Warriors hope to repeat as league champs, win in state tourney

Published in the April 6, 2016 edition

MATT MERCURIO, a senior, returns to play catcher for the defending league champion Warriors. Mercurio was the Middlesex League Freedom division MVP a year ago and was one of Wakefield’s top hitters with a .339 batting average and 18 RBIs which led the team. (Donna Larsson File Photo)

MATT MERCURIO, a senior, returns to play catcher for the defending league champion Warriors. Mercurio was the Middlesex League Freedom division MVP a year ago and was one of Wakefield’s top hitters with a .339 batting average and 18 RBIs which led the team. (Donna Larsson File Photo)


WAKEFIELD — The 2015 season was one of the best for the Wakefield Memorial High baseball team in the last 25 years. The Warriors not only clinched a state tournament berth but also captured the Middlesex League Freedom division title which was the program’s first league championship since 1989.

But despite all those accomplishments, the ending left Wakefield wanting more as it was dropped its state tournament opener against Concord-Carlisle by a 4-2 score.

So as this spring’s season opener approaches, the Warriors have high expectations with a host of players back from last year’s league championship team and Wakefield wants to have even more success.

The bar has been set pretty high, however, as Wakefield posted a 15-6 overall record last year and a 13-3 mark in the M.L. Freedom division.

“We have quite a few seniors and juniors that are returning,” said head coach Keith Forbes, in his third year with the program. “We have a lot of talent and a good group of baseball guys. They played summer ball and they play for the love of the game. We are looking for big things to happen this year. The kids are excited about the season.”

Now the Warriors need a little cooperation with the weather to get outside and begin the regular season. While the conditions have certainly been better this year than last spring with the record snow fall and cold temperatures from last winter, Wakefield has only had two full scrimmages and one three inning scrimmage.

“We’ve been able to get out a little bit,” said Forbes. “It has been enough to give me a chance to see what we have and to be fair evaluating the players that are fighting for positions. We have options.”

The returning seniors include Matt Mercurio, Paul McGunigle, Corey Imbriano, Tighe Beck and Andrew Auld. All were starters a year ago.

Mercurio returns as the team’s catcher and the senior was named the Freedom division MVP a year ago. Mercurio had a terrific 2015 season as he batted .339 with 21 hits. The junior scored five runs, had eight doubles and led the team in RBIs with 18. He also played fine defense behind the plate.

McGunigle returns to play first base and the outfield where he is more than capable of playing either position.

Imbriano returns to the middle infield where he plays shortstop and some second base. The senior right-hander is also a pitcher. Imbriano, a league all-star last spring, batted leadoff a year ago for the Warriors and hit .323 with 21 hits. He scored 19 runs, had two doubles, one triple and drove in six runs. He stole nine bases, which was tied for the team high with Beck.

Beck returns to play center field and is one of the Warriors quicker athletes in that position. Beck is also returning M.L. Freedom division all-star.

Auld, a right-hander, returns and is one of Wakefield’s pitchers. He was the ace of the staff a year ago and a league all-star. The senior hurled 44 2/3 innings and had a 5-2-1 record. The right-hander gave up 23 runs (14 earned) on 35 hits. He struck out 38 batters, walked 18 and hit 11 batters. He had an ERA of 2.19. The senior also plays first base when he is not hitting.

There are seven more seniors that saw some varsity playing time a year ago. So they are not unfamiliar with the level of play at varsity. Those 12th graders are Zack Kane, Matt Smith, Max Marchino, Adam Chanley, Dylan Melanson, Zach Thomas and Kevin Murray.

Kane and Smith are outfielders, while Marchino and Chanley are pitchers and will most likely hurl in relief with the occasion spot start. Melanson is a second baseman and Thomas can play the hot corner at third base. Murray is the backup catcher and he could be playing DH since he has been hitting the ball well in the preseason.

All those players can help defensively, possibly be the designated hitter and can be used in pinch-hitting roles as well said Forbes.

There are seven juniors that should contribute to the Warriors’ cause. Several had big roles with the varsity last year, while several saw some time with the varsity going back and forth between varsity and JV. The juniors are Carmen Sorrentino, Will Shea, Mike Guanci, Tim Hurley, Ben Coccoluto, John Evangelista and Brett Maloney.

Sorrentino and Shea are outfielders and give Wakefield some added depth there.

Guanci pitched for the Warriors last year but will not return to the mound this spring due to a sore right shoulder. The junior will play third base, however.

Guanci’s arm will be missed on the mound. He had a 5-1 record last spring for the Warriors as he pitched 26 innings. The right-hander gave up 13 runs (six earned) on 20 hits. Guanci struck out 12, walked 12 and hit two batters. Guanci had an ERA of 1.62.

Hurley is a returning middle infielder and will play shortstop and second base. He will most likely be the shortstop when Imbriano is the starting pitcher.

Coccoluto can play first base, designated hitter and he can pitch in relief with the possible spot start.

Evangelista pitched in relief in the state tournament game last year and the right-hander returns to be a starter this spring.

Maloney is a second baseman and could possibly DH.

There is one sophomore that will most likely play both JV and varsity depending on the need and also to make sure he receives plenty of playing time as opposed to sitting on the bench. Jake Nardone is an infielder who can play second base, third base and shortstop.

“The expectations are high but we need to take it one game at a time,” said Forbes. “We have set some high standards. Winning the league title again is one of our goals along with getting back to the state tournament. Last year’s first round tournament loss left a bad taste in the players’ mouths and they’re hungry. We want to take the next step.

“It had been a while since Wakefield had been to the playoffs, so now they are used to it. Several players were on the basketball team that had a good year, so they are feeling good and they have that confidence,” added Forbes.

Wakefield isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this year as the Warriors have been ranked third in Div. 2 North by one Boston newspaper and are being tabbed as one of the top teams in the division in the state. However past success and hype won’t get the job done as Forbes knows.

“We need to play good baseball. No one is going to roll over for us,” said Forbes. “We need to work on grinding out wins. We need to play good defense, have good at bats and have some timely hitting and run the bases well. If we work hard, then good things will happen.”

Returning to assist Forbes are Coaches Jason Zerfas and Gus Dettorre. Tom Leahy is the JV head coach and will be assisted once again by Brian Millea. Scott McGonagle is the freshman coach.

“The sophomore class is talented and deep. The freshmen have a handful of players that are good,” said Forbes. “I have also worked with the seventh and eighth graders at the middle school. We want to keep it going.”

The strength of the underclass programs could help determine Wakefield’s success in the next few years. However, right now Forbes is focused on the present and coaching the varsity team.

Wakefield is scheduled to open up the season on Friday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. when it hosts Austin Prep in a non-league game at Walsh Field.