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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The 2017 season was one filled with ups and downs for the Walpole High School baseball team. Yet, the Rebels still finished the year 13-7 and earned a dominant 15-0 first-round victory over rival Norwood as the No. 6 seed before falling 4-2 to No. 3-seeded Bridgewater Raynham in the quarterfinals of Division I South.
With key pieces such as second baseman and captain Charlie Auditore (now playing at Bentley) and left fielder and captain Cam Martin now gone, the Rebels will look to replenish missing parts and improve upon their 13-7 mark from 2017, all while hopefully playing a little deeper into June.
The ace of Walpole’s pitching staff in 2017 was senior captain Brian Gaughan. With Gaughan now attending prep school, the Rebels will need somebody new to step up and fill that spot atop their rotation. Two primary candidates to be Walpole’s new staff ace in 2018 are junior Northeastern commit Cam Schlittler and junior gunslinger Matt Donato.
“I believe the expectations for our team this season are to qualify for the postseason and win the Herget,” said Schlittler. “It’s hard to replace players like Martin, Auditore, and Gaughan. All three of those guys were very skilled and great leaders and role models. Hopefully, some of the guys are ready to step up and fill those shoes to allow us to exceed expectations.”
Despite the shoes that need filling in certain areas of the diamond, Schlitter says that he and his teammates are staying focused on what they can do to get better at each practice, and hopefully, positive results will come from their strong attitudes.
“We, as a team, are focused on what we have to do to win baseball games,” said Schlittler. “This year’s league and non-league schedule are extremely competitive and will test us both physically and mentally.”
As far as personal goals, a humbled Schlittler says that his future at Northeastern is not even on his mind, and that he will attempt to utilize the 2018 season as a major building block towards his development as a baseball player.
“Every time I step out onto the field I have the opportunity to learn and get better as a player, as a teammate, and become a better baseball player,” said Schlittler.
Walpole’s captains this season will be three seniors: Ryan Murphy, Tyler Page, and first-baseman/pitcher Brian Kraus - all of whom Schlittler spoke highly of and in whom he showed extreme confidence.
“Ryan, Tyler, Brian, and other guys like Brett Lavanchy and Dylan Hanifan are the players that I see teaching and supporting all the players,” said Schlittler. “That has always been a strategy for success.”
A pair of juniors that should also make large impacts for the Rebels this season are Donato and Matt Falvey.
“Donato’s arm is going to play a huge role in our rotation,” said Schlittler. “Falvey’s athletic ability in the outfield is going to be big for us, too.”
Like Schlittler did during his sophomore campaign a season ago, the Rebels will need a portion of their underclassmen to step into key roles in 2018. A pair of primary breakout candidates in 2018 will be shortstop Jack Magane and Chris McLean.
“Jack and Chris are two teammates that I see having a great impact on the team and helping us reach our goals,” said Schlittler. “They both had very productive and successful freshman seasons. With the talent they have, as well as the experience the two of them now possess, they will continue to improve offensively and defensively and be significant parts of our team this season.”
The Rebels will open up their season on April 9 against Bay State Conference rival Natick at Eldracher Field.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.