Small school keeps on reaching lofty heights

St. Mary’s Jake Butler, left, fist bumps assistant coach Billy Lamirande after Butler reached first base safely during a regular season contest. The Saints’ next stop on their postseason journey will take place on Saturday when they battle top-seeded Hopkins Academy in the West Division 4 finals at University of Massachusetts-Amherst at 10:30 a.m. (Staff file photo)

WESTFIELD – One year ago, the St. Mary’s High School baseball team wrote its own storybook ending as the little engine that could. What can Saints’ fans expect for an encore tale?
How about another run to the West Division 4 finals for starters?
On Wednesday, third-seeded St. Mary’s obliterated the tournament’s overall No. 2 seed, McCann Tech, 20-7, in the West D4 semis at Westfield State University’s Bud and Jim Hagan Field. With that, the Saints have earned the chance to defend their 2017 Western Massachusetts championship title.
St. Mary’s will battle No. 1 Hopkins Academy (16-4) Saturday at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst at 10:30 a.m.
“Back to back is a dream,” St. Mary’s head coach Troy Collins said, following Wednesday night’s victory. “It’s been a good ride, we just want to keep it going.”
The very definition of St. Mary’s baseball was on display in the semifinals with little things that ended up paying big dividends like Jack Lamirande managing to move runners over to second and third with perfectly placed bunts (twice), and No. 9 batter Aidan Burke going 3-for-4.
Fundamentals and paying attention to details is what St. Mary’s continues to stress.
“These guys are a joy to coach,” Collins said. “They come, they listen, they work hard, they get to practice early, and they stay late. They do all the right things so it makes it fun for all of us. They don’t make a lot of mental errors. They make the plays they need to and put themselves in positions to make plays.”
St. Mary’s has embraced the David vs. Goliath role for some time now. It fits them well.
Last season, the Saints rode the underdog role to the top spot in all of Western Mass. Then, this season, they were hit with news that the school might likely be on the brink of closing (due to dwindling enrollment numbers, financial issues, and pressures from the Catholic diocese).
They overcame every obstacle in their path, earned several blessings on and off the diamond – the school’s future is guaranteed at least for another year – and continue to make sports miracles happen.
“To get back to the Western Mass finals – two in a row – is special,” coach Collins said. “It’s tough to do. It’s not easy to get there because things can go wrong in any baseball game, but this is a special group.”
St. Mary’s ball club may be small in size and stature, but they play with big hearts. The only question left is – will that result in consecutive monster-sized Western Mass and state titles?

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