Thursday, August 20, 2015

Senior Softball: Where 14-year-olds play alongside 88-year-olds

By Trevor Hass

ALAMEDA – An 85-year old man sits at a picnic table at Tillman Park munching on some baseball peanuts on a gorgeous Monday morning in the middle of August. 

He’s wearing the same outfit he does every week – a worn-out sweatshirt and sweatpants, a pair of snazzy shades, New Balance shoes and an Oakland A’s hat.

He’s been coming here, playing Senior Softball, since 1991 – before I was born.

Sam Wales, the umpire, pauses before he shares who’s older than he is here. He can’t quite remember at first.

“Jack’s got me beat,” he says. “He’s 86 now. I’m 85. Forgot about Jack.”

Meet Jack Moore. He’s the man. He was recently honored on the big screen at the A’s game on his 86th birthday for being a long-time season ticket holder.

I haven’t found official rankings anywhere, but Jack just might be the best slow-pitch softball southpaw in the state of the California. He’s come here nearly every Monday for 10 years, and he pitches essentially every time.

“Oh, I don’t miss days,” Jack says, looking me right in the eye. “Every Monday. Maybe I was sick once.”

Jack’s been known to wear a Bras & Mattos hat, but on this particular day he’s sporting an emerald green Explore Idaho shirt.

He points out all of his protégés. There’s Barry, who asked Jack how to improve his stance. Jack molded Warren into a consistent line-drive hitter. Then there’s “Big Ed,” as Jack calls him, who Jack is determined to turn into a first baseman.

If you need help on the softball field, Jack’s your guy. He’s been doing this for decades and he knows a thing or two about hitting.

It’s a few minutes before first pitch and everyone’s mingling and laughing, as usual. Yeawa Asabi, a 17-year-old from San Leandro, chats with her grandma, 64-year-old Yvonne “Maxie” Wayne, an Oakland resident who has been coming here for three years. Walter McQuesten, a charismatic, well-traveled, vivacious man who graciously lent me his 1983 Mercedes-Benz earlier in the summer, converses with Charlie Wanczyk about a mutual friend they have from decades ago.

It’s just like any other Monday. The beauty of California is that the weather almost never gets in the way. This has been going on for decades, in the same place, with many of the same people.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. Dick Bellefeuille, a spunky outfielder with some pop at the plate, once brought his middle-school aged grandson Jared. I’ve brought my friends Oliver and Jake, and one of my best friends Joe will play next week. They don’t care who plays, as long as the newcomer respects the game.

They just want to play softball and have a good time. Nothing is more complicated than it has to be.

John Busby, an easygoing, approachable man who often smokes a cigarette and plays some mean defense, makes the teams, which change every week.

“I try to stack the teams as subtly as I can without having anyone notice,” John says with a hint of a smile. “Usually it works out.”

The game gets started a few minutes after 9:30. I was planning on taking a step back and just watching and writing, not playing. But when I told John, he seemed disappointed, and everyone else chimed in encouraging me to still play.

It's been pretty neat to be an integral part of something my amazing aunt Abbe Kalos (who has unbelievably kindly let me stay with her for the summer) had told me about. I knew it would be fun, but I had no idea just how fun it would be. So I decided to play this time around, like I have most weeks since late May, and I was in the field to start the game.

Jack deals Ron Kimmel what seems like a juicy changeup to start, but Ron takes a mighty hack and swings and misses. Then Ron crushes one, starting a string of seven consecutive hits.

Kevin Dundon smacks a ball to right-center and motors all the way around for an inside-the-park home run (they’re pretty common here). He holds his hat in place. Usually it falls off while he’s flying around the bases and he has to go retrieve it from short after the play’s over, but this time it stays put.

The Red team scores five runs (the max you can get per inning is five until the seventh and final frame). Jack paces off the field, ball in glove. “We got ‘em right where we want ‘em,” he says, drawing a laugh.

Believe it or not, Jack isn’t the oldest player here. In fact, he’s not even the oldest pitcher. Don Young, a gentle and patient man who turns 89 on Oct. 18, has been playing Senior Softball since 1992 when he retired at the age of 65.

“I pitch because I can’t do anything else,” Don says. “I can’t see the ball as good as I used to. I’m getting too old.”

Don throws a ball, and Maxie, who’s playing first, compliments him on the pitch. Tom Nolan – a soft-spoken, warm man from Indiana with whom I played tennis a few weeks ago – shouts to Maxie: “I’m surprised you thought that was nice.”

Maxie turns and responds, “It’s the first inning. Don’t start, Tom.” It’s all in good fun. Always is.

Clare Kruse, a conversational, baseball-crazed man with a tremendous dose of well-timed sarcasm, creeps up to the plate. The area to the left of the dish is covered in sand – more than usual – and Clare takes notice.

“I thought I was too old to play in a sandbox,” he says.

The game moves forward, and the Red team holds a 7-2 lead in the third. At one point, Jack turns to Ed and says, “I’m tired, Ed. All I want to do is lay down.”

“I’d say you’re doing OK, Jack," Ed, a tall man who wears a mask when he’s in the field for protection, replies.

I hit a sharp grounder to short and legged out an infield single despite a nice play from Kevin. “Anyone else, I would have had him,” Kevin, who has even better speed than I do, yells to me from across the diamond.

I shrug, smile and give him a point, and two batters later Clare and I come around to score when Abbe – who’s usually an opposite-field hitter, but picks her spots – hits a beautiful ball down the third-base line to cut the deficit to 7-5.

The two teams trade runs. At one point, Kevin hits another inside-the-park homer and his hat falls off this time. “Why don’t you nail it to your head?” Jack inquires, mostly kidding, but perhaps a tiny bit serious.

Jack pitched for years in multiple leagues around the Bay Area. Once he found out about this league, he never stopped coming. He only remembers two legitimate quarrels in 10 years. For the most part, everyone else gets along despite minor spats here and there.

“It’s so much fun. Everybody’s bitchin’ elsewhere,” Jack says matter-of-factly. “I decided I was going to start coming here every Monday. Its worked out really well. They let me do whatever I want.” 

