Warriors repeated as M.L. Freedom division champs, posted 17 wins
Published in the June 27, 2016 edition.
By JIM SOUTHMAYD
WAKEFIELD — A second straight Middlesex League Freedom division championship, another 15-plus wins and a second straight tournament berth. Those accomplishments were unheard of for the Wakefield Memorial High baseball team a decade ago, or even five years ago for that matter.
The 2016 Warriors will be regarded as one of the best teams ever in school history as Wakefield went 17-4 overall and 14-2 in the M.L. Freedom division.
Even though the Warriors accomplished a lot of great things this spring, the one disappointment was that they didn’t get a win in state tournament as they lost in the first round of the postseason for the second straight year.
So even as this season ends, there is some unfinished business for next year’s team. Not only will Wakefield going for the three-peat in the M.L. Freedom division, but they will be seeking their first postseason win since the 2003 season.
“We went 17-3 in the regular season and won back-to-back league titles,” said Coach Keith Forbes, who finished his third year as head coach. “We had four all-stars with Corey Imbriano, Matt Mercurio, Paul McGunigle and Andrew Auld. We had four honorable mentions with Tighe Beck, Mike Guanci, Adam Chanley and Tim Hurley.
The Warriors were edged by a 5-4 score by Lynn Classical in a Div. 2 North first round game at Walsh Field. Wakefield also dropped its first round tournament game in 2015 by a 4-2 score to Concord-Carlisle.
“We had two tough games at the end of the season,” said Forbes. “We played Austin Prep with hopes of playing in the Super Eight. We had a tough game but I thought we did a good job of putting it behind us. In the Div. 2 North playoffs, we got them in the first 1-2-3 and then we score two runs. It was like how we scripted it.
“But we didn’t get any more runs when we had the chance and then we had that one tough inning,” added Forbes. “It went from being 2-0 to being 5-2. After that I think we were a little shellshocked and started feeling the pressure of it being a single elimination game.”
The Warriors closed the gap to 5-4 in the seventh inning, but came up short.
“We had a great regular season with a ton of success. I don’t want the tournament loss to diminish what we accomplished,” said Forbes. “We have over 40 wins in the past three seasons. Losing in the state tournament was a disappointment, but that first game of the state tournament is the toughest because you’re facing a team’s number one pitcher.
“Their pitcher threw his breaking ball for strikes and controlled the outer half of the plate,” continued Forbes. “Their shortstop and center fielder made some outstanding defensive plays. They played good, clean defense and they capitalized on our mistakes.”
The Warriors won 17 games by playing good defense and getting good pitching. They also had timely hitting over the course of the season.
“Pitching and defense helped us win most of our games,” said Forbes. “We had a team ERA of 1.70.”
The Warriors were led by Imbriano, a senior, who posted a 5-1 record with an ERA of 0.80 in 43 and two-thirds innings pitched. The right-hander gave up 26 hits and 16 runs (five earned) while striking out 55 and walking 19.
Ben Coccoluto, a junior, had an 0.00 ERA in 20 and two-thirds innings pitched. The righty posted a 3-0 record giving up eight hits and no runs. Cocculuto struck out 21 and walked five.
Chanley, a senior right-hander, pitched 20 and two-thirds innings out of the bullpen. Chanley had a 4-1 record with two saves. He had an ERA of 1.01 with 12 hits surrendered and four runs (three earned). The righty struck out 27 and walked five.
The Warriors batted .297 as a team with 170 hits total.
Auld, a senior, was the team leader in batting average at .444. Auld had 24 hits in 54 at bats with 14 RBIs. The senior had four doubles and two triples. His OPS was 1.084.
McGunigle, a senior, batted .393 with 22 hits in 56 at bats. McGunigle had four doubles and 10 RBIs. The senior had a .507 OBP and led the team in walks with 13.
Guanci, a junior, batted .365 with 19 hits in 52 at bats. The junior had two doubles and nine RBIs.
Last year’s M.L. Freedom division MVP, Mercurio, had a solid senior campaign as he batted .310 with 22 hits in 71 at bats. Mercurio provided the power with all three Warrior home runs this season and a team high 16 RBIs. He also had four doubles and a triple.
Hurley, a junior, batted .356 with 16 hits in 45 at bat. Hurley had two doubles and a triple and drove in 10 runs.
“The tournament loss doesn’t take away from our season,” said Forbes. “We were in the playoffs and the town was excited about baseball. It is difficult to say good bye to our five seniors. Corey Imbriano, Paul McGunigle, Andrew Auld, Matt Mercurio and Tighe Beck have been with the program for the past three years. They will be missed.
“It is tough to lose all our seniors,” added Forbes. “Guys like Zach Kane, Zack Thomas, Adam Chanley, Matt Smith, Kevin Murray, Dylan Melanson and Max Marchino have all worked hard and it will be tough to find replacements for them. They’re a good group of role models who got after it and put the work in.”
The cupboard isn’t exactly bare with Guanci, Hurley and Coccoluto returning. Also junior pitcher John Evangelista and junior outfielder Will Shea saw a lot of playing time with the varsity this season. Hurley and Guanci will be the team’s captains in 2017.
“We want to win the league title again next year and win some games in the state tournament,” said Forbes. “The JV team went 10-8 and the freshmen were 9-5. We’ve had winning records at every single level for the past two years. We have the Townies program with four teams and we have the middle school program with the sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
“We have the guys to get us toward that third title and get our first playoff win,” continued Forbes. “We have a strong junior and sophomore class. We want to keep it going and be consistent year in and year out. Baseball is a game of skill and the players need to put in the time and effort. The excitement is back with the baseball program and that will help us.”