Rising senior Sam Donovan (pictured) fires home a pitch during his victorious five and a third-inning performance against Hyde Park on Friday in the MIBL playoffs. Photo by Mike Flanagan.
By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Walpole MIBL's roster is extremely young compared to the rest of the league. In fact, it may even be the youngest.
Eight members of Walpole MIBL are rising freshmen or sophomores, along with eighth grader Alex Hee. The decision to take on more underclassmen than normal instead of seasoned veterans who’ve played on varsity for coach Chris Costello was a bold one, but at the same time, extremely smart when put into perspective.
Every baseball player in the state of Massachusetts just missed out on an entire spring season. In order for Walpole to remain one of the premiere high school baseball programs in the state for the foreseeable future, they needed to allow these younger players a chance to develop and get the necessary reps. That chance came thanks to the construction of the MIBL.
With a surplus of young talent, Walpole needed a group of upperclassmen and recently graduated seniors to lead and mentor this summer, despite their high school careers coming to an abrupt end in May. Tasked with that job from the class of 2020 were Bentley-bound third baseman Jackson Walonis, Roger Williams-bound shortstop Jack Magane, Fitchburg State bound pitcher Drew Kral, catcher John Brady, pitcher/infielder Conor Brady and first baseman Chris McLean.
Headlining the class of 2021, Walpole saw an extremely impressive summer from second baseman Max Martin. The power-hitting righty worked hand-in-hand with Jack Magane in the middle of Walpole’s infield. Martin was arguably Walpole’s most productive hitter down the stretch of the regular season and during the postseason.
Another big contributor out of the class of 2021 this summer was pitcher Sam Donovan. Walpole Legion’s pitching staff the last couple of summers had been led by a one-two punch of Cam Schlittler (Northeastern) and Matt Donato (Tufts). In 2020, the southpaw duo of Drew Kral and Sam Donovan became that new one-two punch. In Walpole’s opening round playoff game against Hyde Park, Donovan got the nod to start and tossed a gem, going five and a third innings with three strikeouts while allowing just one run. A two-RBI single by John Brady and an RBI single by Max Martin was all the run support Donovan would need as Walpole earned a 3-1 victory. Rising-junior relief pitcher Blake Conroy, whose name is another to watch out for on varsity in the future, relieved Donovan with a man on first in the top of the sixth. He earned a five-out save.
Walpole MIBL’s season eventually came to an end on Sunday after falling 7-1 to Hyde Park in the loser’s bracket. Despite coming up short of their ultimate goal of winning the MIBL playoffs, this Walpole team accomplished a lot of good this summer. Seasoned vets like Jackson Walonis, Drew Kral and Jack Magane were given one final chance to play baseball for their town as they get set to compete in college, and through that process, this group of senior leaders helped mentor the future of Walpole High baseball.
Not surprisingly, several star players, such as Sam Donovan, Blake Conroy and Max Martin emerged. If and when Walpole High baseball puts together another Super Eight-caliber season in 2021 or 2022, assuming this virus ever goes away, remember the hard work put in by these players throughout the summer of 2020. Also, remember the brilliant decision to go young with their roster assembly, allowing players the chance to get reps during a time when sports as a whole were a bit of an afterthought.
For funny and insightful sports analysis as well as game highlights, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.