Every sports team has athletes — obviously (unless it is a particularly bad team).
But the Bishop Feehan High School baseball team has athletes, and that seems to be paying dividends as the squad winds down its 2021 season boasting a sparkling 10-4 record.
Bouncing back from a disappointing 2019 season and after the 2020 spring season was wiped out by the coronavirus, coach Erik Everton’s squad boasts 15 seniors on the team, nearly all of whom played a different sport during the fall or winter sports season for the Shamrocks.
Not only does that mean that the athletes are coming into the baseball season already in shape for the Catholic Central League schedule, but in many cases have also bonded with some of their teammates from the other sports in which they participated.
“Our weight room instructor has commented how tight these guys are and how they train hard together,” Everton said. “It’s a pleasure to see that.
“This group doesn’t lose too often; it’s one of the most cohesive teams I’ve ever coached,” Everton added.
Led by its four senior captains — infielder Kevin Barrera, pitcher-first baseman Mike Hutchins, catcher Adam Walker, and outfielder-DH Zach Stephenson — Bishop Feehan survived a mid-season four-game losing streak against CCL opponents after an 8-0 start, which included taking six decisions by six-plus runs, along with three shutouts.
Barrera, who also plays hockey and golf, is hitting a remarkable .389 for Bishop Feehan and has scored 11 runs. “Just a gritty attitude,” Everton said. “He comes to play every day, plays hard, and even though he hurt his arm after some hockey issues that carried over, we converted him to first base and DH, and he’s doing a great job.”
“There was not a lot of in-between time (between the hockey and baseball seasons),” Barrera said, “but I’ve been playing three sports all four years now, and there’s only a week between each season. But it’s a weird time when you’re not playing sports (during the pandemic); you’ll get out of school, and think to yourself, I have nothing to do today — that was really weird.
“At first in seventh and eighth grade, I thought I’d go to Franklin (High School), but I really didn’t know,” Barrera added. “I was torn, leaving good friends behind, but there was something about Feehan, I can’t explain, that drew me in, made me think I want to go to this place; in the worst case, I could always transfer back, but it never got to that. I took a chance, and it worked out well.”
Barrera is UMass Amherst-bound in the fall, where he will study finance at the school’s Isenberg School of Management, though he’s unsure about continuing his sports career.
“I’ve always looked at the option of focusing on school and living life as a normal college student,” Barrera said, “but I won’t rule it out because it’s been such a big part of my life.”
Hutchins, who threw five innings of no-hit ball during the Shamrocks’ thrilling 3-2 victory over Bishop Stang Wednesday, has held opposing hitters to a minuscule .140 average, and has struck out 24 batters in just 15 innings of work while surrendering just four earned runs all season.
“He’s a true leader on the team, quiet and unassuming, and the most competitive player I’ve coached,” Everton said. “When he’s on the mound, I’ll need a crowbar to get the ball out of his hand because he doesn’t want to give it up; he hits in the (middle of the order, where he’s hitting .317, and his 16 RBI are second on the team), and does it all around the mound and offensively. We rely on him a lot.”
Hutchins, who plans to attend St. Lawrence University in upstate New York in the fall, also played basketball at Feehan, and credits the game for helping him stay sharp for spring baseball. “The mental toughness, playing through adversity, that translates to any sport you play,” he said.
He expects to play baseball at Division III St. Lawrence while pursuing the field of physical therapy, and Everton said, “I think they’re getting a player at a below-market price because he can play Division II in my opinion, from what I’ve seen.”
Walker, the team’s catcher who is hitting .296, earns plenty of plaudits from Everton for his leadership. “He started as a sophomore, and he’s our field marshal,” Everton said. “He’s very intelligent, he runs the show, and his baseball acumen is up there with the best of them. He’s a solid overall player, and his arm strength has gotten much better; it’s a pleasure to see that.”
The fourth captain, Stephenson, has been limited this season to primarily baserunning duties after some residual soccer injuries carried over into the baseball season, but Everton still relies on the talented senior.
“We had him on IR because of arm troubles, although we do use him as a courtesy runner because he’s lightning-fast on the bases,” Everton said. “They had a deep soccer run, and he suffered an injury right at the end, but that’s clearly fixed; running is not a problem, however, throwing is.”
Thankfully for Everton and the Shamrocks, they had a Coyle Cassidy transfer ready to step in for Stephenson in center field, and Everton describes Brendan Flaven as “a great pick-up” and “one of our bangers (at the plate), with a cannon for an arm.”
Flaven, who also played hockey, is leading the team with a ridiculous .596 batting average, along with a team-leading 19 runs scored and 17 RBIs, while only striking out three times in 47 at-bats all season.
The Taunton native says, “I started playing with these kids last fall, in a fall program, and right from the start knew that we had a solid team. We have a lot of team chemistry, which other teams don’t necessarily have, and that’s helped us come together to win games in tough situations.”
Flaven is committed to playing baseball next spring for Endicott College in Beverly, where he will study sports management.
Another big part of Feehan’s success on the diamond is infielder Tyler Ahmed, who hails from Walpole and also played hockey for the Shamrocks. On the diamond, Ahmed is hitting .302 with 11 runs scored and 13 RBI, and Everton describes him as “a solid third baseman, with a strong arm and a great attitude.”
