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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
In 2017, the Needham High School varsity baseball team will look to duplicate the success they had a season ago when they achieved immensely within the Bay State Conference and earned themselves an appearance in the South Sectional Finals of the MIAA State Tournament.
Captaining the Rockets this season will be junior catcher Alec Sharton and senior outfielder Connor Moore. However, unfortunately for the Rockets, they will be without Moore due to a broken leg that he suffered during football season, so his leadership will be demonstrated from the bench rather than on the field.
“Tough hit with Connor,” said head coach Matt Howard. “He’s out for the season because of his injury, but we have a lot of guys ready to step up and try to fill that void.”
The nucleus of Needham’s starting pitching rotation in 2017 will be sophomore Charlie Sumner, who looks poised to resume his role as the staff’s ace, according to Howard.
“Charlie had a lot of success last year,” said Howard. “We’re definitely going to look to him to pitch some key innings and lead our staff as our number one.”
Along with Sumner, the Rockets will also return a multitude of key pitchers such as 2016 First-Team Bay State Conference All-Star and senior, Dakari Cox, junior Charlie Roberts, and sophomores Tom Chmielewski, Jeff Hohler, and Will Foley.
“Our rotation as a whole is definitely young,” said Howard. “But, with that youth comes a lot of experience from last season’s playoff run, and I think our guys have definitely proven to be capable.”
In the infield, the Rockets will turn to Alex Luscher at shortstop after the junior made the transition from second base, where he started the majority of Needham’s games a season ago. Another notable Rocket infielder in 2017 will be utility man Matt Evans, all while Will Foley, Jordan Gold and Jonah Lichtman compete for a spot at first base.
The Rocket outfield will be made up of senior Charlie McGrath, sophomore Kevin McKenzie, and center fielder Jack Dateo, but Howard says that there are a multitude of other guys ready to step in if the need be.
“It’s been a good competition for the starting outfield spots,” said Howard. “We’re going to test the waters in our first couple of games as far as moving guys around, so I am sure that that will figure itself out.”
On another negative note, the Rockets will be without speedster and outfielder Ben Gilarde for the first couple weeks of the season due to an arm injury, but Howard says that the Rockets expect him back soon. When he does return, they will surely attempt to utilize his legs.
“Ben is a solid base-runner,” said Howard. “Unfortunately, a right-arm injury is going to keep him out for our first several games, but when he comes back, he’ll give us a lot of speed to utilize on the base paths.”
While the obvious goal of getting back to the postseason is there, Howard also says that the Rockets are just trying to get better day by day and to stay in the right mindset.
“It sounds a little bit cliché, but as a coaching staff, we’re just focused on continuing to improve,” said Howard. “We have a lot of talent, but a majority of that talent is young, so we’re not trying to get too high or too low on ourselves, just trying to stay on an even keel and teach our guys to stick to their fundamentals. We play in a very competitive and challenging conference and every game is test. Any team in the Bay State (Conference) can win on a given day, so we have got to be ready to go.”