisi came out, then eighth-year Chace Earle dropped in one to load the bases.
“It’s been really rewarding for me because one of our biggest issues at the start of the year was that we really felt like we had a top of the line and nothing after,” said the coach of the Hopkins Academy, Dan Vreeland.
Hopkins Academy sent pinch hitter Alex West to home plate with a chance to inflict damage. He hit the ball in a spot that would have been a hit against most teams. Instead, Hopedale shortstop Will Parker, an Army clerk, fired him out of the air hard, ending the game. It was the third time in the entire game that a Blue Raider infielder stole a Hopkins shot with a vertical display.
“These are tough as a hitter. It kills your mood, kills your momentum, especially when the bases are loaded like that,” West said. “Thanks to them, great games. Sometimes the defense gets the better of them.
Hopedale (16-6) scored all five runs in the third inning. Parker started the inning with a field single, then Ollie Radcliffe blooped a single. Hopedale scored his first run after Smith hit a defenseman’s pick at shortstop, bringing Parker back. Radcliffe was called first, but Hopkins Academy shortstop Andrew Ciaglo dropped the ball. So technically Radcliffe was safe and started walking towards the dugout. Ciaglo sprinted towards Radcliffe to tag him, so Radcliffe ran towards third. Eventually, Ciaglo threw to third baseman James Fitzgibbons for the first out.
A walk brought in Tyler Wilke, who scored an RBI double. Patrick Fitzgibbons retired the next batter, but back-to-back walks made it 3-0. This ended Fitzgibbons’ day on the mound.
Vreeland put in West – a southpaw – which allowed Fitzgibbons to catch.
“The goal was not to make them look the same four times in the lineup,” Vreeland said.
Brayden Lewis sent West’s first pitch to the third base line for a two-run single and a five-run lead. After a walk, West ended the round with a pop-up.
He allowed only three more base runners and no hits the rest of the way.
“As a pitcher, sometimes you have your business going. I pitched my speed really well, I played my fastball a lot and mixing it up with my curve threw them off balance,” West said. “Lots of weak contacts.”
Hopedale took advantage of an error late in the fourth, but Hopkins Academy didn’t let anyone go second after a defensive player was picked. Then Patrick Fitzgibbons kicked out a runner who was trying to steal second. It was anything but a late-sixth-grade walk.
“They very clearly wanted to swing early in the counts. They attack early in the count and chase the first strike,” Vreeland said. “He was throwing strikes early in the count and just not in super reachable places.”
While the Golden Hawks defense put down Hopedale after the first wave, its own offense couldn’t establish a rhythm. Hopedale starter Reynolds went no-hitter in six innings.
Earle became the Golden Hawks’ first base runner when he was hit by a pitch in the top of the third inning. But that threat ended early when Reynolds picked him first.
“The first mistake. you almost excuse him because he never saw a left pick move and it wasn’t just a left pick move, but it was a really good left pick move,” said Vreeland.
Jack Dyjach hit an error but couldn’t pass first.
Cooper Beckwith started the fourth with a walk, but he also fell victim to Reynolds’ movement.
“We have to make the adjustments. Kind of frustrating that we were showing our youth a bit there, more than in previous games,” Vreeland said.
Hopkins Academy only had one senior and one junior on the roster. The others are underclass and a middle schooler.
“At the start of the season, I had no idea who was going to play where, what the order would look like,” said Ciaglo, the team’s only senior. “We knew we were going to be the underdogs, and we liked being the underdogs. We started slowly and we figured it out. We knew we had to keep fighting.
It should be noted that the senior graduate is Ciaglo, one of the two or three most important players in the history of the program. He played his last match for Hopkins Academy after five years in three sports. The Golden Hawks won two Western Massachusetts baseball championships and the state title last year. He also led Hopkins Academy to the state quarterfinals in basketball and the divisional finals in football.
“It’s not just about dominant throwing performance. It’s not just the fact that his batting average has gone from .200 to .400 this year,” Vreeland said. “That’s what he represents mentally for the team. He makes you want to be better with him. So yes, the only senior we lose but it’s a huge hole. No replacement for someone like that.
Ciaglo unbuttoned his Hopkins Academy baseball jersey and pulled it over his head after the final, kneeling with his teammates to hear Vreeland’s postgame speech. He hadn’t thought about the fact that this was the last time he would wear his hometown blue and gold.
“I couldn’t have asked for better. Over the years people have said, “you gotta go somewhere else, bigger, recruit” and stuff like that. No, me and my family were like ‘we’re staying home.’ We are home people,” Ciaglo said. “He’ll probably hit me on the way home. I didn’t really understand it. I had fun playing for Hopkins.
Kyle Grabowski can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.