Lowell Catholic Out to Sparkle Again on Diamond
LOWELL -- Lowell Catholic baseball coach Matt Stone sat down with his seniors on Monday afternoon and talked about expectations.
Stone knows that with heightened expectations comes added pressure, and the eighth-year head coach prefers to nip that whole deal in the bud as early as possible. The quicker he gets his players to forget about what other people forecast from them, the better their focus will be on each practice and game.
It’s been a tried and true method for the Crusaders, and one that has helped them become a perennial Division 4 state power. Lowell Catholic has advanced to at least the state semifinals in four of the last six seasons, winning the state championship in 2013. The program has been to at least the North final in five of the last six seasons.
“We’ve set expectations exactly how we usually do. We’re going to look to be better on Friday than we were on Monday, and we very rarely ever look beyond the week ahead of us,” said Stone.
Monday marked the first day of the spring sports season across the Commonwealth. The Crusaders’ baseball team held their first practice in the school’s gym, removed from the chilly 40-degree temperature and the field that is still drying out from winter.
Lowell Catholic is coming off a 19-5 campaign that ended with a 3-1 loss to Hamilton-Wenham in the Division 4 North final. The team returns six starters and seven seniors and figures to again be a major factor this spring.
Leading the way is reigning Sun co-Player of the Year Alex Graves, a senior pitcher who went 8-2 with a 0.93 ERA and batted a robust .384 with 20 RBI and just five strikeouts in 98 plate appearances. His batterymate is senior catcher, four-year starter and former Sun All-Star Kyle DeRoma, who batted nearly .400 last year and possesses rocket arm strength.
“I trust them,” said Stone of his star seniors. “It allows me to focus on other parts of coaching. Having an experienced middle infield, having an experienced center fielder, and being strong up the middle will allow us to build on the outside and give younger guys an opportunity.”
Graves is from Methuen and DeRoma is from Dracut. They have developed a strong chemistry during their years at LC and frequently text each other. Graves has gotten the ball in countless big games for the Crusaders and DeRoma has been right there behind the plate.
It’s clear they’re grateful to have each other on the diamond.
“He’s got a lot of strengths,” said DeRoma of Graves. “He’s an awesome guy, he’s an awesome pitcher, awesome fielder. I can call any pitch I want from him, really. I have total confidence in him.”
Said Graves, ”(DeRoma) makes you very comfortable. He’s the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to. He’s a big body, good at framing the ball and he always sets up where I want him to.”
Graves was also a standout on the Lowell Catholic hockey team and helped the Crusaders win a Division 2 state title in 2017. DeRoma is a year-round baseball player.
Seniors David Gill (SS/P), Peter Sawyer (infield), Nate Sayer (OF) and Matt Larson (infield) will also be key cogs in the Crusaders’ lineup.
Stone is a believer in ratios. His philosophy centers around his hitters putting the ball in play nine out of 10 times. If they do that, good things will happen. He wants his players to work counts when necessary, but avoid strikeouts.
The Crusaders have firmly bought into the system and have been executing it for years.
“I just think it’s been little steps,” said Stone. “When we got here, we already had a great base. The kids were well coached, the kids knew how to play the game. We’ve just been fortunate. We’ve had good players who have bought in. That ’13 team, that was the first team to win a North championship in school history, and then go on and win a state title as underdogs, they paved the way and set the tone for what our program needs to do.”
Lowell Catholic opens the season April 10.
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone