Duxbury High School baseball coach Gordon Cushing hasn’t had much of a chance to see his team in action during their preseason thanks to Mother Nature, but what he has seen has him optimistic that the Dragons are going to pick up right where they left off in 2013.
Duxbury started the 2013 season slowly, but finished by winning seven of their final eight games in one of the toughest baseball leagues in the state. With only one senior gone from last year’s starting lineup, Cushing said expectations are high for this spring.
“We have a lot of kids coming back that played a whole bunch of innings last year,” Cushing said. “We’ve got some nice players coming back, and we’ve got young players who are going to help us, so I’m definitely optimistic.”
Cushing expects his team to drive in runs and play strong defense, but said how well they do in the star-studded Patriot League will depend on how well they pitch. Senior captain and 2013 All-Scholastic starter Jake Foote will be the ace of the staff and already looks sharp — having yet to allow a run during preseason scrimmages. Junior captain Kevin O’Rourke is slated as the num- ber two starter behind Foote, but after that Cushing said his rotation is still up in the air with freshman Cole Roland and sophomore Jake Reagan battling for a starting job.
“Between those four guys, we hope to find three solid starters,” Cushing said. “We have three or four other guys who can fill in and give us some innings here and there, a lot will depend on our pitching.”
Cushing said the pitching has already taken a big leap forward with the addition of assistant coach Chris Festa. Festa was a former minor league pitching prospect for the Red Sox, and Cushing said his presence has already been felt in the short period that Dragons have been together this spring.
“He’s been a big help taken over the pitching coaching duties and it’s already paying dividends,” Cushing said.
Despite losing only one starter from last season, Cush- ing said the pitching rotation isn’t the only place where there is stiff competition for playing time. He said younger players are pushing the 2013 starters for playing time at first base and the corner outfield positions. Cushing has until Friday when the Dragons open against Marshfield to decide on his initial starting lineup and said the competition means those players will have earned their spots on the field.
“The kids are pretty aware not to just rest on where they were last year and that’s healthy for us,” Cushing said. “That’s going to keep us on our toes.”
One position Cushing shouldn’t have to worry about is center field, where junior Cam Walsh will again be patrolling for the Dragons. Walsh led the team in hitting last season, batting well over .400 and should provide the team with a spark at the top of the lineup as Cushing has him leading off this season.
When Walsh gets on base, the Dragons will be looking to O’Rourke, left fielder Jack- son Sinnott and third baseman Mike Callander to drive in the runs. Sinnott led the team in home runs last season and was second in RBI, and though Callander missed most of last spring with injuries, Cushing said he has back to full strength during the preseason.
“Though three will really provide us with most of our pop,” Cushing said. “We’re going to be tough to get out because we swing the bats well.”
Despite the junior and senior leadership of Walsh, Foote, Sinnott and O’Rourke, as well as senior second baseman Matt Saia, Duxbury will still be a young team in 2014. In addition to Reagan as a po- tential starting pitcher, Cush- ing will be counting on sophomore Brendon Cates to resume his role as the starting catcher with fellow sophomore Buddy Mrowka who will be stepping into the shortstop position vacated by 2013 senior James Marcello.
“They’re young, but they both played a lot for me last year,” Cushing said. “Six out of the nine positions will be fielded by underclassmen, but they have some experience.”
The Dragons will need that experience to compete in a Patriot League that boasts both the Division II and Division III 2013 state champions. Both the D-III Champion Middleboro Sachems and D-II Champion Hingham Harbormen are returning a large portion of their championship teams, while the Dragons will also have to reckon with the Silver Lake Lakers, who won the Patriot League last year.
“When you have two state champions in your league and the league champion wasn’t one of them, you know it’s a tough league,” Cushing said. “Our league is probably the best league in the whole state.”
Duxbury will see just how well they measure up to the iron of the league right out of the gates this year. After starting the season with road games against Marshfield and Pembroke, Duxbury has Middleboro, Silver Lake and Hingham all in a row beginning April 9 at Middleboro High School. While they know they have to been at their best right from the start, Cushing said the Dragons are ready to ditch the rain and play ball.
“We come right out of the gate with a difficult start, but it’s a long season,” Cushing said. “[The past two weeks,] have been tough with the weather basically and haven’t had a lot of outside time. Everyone getting a little tired of being indoors and we just want to play.”