“As a kid, sports were always something fun to consume my time,” Ahmed said, “and I’ve always been competitive, had a drive to compete and win. I played lacrosse and football, and also competed in baseball and hockey.
“Hockey definitely helps (me as a baseball player), being competitive all the time,” Ahmed adds. “Baseball, it’s tough to be focused the whole way, to keep the drive going all seven innings, just like a whole game in hockey.”
Ahmed is attending Clemson University in South Carolina to study business, and adds, “I might try to play club baseball, but it’s not really a focus.”
Shortstop Justin Neidel has also been an invaluable part of the Shamrocks’ baseball program, and also played alongside teammate Mike Hutchins on the basketball court.
Neidel is hitting a solid .361 for Bishop Feehan, and his 16 runs scored is second on the team, but his primary value may be as a defensive wizard in the field.
“Justin is probably the best shortstop I have seen at Feehan,” Everton said, “and that is saying a lot. He’s very smooth, very fast, he makes all the routine plays, and he’s a speed demon on the bases.
“He does not strike out (Neidel has fanned only three times all season, and only once before during Everton’s tenure), he’s contact hitter, leads off, gets on base a lot. He makes plays on the field that elicit ‘wow’ moments from the parents’ section. Turns some heads, but for him it was just a routine play; that’s the kind of kid he is.”
Neidel is from Attleboro, and was a sports kid from the get-go.
“I always was outside, actively playing sports — baseball, basketball, hockey, football — I always wanted to be involved in some sport,” Neidel said. “I know I wanted to try every sport out that I can.”
Neidel credits playing basketball for helping prepare him for the baseball season. “Honestly, it does play a big part,” he said. “I’ll play basketball all year round, and in that way, it gives me a mental break from baseball.
“And the physical way basketball is more demanding, and a high-intensity sport, running around the court, that physical and athletic standpoint conditioning-wise makes me physically stronger.”
Neidel will be attending Westfield State along with teammate Dom Novio, and is eager to get on campus.
“I know their baseball program is one of the best in the conference,” Neidel says. “I loved visiting the campus; the people, the baseball staff, I developed a great bond with them, as well as the whole environment for me as an athlete and a student.”
Baseball will be his focus, but he’s not ruling out some action on the hardcourts.
“I might try to play intramural basketball, club or something for fun, but not sure if I’ll walk on, but I will still try to continue to play,” Neidel says.
Novio, a football player whom Everton credits with excelling in short relief, boasts “a good fastball, good location, an outstanding curveball — just gets it done,” Everton said. Novio has held opponents to just a .136 average, with 10 strikeouts in 10 innings pitched.
Fellow football players Matt Mason (.285, eight RBI) – “A dirt dog, doing a great job, just another kid that is into the game all the time, looking to improve himself all the time,” according to Everton — and Josh Lancaster (4 for 10, 3 RBI; as a pitcher, holding visiting lineups to just a .167 average) have also taken advantage of their opportunities when called upon.
Hockey player Pete Carriuolo, an outfielder hitting .389 in a platoon role, also draws high praise from Everton. “Usually half our team are hockey players, which is great for us because they have that mentality already that we’re looking for,” Everton says. “It carries over onto the baseball field; Peter is a solid outfielder, and when he gets the bat on the ball, it goes a long way.”
Also making big contributions for the Shamrocks on the diamond are seniors John Igoe, who played basketball with Hutchins and Neidel, and Ryan Seaver, who played hockey with Ahmed, Barrera, Carriuolo, and Flaven.
“Igoe, we call him PO, pitcher only, and he definitely loves being a pitcher only,” Everton said. “Everyday (is his nickname), he comes in some tight situations, in relief, though he’s not just a reliever, because he can start and finish games, but he has kind of a Goose Gossage-type delivery, all elbows and arms. You never know where the ball is coming from; he pitches well, and has very good control.” Igoe, who will join Hutchins at St. Lawrence in the fall, has given up just six hits all season, and has held opposing lineups to just a .133 average in his 12 innings of work, along with 10 strikeouts.
Seaver is holding opponents to just a .258 average, and has notched 16 strikeouts in 16 innings.
“He’s shown much more maturity this year,” Everton said. “He has better control of his off-speed pitches, and he’s going to be one of those guys who gets us deep into the playoffs.”
Lincoln Schneider, who runs cross country for the Shamrocks, has also been a key component of the offense while recovering from an off-season arm injury that landed him on the IR.
While the multi-sport seniors have contributed greatly to Feehan’s 10-4 start this season, not to be overlooked are the performances of a pair of juniors: golfer Andrew Cook, who leads the team with 22 innings pitched, with opponents hitting just .182 against him; and soccer player Matt Linehan, who is hitting at a .429 clip and has driven in nine runs.
“That’s the tough part of the job,” Everton says. “I have some of those juniors, like Linehan in right, and Sean (Stephenson) in left, other than Casey (Hanewich, hitting .385 in a limited role), we’re trying to get them into the lineup, but it is a tough lineup to break in to. It’s a great problem to have, because not every year do we have this much talent.”
“This is a very special group of self-motivated, dedicated and committed young men,” Everton adds. “They work together as a group and lift each other up when needed. It has been a pleasure coaching them and watching them grow, not only on the field, but outside the lines.”