For Maxie, her favorite part about coming every Monday and some Thursdays is the camaraderie. Just something about the atmosphere and the people makes her always come back.

It’s the same cast of usual suspects nearly every Monday, and around us there are people who often occupy the park at the same time.

“Seeing people doing Tai Chi, the children, the old gentleman playing soccer. Eighty-something years old,” Maxie said. “It’s great to see who can continue to come back and deliver and make the play. Any given week you don’t know who’s going to do what.”

On this particular day the Red team beat the Black team, 24-17. We made it close with a monster 10-run seventh inning, but ultimately the deficit was too sizable to surmount.

I’m a very competitive person and I love to win, but that’s not really what it’s about here. It’s about the people, all sorts of different folks who come from entirely different backgrounds and range from 14 to 88.

Moving to a new city can be overwhelming, but it’s a lot less so when you have something as steady and sensational as Senior Softball to look forward to every week.

I’m sad to be leaving Oakland in a few weeks. Everyone here has treated me extremely well, living-wise, socially and at my internship covering the Oakland A’s for I had high expectations for the summer, and it’s exceeded them by a long shot.

In 65 years – when I’m still younger than Don Young is now – and my grandkids ask me about my summer in Oakland, I’ll be sure to tell them all about Senior Softball.

And who knows, maybe it will still be going on in 2080 and I’ll come back, sit on that same bench and chew some peanuts while a reporter asks me about the good ol’ days at Senior Softball back in the '10s.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Personal information

My name is Trevor Hass, and I am a senior Newspaper and Online Journalism major in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Below are some of my clips with The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun and the Daily Orange, arranged in that order.

This summer I am interning with, covering the Oakland A's as an associate reporter.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, April 13, 2015

MIAA football playoff system still irks some ADs

When the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association implemented its new high school football playoff system in 2013, many people around Eastern Massachusetts had a strong opinion about the changes.

Traditionalists complained that the Thanksgiving games would never carry the same luster or significance. Powerhouse schools rejoiced at the thought of capturing one of six “true” state championships instead of one of 19. Coaches squirmed at the potential of playing the same opponent three times in one season.

Two years later, athletic directors around Eastern Mass. largely have the same outlook they did then. Some ADs praise the system for giving more teams a chance to compete. Others bash it for including sub-.500 teams and meaningless nonplayoff games where almost no one is in attendance.

On Wednesday, the MIAA Football Committee will meet for the first time since the end of the season. One of the agenda items will be a review of a survey taken in the past month to determine feelings about the playoff system. That feedback is one element that will help determine whether the system lives beyond next year, the final season of the trial period, or reverts to some version of the old format.

“I think it has positives and it has negatives,” Braintree AD Michael Denise said. “I think it depends on which end of the spectrum you’re on.”

Initially the system was supposed to be a two-year trial run. ADs were under the impression that after this past season they would have a chance to reconvene, confer, and, if necessary, tweak the system. However, the MIAA did not provide that opportunity.

Some ADs are so infuriated that they have discussed withdrawing from the MIAA system and forming a separate football-governing entity. And the latest news, announced at the MIAA Board of Directors meeting last week, is that last year’s football tournament revenue was down $70,000 from the previous year.

The breakaway option

Dracut AD Tim Woods is heavily involved with the potential withdrawal. He has participated in two discussions with ADs from the Dual County League, Cape Ann League, Northeast Conference, and Merrimack Valley Conference.

Woods anticipates a third discussion in February. At that meeting, Woods expects the group will decide whether withdrawing is viable.

“A lot of ADs are talking about retaliation, in terms of breaking up the very fabric of the MIAA,” Woods said. “People are talking about forming their own tournaments and Super Bowls. In my opinion, [the system] has been a disaster.”

Woods said the format effectively ends the season for many teams after Week 7. Thanksgiving games are “a shadow of what they used to be,” and continuing like this isn’t feasible financially.

Dracut is a relatively small school, and Woods estimated the athletic department lost $6,000-$7,000 each of the past two years. For larger schools such as Billerica and Chelmsford, Woods said, that number is in the tens of thousands.

“Financially, most of us just can’t take it any longer,” Woods said. “The MIAA’s getting more money, but we’re losing thousands of dollars.”

If schools in those leagues were to withdraw, they would do so by simply not registering with the MIAA as a football-playing school. They would devise their own schedule and consider starting the season one week earlier. At the end of the year, there would be a Thanksgiving game and a small tournament to crown a champion.

Woods said he was shocked with the MIAA’s decision to proceed to a third year without their consent. He wanted a chance to tweak what he considers a far-from-perfect setup.

“It was a pilot program,” Woods said. “It wasn’t supposed to be permanent.”

Devaluing Thanksgiving

Tom Gallagher, AD at Ipswich High School, vividly remembers his school’s 2006 Thanksgiving morning matchup against Hamilton-Wenham.

Ipswich blanked the Generals, 7-0. The Tigers advanced in the playoffs and eventually claimed the Super Bowl title.

“To think that that atmosphere isn’t there in the current system is kind of tough,” Gallagher said.

Many ADs around Eastern Mass. feel the new playoff system takes away from the tradition of Thanksgiving football. Beverly AD James Coffey dubbed it a “nonfactor game.” His players and coaches still want to beat Salem, but the game doesn’t have the same pizzazz.

Coffey said Beverly collected $30,000 less in football sales in 2013 than in 2012. The school usually takes in nearly $30,000 on Thanksgiving, but this year that number dipped close to $10,000. Coffey typically uses the extra Thanksgiving money to buy necessities for other sports such as field hockey uniforms, but now that has become more difficult.

“It’s really taken Thanksgiving out of the picture for everyone,” Coffey said.

Les Murray, commissioner of the Cape Ann League who used to serve on the MIAA’s Board of Directors, said it’s “a travesty” that some teams could play each other three times in a season, including on Thanksgiving. For instance, Winchester lost to Woburn by 15-plus points three times this past season. Wakefield lost to Melrose three times.

Lynn English AD Gary Molea calls himself a traditionalist. To him, nothing in high school football is as sweet as waking up on Thanksgiving Day and watching or coaching a meaningful football game.

Now he doesn’t feel the same way.

“It took all the zip out of that,” Molea said.

Finding their way in

Cohasset was the best team in Division 6 this season. That became clear when the Skippers outscored their playoff opponents, 118-44, en route to a Super Bowl title.

But the sixth-seeded Skippers’ playoff run never would have happened without the new playoff system. Under the old format, Cohasset’s 5-2 regular-season record wouldn’t have been good enough to qualify for the playoffs.

“It’s been an awesome experience for us,” Cohasset AD Ron Ford said. “It’s made football really exciting around here in October and November.”

Lexington would not have made the playoffs in either of the past two seasons without the current setup. This year, the 4-3 Minutemen earned the No. 5 seed in Division 1 North and lost a close game to Peabody.

Naomi Martin, AD at Lexington, concedes that the system could be improved, but said it has helped Lexington play in more meaningful games.

BC High wouldn’t have made the playoffs and wouldn’t have upset Brockton and Newton North as a No. 6 seed. Braintree wouldn’t have participated in a playoff game for the first time in 16 years. King Philip beat the Wamps, 34-6, but Denise, Braintree’s AD, was still thrilled that his student-athletes got the opportunity to play in the playoffs.

“Obviously being the 8 seed, having to go up against the No. 1 seed, was a Herculean task, given the success that King Philip has had,” Denise said. “It was a difficult battle, but I think our kids did Braintree High School proud.”

BC High AD and football coach Jon Bartlett was surprised when he heard that 21 teams in Eastern Mass. made the playoffs despite having a losing record.

“Wow,” said Bartlett. “That’s high.”

BC High was one of those teams. The Eagles, who played one of the toughest schedules in the state, finished the regular season 3-4 but ultimately made the state semifinals.

For other teams that got into the playoffs, the opportunity wasn’t quite as worthwhile. Whitman-Hanson, for example, lost to Somerset-Berkley, 51-15.

There was only one first-round upset in all of Division 3.

Some ADs across all divisions, including Braintree’s Denise, favor a four-team playoff instead of eight, allowing for more competitive first-round games.

“I certainly think that our regular season is too short,” Denise said. “I think we should at least have an eight-game season, if not more, to determine who goes to the playoffs.”

Losing proposition

Gallagher has been Ipswich’s athletic director for 11 years. Only twice in that span has the school lost money during a football game — both consolation-bracket matchups in the past two seasons.

Murray calls them “cricket games” because there are virtually no fans in attendance to make any noise. Lynn Classical once had a total of seven fans at a game.

The attendance is low because the games don’t matter, and it’s not worth paying for business managers, buses, referees, and other expenses. Schools end up losing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on those games.

“What tournament do you continue to play after you lose?” Murray said. “There isn’t one. We’re in a culture that really values winning. When you’re not in the playoffs, those games take on an absolutely meaningless structure.”

ADs are split when it comes to opinions on the system, but the ones in opposition appear much more passionate. Beverly’s Coffey believes the format favors perennially contenders such as Everett, Brockton, and St. John’s Prep.

Four of the six Super Bowls were lopsided this year, as Western Mass. teams struggled to contend with Eastern Mass. teams, and that, too, irked some ADs.

ADs such as Denise simply want the MIAA to take another look at the current format.

“If it’s worked out for you, you’re going to like it,” Molea says. “If not, you’re probably going to be on the other end.”

Ins and outs of the system

One of the goals of the new playoff system was to make football like other MIAA sports, in that all teams with a minimum winning percentage of .500 would be allowed entry into the postseason. But as the lists below show, the new format allowed 21 Eastern Mass. teams with losing records into the playoffs and kept 10 teams with winning records out of the playoffs.

Teams below .500 that made playoffs:

Attleboro, Division 1 South (3-4)

BC High, Division 1 South (3-4)

Beverly, Division 2 Northeast (3-4)

Bishop Feehan, Division 3 Southwest (3-4)

Burlington, Division 3 Northwest (2-5)

Danvers, Division 3 Northeast (3-4)

Hopkinton, Division 3 Southwest (3-4)

Lynn Classical, Division 2 North (3-4)

Nauset, Division 3 Southeast (2-5)

Oliver Ames, Division 3 Southwest (3-4)

Plymouth North, Division 3 Southeast (3-4)

Revere, Division 3 Northeast (2-5)

Sandwich, Division 3 Southeast (3-4)

Scituate, Division 4 South (3-4)

Somerville, Division 3 Northeast (2-5)

Swampscott, Division 4 North (3-4)

Waltham, Division 2 North (3-4)

Westford Academy, Division 2 North (2-5)

Whitman-Hanson, Division 3 Southeast (3-4)

Wilmington, Division 3 Northeast (3-4)

Winchester, Division 3 Northwest (2-5)

Teams above .500 out of playoffs:

Arlington Catholic, Division 4 North (4-3)

Bishop Stang, Division 4 South (4-3)

Bristol-Plymouth, Division 6 South (4-3)

Durfee, Division 2 South (4-3)

Lowell, Division 1 North (4-3)

Lawrence, Division 1 North (4-3)

Marian, Division 6 North (4-3)

Old Colony, Division 6 South (4-3)

Old Rochester, Division 5 South (4-3)

Seekonk, Division 5 South (4-3)

Central Catholic motivated by former teammate’s death

Will Wheeler walked up to his younger brother, Shawn, and gave him a heartfelt hug. Central Catholic had captured the 2013 Division 1 state championship earlier that day and Will wanted nothing more than to cherish the moment with family and friends.

“I love you, Shawn,” he said. “Congratulations, buddy. I’ll see you at home.”

Then the Wheelers and a bunch of Will’s friends watched the replay of the game on TV. They celebrated after each touchdown, reliving the scene.

It was a perfect moment — a player everyone seemed to like, capping off one of the best days of his life.

That was the last competitive football game Will Wheeler ever played. Wheeler, 17, died in his sleep on Aug. 17 of natural causes. Now, every time the Raiders step on the field they have Will on their minds. No. 2 Central Catholic (2-0) will continue their quest for a repeat when they face scrappy No. 4 St. John’s Prep (2-0) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

“We want the other ring, but he wanted it more than us,” said Shawn Wheeler, 15. “We’re trying to put that in front of us and get him that other ring.”

Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos thought there was a mistake when he first heard the news. Will died as preseason practices began. The whole week was mentally torturous, and football was the main outlet for Will’s friends.

‘They owe it to themselves to play as hard as they can all the time, like he would.’

Adamopoulos said Wednesday it still hasn’t hit him that one of the team’s most charismatic, popular players has died.

“If he were a country he’d be Switzerland,” Adamopoulos said. “Everyone liked him. No one would ever say a bad word about him.”

Adamopoulos said he never uses Will as a topic for a motivational speech. Someone dying is much bigger than a football game. Using him as motivation wouldn’t be fair to Will or his family.

But although Will isn’t explicitly mentioned much, he’s in the team’s thoughts daily.

“We did talk to the guys about how they’re out here, and obviously Will would love to be here,” Adamopoulos said. “They owe it to themselves to play as hard as they can all the time, like he would.”

When Central Catholic’s captains lined up at midfield before the team’s home opener, they had an honorary captain by their side. Shawn Wheeler.

Captains Michael Balsamo and George Elias miss goofing around with Will every day. From sprinting around the building during winter track to manning the safety position in practice, their memories remain vivid. Shawn misses driving with his brother to New York, just the two of them, joking around and talking football.

Before every practice and every home game, the players pass by a photograph of Will in the locker room. During games they sport a W.W. on their helmets. They don’t have to say anything, but they’re all thinking the same thing. Let’s win this one for Will.

Saturday will be their toughest test yet. Prep’s first-year coach Brian St. Pierre is ensuring his team is ready for Central Catholic.

“We’ve been an underdog in every game we’ve played and that’ll continue onto this week,” St. Pierre said. “We relish the role.”

While St. Pierre’s Eagles are motivated to stage the upset, the Raiders have something — and someone — more to play for, as they look to enact revenge on a team that beat them last season.

“Everyone rallies around him,” Shawn Wheeler said. “They use him as an inspiration.”

.   .   .

No. 6 Natick visits Acton-Boxboro on Friday as Nick Olson looks to continue his strong start . . . Defensive-minded No. 12 Tewksbury will try to slow down No. 5 Everett and contain running back Nick Orekoya on Friday . . . It’s opening weekend for most NEPSAC schools. Belmont Hill faces BB&N in Cambridge and Milton Academy takes on St. Sebastian’s in Needham, two of eight games that highlight the first weekend of Independent School League football. In the Evergreen League, Pingree hosts Portsmouth Abbey and Dexter travels to Connecticut to face Hyde.

Trevor Hass can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TrevorHass.

Super Bowl-bound teams weigh injury potential vs. playing rivals

The appeal of an undefeated season was too juicy. The prospect of finishing the year No. 1 too attainable. The history behind the 82-year rivalry with Foxboro too meaningful.

The Thanksgiving game was simply too irresistible for the Mansfield seniors in 2013. When coach Mike Redding asked them if they wanted to play in the game — instead of rest for the Super Bowl against St. John’s (Shrewsbury) — the response was an overwhelming and unanimous yes.

“It’s such a good game to win for bragging rights,” Redding said. “It’s so hard to say to the kids, ‘We’re not going to play you.’ ”

They played, and the result, a 14-7 win for the Hornets, was overshadowed by a slew of injuries. Star wide receiver Brendan Hill tore his ACL on a bang-bang collision. Running back Miguel Perez separated his shoulder while blocking a defensive back. Two-way player Kyle Hurley tore cartilage in his knee.

Mansfield ended up winning the Division 2 Super Bowl — Perez and Hurley returned, and the injuries didn’t prove insurmountable — but the situation gave coaches in similar spots something to ponder.

This year, as teams prepare for Super Bowls at Gillette Stadium Dec. 6, nearly all have to play a Thanksgiving game first. Coaches have to decide whether to play their starters, and respect the tradition, or to rest them.

With the new playoff system, teams played state semifinal games Nov. 22. Just five days later, they wake up for a morning Thanksgiving game. Then nine days after that, it’s off to Gillette.

Three games in two weeks is a grueling stretch for any high school athlete. If Redding could do it over again, he’d give more consideration to resting certain starters.

Leading up to the Foxboro game, Mansfield had played all 11 of its games on turf. Frigid temperatures, little rest, and poor footing on grass were a bad combination. In hindsight, Redding might have rested some skill players.

Then again, getting to Gillette is much more difficult than it used to be. It’s a tough balancing act, Redding says. The key is to do what’s best for your specific program.

Despite the risks, Marshfield coach Lou Silva is set on playing his starters against Duxbury on Thanksgiving. The undefeated Rams, who will face Longmeadow in the Division 2 Super Bowl, have prepared for the Dragons like they would any other opponent.

Silva said his players go to the beach with Duxbury players during the summer. There’s a sense of familiarity, and the rivalry means something.

Duxbury leads the all-time Thanksgiving series, 14-13-2, but Marshfield’s senior class hasn’t won a game at Duxbury.

Silva doesn’t want to deprive his seniors of that chance.

While the inevitable buzz of the Super Bowl looms, Silva said the team’s only focus this week is Duxbury. He likes certain aspects of the new playoff system, but believes the quick turnaround between games makes winning on Thanksgiving even tougher.

Three days of preparation isn’t much, but Silva can’t control that at this point.

“It’s a total disadvantage, but hey, what the heck,” Silva said, “we’ll pay the price to go to Gillette.”

For Dartmouth coach Rick White — whose team is fresh off a miraculous 20-16 come-from-behind win over Walpole — the situation is a little bit trickier.

The Indians are one win away from their first championship since White’s heyday at the school in 1984. He doesn’t want to jeopardize their chances by playing his starters the entire game against Fairhaven.

He expects Fairhaven, which leads the all-time Thanksgiving series 42-36-4, to play with passion. It’s Fairhaven’s Super Bowl. White believes it would be disrespectful to rest his starters the entire game.

White’s grandfather played against Fairhaven on one of Dartmouth’s first teams in the 1920s. For years, the home team has hospitably hosted the visitors’ faculty, seniors and cheerleaders for a meal the week of Thanksgiving.

Despite the holiday’s perks, White acknowledges the game itself can be treacherous injury-wise.

He says some players may get limited reps this year. He doesn’t want them to miss out on the chance to play at Gillette.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” White said. “It’s not the greatest situation.”

This year, White is making sure his players remember they have a lot be thankful for. Dartmouth senior Will Kuphal lost his father, a prominent doctor in the town, last week.

White, with many of his players, attended “the biggest wake he’s ever been to,” which spanned from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church. So many people were there that it became “standing room only.”

The wake was Friday, and Dartmouth’s remarkable win came Saturday night.

“It was a lot for these kids,” White said. “It’s life. You’ve got to embrace it, but there’s a lot of adversity you have to overcome. It’s a great lesson for our kids to appreciate what they have.”

.   .   .

For all but the 12 teams playing in the Super Bowl games, Thanksgiving is all about tradition, rivalries, and games that are dated in decades, even centuries. Boston Latin and Boston English will meet for the 128th time in a game played at Harvard Stadium. Last year English beat Latin for the first time since 1997. Medford heads to Malden to play in their 127th game. And in Needham, the Rockets host Wellesley in their 127th matchup.

MIAA considering an 18-team super-conference

FRANKLIN — Plans are in motion to potentially combine the Greater Boston League, Northeastern Conference, Masconomet, and conceivably Chelsea into an 18-team league over the next few years.

Charlie Lyons, superintendent of Shawsheen Valley District, unveiled details of the possible super-conference at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board of directors meeting Wednesday.

Lyons said the GBL schools — Everett, Malden, Medford, and Somerville — have “presented a yearning” to join a larger league. The GBL used to be a premier league in Massachusetts, featuring schools such as Quincy, Brockton, and Arlington.

“I don’t know if it will have a domino effect,” said Lyons, one of the board members. “I’m just trying to help the poor kids from Medford, Malden, Somerville, and Everett.”

Recently, the GBL has dwindled in size from 10, to five, to four teams. Lyons spearheaded a meeting between GBL superintendents and Northeastern superintendents that took place in Cape Cod in November.

Since that time, Lyons said, he has met with Everett school officials who are interested in the conglomeration. But Lyons made it clear to Crimson Tide football coach John DiBiaso that Everett, a perennial powerhouse in that sport, would maintain an independent schedule. Only teams that want to play Everett would be able to do so with the new alignment.

For Masconomet, the potential switch comes at a time when the school is growing in size and athletic prowess. Masconomet may apply to the Northeastern Conference because the school has more than 2,000 students — a high number for a Cape Ann school.

Lyons said Chelsea athletic director Frank DePatto has made it clear that the Red Devils could not compete with certain schools in specific sports.

Despite the potential complications, Lyons believes an 18-team league would cut down on transportation costs, help students get home earlier, and allow teams to play competition largely at their own level.

“I feel confidently that progress will be made, but it’s really up to the principals, superintendents and ADs of the Northeastern Conference,” Lyons said.

Marilyn Slattery, house principal at Malden High, is hopeful that the switch will happen in the near future. The logistics need ironing out and more parties need to get on board, but she believes progress has been made.

“I think it’s closer to happening than an idea,” Slattery said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Slattery echoed Lyons’s belief that the GBL used to be one of the most vibrant leagues in Massachusetts. Now, she says, “It’s terrible to see the dilution of a league that’s been going on.”

For Malden, a community with many immigrants, Slattery feels that belonging to a league with nearby teams would give her students a sense of community. Many of her kids traveled to Oliver Ames this year without even knowing where Easton is.

MIAA executive director Bill Gaine agrees with Slattery that the new league would give students a sense of belonging.

“There’s no affinity if they’re going from Malden to Marshfield,” he said.

The next step is to spark more dialogue and get leaders at schools involved and in agreement.

“People have been open, and people are considering it seriously,” said Lyons. “I’m really pleased about that.”

.   .   .

Gaine said more than 23,000 students participated in 2014 fall tournaments . . . Attendance at Gillette Stadium for the Super Bowls last Saturday was the second-lowest in the eight years of using the venue, a statistic Gaine attributed to the inclement weather . . . Members of the board voted, 18-0, to partner with Special Olympics Unified Sports . . . St. Mary’s and Bishop Fenwick announced Wednesday that they will resume their Thanksgiving football rivalry. The game will be held on Thanksgiving Eve. St. Mary’s played Lynn Tech this year while Fenwick played Pingree.

School football preview: Peabody, Everett renew rivalry

Back when coach Mark Bettencourt played for Peabody, everything was different.

Bettencourt quarterbacked a 1990 Super Bowl champion team that beat Everett, 6-0, during the season in a Greater Boston League clash.

Everett was always the game Bettencourt and his teammates looked forward to. In the past decade, though, that rivalry turned sour when Peabody left the GBL for the Northeastern Conference after the 2006 season. Everett has surged to the pinnacle of Massachusetts high school football while Peabody has struggled.

“We’re at the beginning of the climb, whereas Everett’s in the midst of their dynasty,” Bettencourt said.

The fourth-seeded Tanners take on the top-seeded Crimson Tide Friday at 7 p.m. with a trip to the Division 1 North final at stake.

High school football playoffs Week 2 schedule
Here are the matchups and game times for the second round of the MIAA high school football playoffs.

A win wouldn’t catapult the Tanners back to glory, but it would make Peabody a relevant team once again.

“It’s very easy for us to motivate these kids to be that team,” Bettencourt said. “The team that turned the corner and brought back what was missing the last decade.”

Peabody finished 2012 winless and won just three games last season. The Tanners are 7-1 now, coming off a thrilling 42-38 win over Lexington in the quarterfinals.

Junior running back Doug Santos racked up 255 yards and six touchdowns in that game, boosting his season total to 25 TDs.

After the game, as always, Santos approached Bettencourt. “What did I do wrong here? How can I make myself better here,” he’ll ask. Santos skips through touchdowns when watching film, zeroing in on short gains or losses.

“How do you tell a kid who just ran for 250 yards and four touchdowns he did something wrong?” Bettencourt said. “He wants to know.”

Bettencourt said Santos often disappears for two hours Saturday afternoons. When he’s disappointed with his performance the night before, he runs hills for an extra hour.

He’s a dreamer, Bettencourt said. He visualizes himself being successful, and works to ensure he is.

“Sometimes I feel like not as many people want to be as good as they say they do,” Santos said. “I’m different.”

That’s what this Peabody team hopes it can be — different.

Bettencourt’s objective is to silence the Crimson Tide’s playmakers, though he knows that won’t be easy.

“If you look at the scope, you look at the stats, you look at the numbers, it’s David vs. Goliath,” Bettencourt said. “There’s no easy way of putting that.”

Despite the situation at hand, Bettencourt refuses to view his team as a Cinderella. That’s not Peabody football, he says. But if you look at the recent relevance of Everett, St. John’s Prep and Central Catholic, Peabody lags far behind.

That’s why, for Bettencourt and his staff, this game carries extra meaning. When he, as an alumnus, watched assistant coaches Steve Lomasney and Jimmy Festa play against Everett, he felt as if he was on the field with them.

Now this year’s team embraces the task of putting Peabody back on the map — of guiding a program searching for success in the right direction.

It’s only one game, but it carries so much more meaning for Peabody.

“You come out and you make your own history. You make your own story,” Bettencourt said.

“This is something, if we can win this game, that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, like we remember those games for the rest of our lives.”

.   .   .

In the last weekend of NEPSAC's regular season, Brooks and Lawrence Academy square off Saturday in a battle of 6-1 teams with postseason hopes . . . The oldest prep school rivalry in the country, Phillips Exeter vs. Phillips Andover, continues in Andover Saturday in the 134th meeting . . . St. John’s Prep and Central Catholic play for a trip to the Division 1 North final, one of many state sectional semifinal games.

Personality provides punch for Xaverian’s Noah Sorrento

FOXBOROUGH — Fresh blood splattered onto quarterback Jake Farrell’s face. It soaked his helmet red and changed the color of his chinstrap.

“Everyone was like, ‘I don’t know whose blood this is,’” Farrell said. “Sure enough, it’s Noah’s.”

That would be Noah Sorrento. The same Noah Sorrento whose eye black covers nearly his entire face during post-game interviews. The Noah Sorrento who has referred to his teammates as a “bunch of beauties,” “absolute savages,” and “junkyard dogs” throughout the season. The Noah Sorrento who first got into Pop Warner football as a mechanism to channel his anger.

On the field, Sorrento is one of many playmakers on the most talented team in the state. Off the field, he’s a character. His teammates laugh as he’s asked about his intensity and enthusiasm.

Sorrento will bring his unbridled zest for football and life into Xaverian’s Division 1 Super Bowl matchup with Everett Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

“Off the field he’s the same as he is on the field,” Farrell said. “He brings the intensity wherever he goes. He’s always fired up.”

In that bloody exchange, in the first game against Everett earlier this season, Sorrento cut his elbow while running the ball. He stayed in the game and scored on the next play. When he got to the end zone, he flung his arms in the air and unleashed the blood sprinkler.

When they realized the blood was Sorrento’s, they weren’t surprised.

“It was out of control,” Sorrento recalls. “It was bad.”

The blood still sits on Farrell’s helmet and chinstrap to this day. He didn’t wash it off for sentimental purposes.

When Sorrento was younger, he admits he had anger issues. His dad — who teammate Joe Gaziano says has the same fiery demeanor — placed him into Pop Warner to harness his rage. Sorrento loved any sport with contact as a kid, including hockey.

Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson knew Sorrento was a special player right away. He made the team as a freshman and blossomed into one of the state’s best running backs. He uses his shiftiness and brute force to break tackles and score touchdowns.

Sorrento’s gusto carries over to playing video games, notably Call of Duty.

“He gets really fired up,” Farrell says with a laugh.

Sorrento’s always the loudest one on the field. He’s the same before games when he revs up his teammates, during games when he hits hard and celebrates touchdowns, and after games when he cherishes the moment with his “bunch of beauties.”

Sorrento says he loses his cool after the game, even though Xaverian has won every game this season. He gets “jacked up.”

“I just go out there being an intense guy,” Sorrento said. “It feeds off to other guys on the team. I try to get as pumped up as I can.”

Follow Trevor Hass on Twitter @TrevorHass.

For retiring coach Mike Boyages, Wakefield holds a special place

Wakefield football coach Mike Boyages often refers to past and present players as kids, no matter their age.

When he saw members of his 1999 Super Bowl champion team get inducted into the Wakefield Hall of Fame this November, he did just that.

“They were like, ‘Coach, we’re in our 30s now,’” Boyages said with a chuckle.

Boyages, 56, has coached at Wakefield High since 1980 and been head coach since 1997. He holds a 131-60-3 all-time record, and guided that 1999 team to the school’s only Super Bowl title.

Friday was his last game on the sidelines, as he has decided to retire from coaching the Warriors. He said he’ll likely stop serving as athletic director at the end of this school year and may pursue another job.

“To do it in my hometown for all these years, where I’ve grown up, where I’ve worked, it’s really been a labor of love,” Boyages said. “I feel so blessed.”

For Boyages, the most rewarding part of his job is seeing his players succeed. His main objective is to make them better people than they were when they arrived at Wakefield High.

Kids with single parents and other difficulties at home frequently found their way to the Wakefield football program. Boyages worked tirelessly to help them thrive.

When they come back years later to thank him and his staff, he knows his effort was worthwhile.

“I feel like a thousand bucks,” he said. “It’s really great to feel that way.”

At the start of the season, Boyages knew it was likely he would retire when the year ended. He did his best to keep the decision a secret. Even amid a disappointing season — including a season-ending torn ACL to star Luke Martin — Boyages focused on his players.

He didn’t want the spotlight on himself in his last game. He never has. His players didn’t know he was retiring until two days before the day-after-Thanksgiving game.

“I held out, and then the cat got out of the bag at the very end,” Boyages said.

Boyages mainly talked to his players about winning the game for Martin. His goal was to give him the game ball, but Wakefield came up just short, losing 15-14.

