Saints ponder what was and what could have been

The St. Mary’s High School baseball team celebrates a 4-0 win over the Tahonto Stags in a Division 4 baseball state semifinal at Tivnan Field in Worcester in 2017. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – From a spirited run to a state championship title in 2017 to avoiding the school’s closure in the following months and years after, the St. Mary’s High School baseball team has overcome the odds in playing the underdog role over and over again.
This year, the Saints are tasked with another obstacle – – overcoming a year unlike any other.
“There’s still hope for players like (senior shortstop) Jack Lamirande who are going to school for baseball, but missing our last season is pretty upsetting,” senior third baseman/catcher Aidan Burke said.
Burke, Lamirande and fellow seniors Hayden Lussier (OF), Jack Masciadrelli (P/OF), and Mark Nelson (OF) were poised for a return trip to the postseason. Westfield High School sophomore transfers Cam Cusack and Colin Reed, and Ty Leonard, of Granville were expected to give the team an added boost.
“With a couple new players, some underclassmen who were going to be good, and the seniors, I think we could have done some damage this year,” Burke said.
There was renewed enthusiasm surrounding St. Mary’s ball club with first-year head coach Joe Hepworth set to take over the reigns from the previous coaching staff, which included Bill Lamirande and Troy Collins.
“Jersey” Joe Hepworth, a Westfield Wheelmen player for the Vintage Base Ball League, was expected to be joined by fellow Wheelmen Dan “Gunner” Genovese, a Western Massachusetts Hall of Famer; Dan “Short Order” Cook; Keith Carrier (“Mustang”); and Wade Whittaker, who made his way throughout the coaching circles, on the 2020 coaching staff.
“They were all excited,” coach Hepworth said of his staff. “They all thought this would be fantastic. …The kids were just starting to get outside and then March 13 hit and put the kibosh to (the season).”
The high school season was not the only league hard hit by the pandemic. The New England Collegiate Baseball League, which relies heavily on ball players from all around the country, shut down on-field operations for the year.
It is an experience that will likely be sorely missed by players and fans alike.
Throughout a good part of the last eight years, Burke’s family has served as a host family for Valley Blue Sox players. He has received advice and guidance from players from all around the country.
“I thought that was really cool,” he said of the experience.
Despite being confined to his home throughout much of this pandemic, Burke said he is keeping busy with online schooling, talking with friends, and working to the best of his ability. Burke plans to follow his father’s footsteps, working construction full-time once restrictions are lifted, and then joining the Air National Guard.
Burke is still optimistic that he will be able to play in a baseball tournament, dubbed War at the Shore, in late July with other ball players from the Whip City.
The Saints new head coach is also looking ahead.
Coach Hepworth said although he will not get the opportunity to coach St. Mary’s baseball team in 2020, he plans on returning next season, if administrators welcome him back.
“It never got off the ground at all,” Hepworth said. “I was looking forward to coaching and practicing with them – – the Wheelmen were going to play practice games against our players – – then all this stuff happened. …but I plan on doing it all again next year.”

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