By Greg Phipps
Last season, the Peabody High School baseball team didn’t have any real uncertainties when it came to the starting lineup and pitching staff. This spring is a different story.
“Last year, we basically came in knowing what we had, so coming out of the gate, the kids knew where they stood and we could just focus on playing,” recalled Tanners head coach Mark Bettencourt. “This year, we really don’t know what we have overall just yet. There are some question marks. I think we’re going to be a team that gets better as the season progresses.”
Peabody is coming off a 2017 campaign in which it finished 14-9 and suffered a disappointing defeat to Cambridge Rindge & Latin at home in the first round of the playoffs. It was a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Tanners, who raced out to a 12-2 start only to go 2-7 the remainder of the way.
Bettencourt said he thinks this year might be more the reverse of last season. “In past years, we’ve had teams start out on fire, pick up a high state ranking, and then falter two-thirds into the season,” he observed. “I don’t see that happening to this year’s team. We’re young and inexperienced right now. But this team will get better as the year goes on.”
The outfield is the biggest mystery entering the season. Bettencourt said five outfielders were lost from last year and about eight players are competing for two spots. He said co-captain Jake Irvine is set to be the starting centerfielder but left and right are wide open. The other captains, shortstop Jake Gustin and catcher Eric DeMayo, provide experience and stability that should prove beneficial.
Joe Gilmartin, pegged to be the team’s No. 2 starter, will man second base on his off-pitching days. Third and first base are also unsettled, but Bettencourt mentioned Cole Cuzzi and Eddie Campbell as potential candidates for the hot corner.
As for pitching, Bettencourt said lefty Alex D’Angelo, who tossed a perfect game last year, will be the top starter, followed by Gilmartin. “After that, it’s a guessing game. Joe Zito and Eddie Campbell got good experience playing junior varsity last year, but we’re still looking to see what then can do at the varsity level,” he pointed out.
Being able to practice outdoors has been an issue due to the March snow and colder-than-normal weather. Bettencourt said last Saturday’s scrimmage at Lynnfield was a big preseason plus for his players.
“To show just how hungry these kids are and how much they’ve impressed me, they showed up at the scrimmage at seven in the morning to take fungoes,” he said. “It was a very productive scrimmage – one of the best we’ve ever had – and it may be the only one we get. We got a lot out of it.”
As in past seasons, the Tanners face some formidable non-league competition, including perennial state powerhouse St. John’s Prep as well as Austin Prep and Malden Catholic. South Shore area teams like Braintree and Xaverian have been taken off this year’s schedule. “That was a long way to travel for a regular-season game. If it’s the tournament, I’ll go anywhere. But if we don’t have to travel that far, I’d just as soon stay around here,” said Bettencourt. The Tanners are scheduled to open their season Monday afternoon at Revere.