KP Nine Will Be Ready for Division 1 Challenge
The 2023 King Philip baseball team, which finished with a 17-8 overall record, advanced to the state tourney final where it lost to Milton, 6-2.
By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
There was plenty of disappointment and even some tears were shed after King Philip’s baseball team lost to Milton, 6-2, in the Division 2 state final last month at Polar Park in Worcester.
Both emotions were justified, primarily because of past history. The Warriors are now winless in two consecutive attempts to capture a state title — last year’s 4-2 setback was also inflicted by Milton, a Bay State Conference team that has become KP’s kryptonite.
Give coach Brendan Morrissey’s Wildcats all the credit and all the kudos. And, that’s just what KP coach Jeff Plympton Jr. did immediately after the final out.
“I thought we were locked in and ready to go,’’ he said. “We were excited to be back, and to play in a venue like this was awesome. Our guys were super pumped. But Milton did all the right things. Coach Morrissey said he respected our team and that we’ve built a good program.’’
Remember the last five words uttered by Morrissey — “we’ve (KP) built a good program.’’ There was a time, not too long ago, when Warrior baseball was in the doldrums. Two sub-.500 teams were the norm before Plympton took the reins.
“The program was not in a good place and there was no excitement about baseball,’’ said Plympton, who’s been head coach for three years.
The 30-year-old Plympton’s first season produced an 8-8 record and a tourney berth. Last year the Warriors were 16-9 overall and this season they had a 17-8 campaign. So, the numbers go like this — three years, a 41-25 record, three tourney berths and two state runners-up finishes. KP was a No. 2 seed in last year’s playoffs and this season it was seeded third.
Morrissey was on the mark. A good program has indeed been built and when it competes in Division 1 next year, don’t fret about competing against teams like Taunton, Franklin, Bridgewater-Raynham and Central Catholic.
“Division 1 will be challenging but we can compete with all the teams,’’ Plympton said. “We’re in a good spot because playing most of our games in the Hockomock League is a great way to prepare. If we were in Division 1 this year, we would have been seeded No. 9.’’
Another plus for KP is the experience gained in two state final contests. And, don’t forget the venues — Polar Park (home of the Triple-A Woo-Sox) and Holy Cross last year. Playing in stadiums will not be intimidating for KP’s returning players.
“We’ve got some players back in significant roles,’’ Plympton noted. “We’ll be young but we’ll have experience and some depth. We won’t be rebuilding, we’ll be reloading.’’
KP’s farm teams — the freshman and jayvees — will provide some help. The frosh were 11-3 this season and the jayvees were 15-4.
The Warriors had their opportunities to score runs in the final, putting runners on base in the first five innings. They had a 1-0 lead after the first stanza but Milton scored three runs in the third and changed the momentum. A KP fielding error allowed two runs to score, giving Milton a 3-1 advantage.
“The momentum definitely was altered,’’ Plympton offered. “Our bats went silent and we didn’t get timely hits. During a game, one or two things can go in the opposite direction and change the outcome. We had eight hits and left eight runners on base.’’
Plympton lauded Milton’s starter, Owen McHugh, who struck out 11, and relief hurler Tommy Mitchell who closed out the game. “We were up against two superb pitchers in McHugh and Mitchell,’’ said Plympton. “Both are high velocity pitchers.’’
The Wildcats scored another run in the fourth and added two more in the sixth inning. KP’s Tommy Martorano delivered an RBI single in the first and Tommy McLeish knocked in the Warriors’ other run with a single in the sixth.
The Warriors advanced to the final by defeating Agawam, 12-1; North Attleboro, 4-3 in 11 innings; Westwood, 1-0; and St. Mary’s (Lynn), 6-4.
Here’s a look at KP’s nucleus that’s played a key role in resurrecting the program with this year’s class designation and Plympton’s comments:
FIRST BASE — Max Robison (junior). “Defensive Player of the Year who’s one of the best first basemen I’ve coached. Smooth swinging leadoff hitter.”
SECOND BASE/PITCHER — Cam Hasenfus (sophomore). “Good fielder and good hitter in ninth slot. Posted 3-0 record and will be a starter next year.”
SHORTSTOP/PITCHER — Tommy McLeish (junior). “Smooth infielder who covers a lot of ground. Improved hitter and our top relief pitcher.”
THIRD BASE — Brendan Sencaj (senior). “Quality fielder and very capable hitter. Our No. 2 hitter with a .329 batting average. Will play at Bentley next year.”
CATCHER — Leo Dowling (freshman). “He’s grown in a difficult position. Controls a game well and knows how to settle down a pitcher. Smothers balls in the dirt.”
LEFT FIELD/PITCHER — Tommy Martorano (senior). “Tracks ball well in the outfield and batted .324. Hurt for part of the season, he’s a lefty with a lot of velocity. Our closer, he was effective in the tourney and will play at the University of Maine.”
CENTER FIELD — Matt Kelley (senior). “Batted .345 and delivered in pressure situations. One of the best outfielders I’ve coached. He’ll leave a big void. Will play football at Amherst.”
RIGHT FIELD — Aidan Astorino (sophomore). “Tracks the ball effectively by relying on a quick read and instincts. A strong power hitter.”
SECOND BASE/PITCHER — Rudy Gately (senior). Three-year veteran whose pitching vs. Mansfield gave Plympton his first win as a coach. “Great assortment of pitches, excellent control, and an all-purpose player who’s respected by teammates. Will play at Bowdoin.”
LEFT FIELD — Johnny Prader (freshman). “Patient contact hitter with good range in the outfield. Works hard and has improved. Should have an exciting future.”
PITCHER — Nate Pennini (sophomore). Was 5-1 this season. “Relies on control and manages a game well. Throws strikes and keeps hitters off balance.”
The Warriors next playoff appearance will be in Division 1 and it won’t be a walk in the park. “We’ll be facing larger public schools and the Catholic schools,’’ Plympton admonished. “It won’t be easy but we’re fortunate because there were no days off in the Hockomock League and we played multiple tough games.’’
And, don’t forget KP’s second-round, Division 2 opponent this season. It was North Attleboro (Hockomock League) and it took the Warriors 11 innings to eke out a 4-3 triumph. Two victories later, over Westwood (1-0 win) and St. Mary’s of Lynn, KP had punched its ticket to Polar Park for its second straight state final.
Division 1 will be a new adventure with mountains to climb.
The Warriors, however, already have performed Herculean tasks.