While Boyages cherishes the off-field memories, he has many on-field accolades to his name as well. Six league titles, four Super Bowl appearances, and more than seven wins per season.

But his most prized on-field triumph came in 1999, when Wakefield captured the Super Bowl title. Though 15 years have passed, Boyages recounts the scene with ease.

On Thanksgiving Day, Wakefield and Melrose battled for a trip to the Super Bowl. Both teams were 9-0, and the winner would face Acton-Boxboro.

The Red Raiders claimed a lead, but the Warriors ripped off 14 points in the fourth quarter — including a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left — to tie the score.

The tiebreaking system was different in the previous millennium — both teams’ fate came down to a highly publicized coin flip the day after the game.

“It’s funny, it was covered by every news station in Boston,” Boyages said. “It was all on TV.”

Boyages and Melrose coach Tim Morris each picked a sealed envelope that signified heads or tails. Melrose picked heads. Wakefield picked tails.

Then it all came down to a silver dollar. “It was fortunate enough to be tails,” Boyages says, and the rest is history. He called his players — who were waiting in the locker room — on his cell phone, and told them the news.

The Warriors beat the Colonials in the Super Bowl and made the 15-year celebratory reunion from two weeks ago possible.

Wakefield honored Boyages in a celebration at halftime last Friday. Naturally, he didn’t want all the attention, but he couldn’t help but appreciate everyone and everything around him as he posed near midfield.

“I feel very privileged to have done it for 18 years as a head coach,” he said.

Follow Trevor Hass on Twitter @TrevorHass.

Xaverian wins Division 1 state golf title

WEST SPRINGFIELD — When Xaverian’s Mark Lallak and his teammates chatted with BC High golfers on the putting green Monday morning, the teams shared a similar mindset.

“Just got to beat the Prep,” Lallak recalls saying.

And later that afternoon, not only did Lallak and Co. dethrone St. John’s Prep – they won the Division 1 state championship. The Hawks shot an overall 299 to second-place Prep’s 301, capturing the school’s first golf team championship since 1993.

St. John’s Prep won the title last year and has 13 championships overall. But Monday, it was Xaverian’s turn to hoist the hardware. After losing to Prep in a tiebreaker last year, the Hawks got the revenge they’ve craved since that day.

“I can’t say enough about how they performed under the grinding pressure,” Xaverian coach Gerry Lambert said. “To play 18 holes with all the money on the table, you just absolutely take your hat off to them. They were wonderful today.”

Lambert remembers the agony of riding home as runners-up rather than as champions last year. The last six times Prep and Xaverian have faced off, each team has won three times.

The Hawks didn’t dominate in the regular season. In fact, they lost five times. Lambert attributes the championship to Xaverian’s tough schedule.

“It paid dividends today,” Lambert said. “Our guys responded to the pressure that they’re used to feeling and used to responding to.”

Breaking 300 wasn’t a specific goal, but Lambert said it was a “really, really strong effort” on the par 72 Springfield Country Club.

No one on the Hawks posted a remarkable score, but their average was enough to claim the championship.

Of the four individual scores Xaverian kept Monday, Lambert said two of them were by different players than last week. New players stepped up and contributed. Xaverian’s team is made up of three seniors (Colin Devin, Mitch Kubik, and Lallak) and three sophomores (Andrew McInerney, Billy Fox, and Jack Boulger).

As the scores trickled in, Lallak thought his team was out of the running. But he was shocked once he saw the results veer in Xaverian’s direction.

When it was over, Devin said it was almost too good to be true.

“These guys got better throughout the year, and when the lights came on today they were able to get it done,” Lambert said.

Lexington’s Jack Lang won the individual championship, shooting a 68.

Lang, who will play at Davidson next year, qualified for the tournament his freshman year but failed to do so his sophomore and junior seasons.

“That makes this much more special,” he said.

Lang had an eagle on the 15th hole and was 4 under through nine holes. He felt the pressure, but just tried to clear his mind and focus on golf.

It worked, and now he’s a state champion.

“It means everything,” Lang said. “High school golf is the best time in my year.”

Mansfield’s Mike Kelleher got a hole in one on his first shot of the day. Ludlow’s Robert Libiszewski hit a shot over parked cars to salvage par on one hole.

Andover girls beat rival North Andover for sectional volleyball title

TEWKSBURY — Andover’s Julia McBride tipped the ball over the net and it fell to the ground. The Golden Warriors shouted, pumped their fists, and rushed together.

This time, it wasn’t a usual post-point huddle. There was a little more yelling and a little more jumping involved. Andover was the Division 1 North champion.

“My excitement level’s an 11 out of 10,” junior Wyllie Boughton said. “So, so excited.”

Andover (16-1) beat rival North Andover, 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-17), Sunday afternoon and will play Natick in the state semifinals Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Canton.

Andover lost the first set but stormed back to take control.

“We’ve been doing this all season,” coach Jane Bergin said. “We’re kind of the comeback kids.”

Andover’s only loss of the season came against North Andover. Andover senior captain Azita Bakhtyari wanted to play North Andover in the sectional final. She got the chance, and she and her teammates delivered.

“Azita Bakhtyari, our leader, wanted to go out a champion,” Bergin said.

North Andover took the first set as juniors Jillian Boyle and Catherine Flaherty controlled the tempo. Boughton acknowledged she was nervous at the start, but those nerves quickly subsided.

The Golden Warriors surged back to win the second set as Bakhtyari tipped the ball to Boughton, who put it away for point No. 25.

Freshman Julia Karim, who elicited a “She’s a freshman!” chant from the North Andover faithful, nearly led her team to a third-set win, but Amy Stankiewicz, Madelyn Reppucci, and Mackenzie Kennedy ensured that didn’t happen.

In the fourth set, Boughton hit the net multiple times early. But she responded, helping her team win three consecutive points.

On the final play, Bakhtyari set the ball to McBride, who put just enough mustard on it.

Andover got the point, and payback.

Said Bakhtyari, “It feels amazing. Our team really came together.”

Top-seeded Concord-Carlisle claims Div. 2 North title

Concord-Carlisle boys’ soccer captain Mitchell Palmer watched the ball bounce once, rotated his body, and released a winding bicycle kick with enough torque to spin past the goalie and into the net.

