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By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It’s playoff baseball season, a time of year about which the boys from Needham may know a thing or two, especially after winning their way to the Division I title last year.
After opening the year 0-3 and sitting at 6-7 on May 18, Needham had some work to do if they wanted a chance to defend their title. The Rockets responded with four straight wins against Weymouth (6-2), Framingham (4-3 in a walk-off), Milton (7-2), and on Saturday against Medford (11-3).
“We swung the bats well against Medford,” said Needham head coach Matt Howard when asked of his general thoughts on the Rockets’ postseason-clinching win. “We made good adjustments and focused on hitting hard line drives along with Tommy (Chmielewski) throwing strikes and clean defense.”
Add the four-game streak to their wins against rival Wellesley (4-2) and another against Weymouth (2-1), and Needham has built themselves an impressive tournament resume. Of the many reasons Needham has put themselves in such a good position with the tournament just around the corner, the bats of Kevin McKenzie (.432 BA), Danny DeMayo (.426), and Steven Donovan (.333) may be the biggest.
“Kevin, Danny, and Steven have led us at the top of the order this season,” said Howard. They are all mature hitters with good approaches at the plate. Steven had 16 stolen basses and all three are threats to run.”
As for pitching, Needham is led by the arm of tall lefty ace Tom Chmielewski, a guy that Howard believes will be an X-factor in the playoffs, along with their No. 2, Will Foley.
“Tommy is a four-year varsity guy with a lot of postseason experience,” said Howard. “He has excellent pitch ability, knows the game well and leads by example. Will has done a great job of filling up the strike zone and mixing his pitches. He competes with confidence and is never fazed by any situation.”
Along with utilizing the bats and the legs of their lethal trio of DeMayo, Donovan, and McKenzie, coach Howard says that fundamentals and focusing on perfecting the little things will be main focal points of success.
“In the tournament, you have to do all the little things well,” said Howard. “Execute a bunt, control the run game, produce runs when the opportunities arise. It all matters, and the focus of winning needs to be on winning each pitch.”
At the time of print, Needham will conclude its regular season on May 29 against rival Newton North before finding out their seeding in Division I South where they’ll set out to defend their crown.
For funny and insightful sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter @fLAno0.