“To be honest, I was as surprised as everybody else was when it went in,” Palmer said. “When it went in I was just ecstatic.”

Palmer’s tally in the 14th minute was the first of a barrage of goals as the top-seeded Patriots (19-0-1) surged by No. 15 seed Woburn, 5-2, in the Division 2 North final on Tuesday.

Five players scored for Concord-Carlisle, but there was no goal more impressive than Palmer’s bicycle kick.

“It was great,” coach Ray Pavlik said. “It was a spectacular goal.”

Woburn entered the game as the heavy underdog. After squeaking into the tournament, the Tanners ripped off wins over Masconomet, Boston Latin, and Winchester. Palmer and Co. knew a key was to squelch their momentum early and grab a lead.

“I think they were demoralized,” Palmer said. “I think it took a toll on them.”

Garrett Leahy and Andrew Verrilli added goals for Concord and Michael Haley scored for Woburn as it stood at 3-1 at halftime.

Midfielders Xavier Arroyo and Ben Beyer tacked on goals in the second half for the final margin.

“The past couple seasons we haven’t made it this far,” Palmer said. “We’ve had great seasons but we’ve come up a little short. We’re hoping to go all the way this year.”

Gillette Stadium to host US men’s national soccer team match

Gillette Stadium will host the US men’s national soccer team on Friday, July 10, the New England Revolution announced in a press release Tuesday.

The game will be part of a doubleheader for the group stage of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The last time the US played in Foxborough was June 2011 in a friendly against Spain.

Gillette has hosted the Gold Cup four times since the stadium opened in 2002 — 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 — for a total of 18 matches.

The US is 6-0-2 in eight previous Gold Cup games at Gillette, and 16-2-5 all time in Massachusetts.

Groups and a more detailed schedule will be announced in the coming months. Tickets will be on sale through the Revolution.

Follow Trevor Hass on Twitter @TrevorHass.

Acton-Boxboro edges Nashoba to win Division 1 state title

WORCESTER — The Acton-Boxboro field hockey players huddled on the sideline at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, with blue and yellow blankets resting on their shoulders to keep themselves warm. They bounced in place because of the cold and because their team was just 10 seconds away from a state championship.

Five . . . four . . . the clock ticked down and the players looked at one another with wide eyes. Three . . . two . . . one. When the buzzer sounded, they threw their blankets to the ground and jumped in jubilation. Suddenly, the cold wasn’t so unbearable.

The whole team sprinted to goalkeeper Sarah Bentley and they hopped and shouted as one.

“It was such a relief when the clock hit zero,” senior Leah Cardarelli said.

After beating Nashoba, 1-0, Acton-Boxboro (23-0-1) had plenty to celebrate. First, it survived the Chieftains’ bombardment at the end of the game. Second, it avenged last year’s loss to Walpole that ended its chance at a state championship. Third, and most important, it was the Division 1 state champion.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Colonials senior Maggie Bettez said. “Everything you worked for paying off.”

Acton-Boxboro controlled the tempo early, as Cardarelli and junior Meg Barrett had multiple scoring chances. The Colonials attempted seven corners in the first half, including one that eventually was the difference.

Coach Mae Shoemaker called a timeout with 8:12 remaining in the half. She didn’t make any tactical adjustments, but encouraged her team to slow down and relax.

“I was trying to get them not to rush anything because they were playing with a little franticness,” Shoemaker said. “I said, ‘You’ve just got to calm down and do what you do best.’ ”

Barrett sent a corner to Cardarelli, who dropped it to Bettez. Bettez fired a shot that Barrett tipped in to give Acton-Boxboro the lead with 8:05 remaining in the half.

In the second half, the Chieftains (20-2-1) applied more pressure and had multiple chances, but defender Caroline Little and Bentley prevented any Nashoba shots from finding the back of the net.

“Sarah has been a rock,” Shoemaker said. “The defense just works so hard.”

Nashoba had one final chance with just more than a minute remaining. Shoemaker said she flashed back to last season’s semifinal loss to eventual champion Walpole on a late goal.

“I was like, déjà vu,’’ Shoemaker said with a smile.

This year the result went Acton-Boxboro’s way, as the Colonials captured the school’s fifth title.

Cardarelli and Co. can now forget about last season’s loss and cherish this season’s triumph.

“It’s just really exciting,” Cardarelli said. “I love this group of girls and I’m so happy I got to share this moment with them.”

After years of struggles, Maryland is back on the college baseball map

Maryland baseball coach John Szefc paused and looked forward, trying to articulate just how special it was to be part of the Terps' first NCAA tournament team in 43 years.

Szefc was just 4 years old when Maryland lost its first two games in Gastonia, N.C., in the 1971 national tourney.

"It's kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around that," Szefc said.

Since then, the program has endured 27 losing seasons in 43 years, failing to compete with perennial Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouses such as North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida State.

This year, though, the Big Ten-bound Terps swept N.C. State in March, took two of three from Georgia Tech in April and shocked Virginia and Florida State in the ACC tournament last week. Maryland (36-21, 15-14) finished with a winning record in the ACC for the first time since 1981 and has won more games overall than ever before. And after reeling off 11 wins in the past 13 games, the Terps earned the No. 2 seed in the Columbia, S.C., regional of the NCAA tournament.

They will face Old Dominion on Friday at 1 p.m. with hopes of capturing the program's first tournament win since 1970. One team emerges from the four-team, double-elimination regional, in which host South Carolina is the top seed.

"It's crazy," senior pitcher and Baltimore native Ben Brewster said. "It's just surreal, watching on TV every year, seeing these playoffs, and now to finally be a part of it."

The current crop of seniors — a group that finished 5-25 in conference play in 2011 — has helped catapult Maryland baseball back into the national landscape. With a revamped, business-like coaching staff in its second year, a mix of young and veteran talent, and a newfound swagger, the vision the players and coaches shared has become a reality.

"It's no longer a long shot or a hope," said Brewster, who starred at Park School. "This thing's actually happening. I'm ready to go do some damage in this tournament."

'Trouble recruiting'

Elton "Jack" Jackson coached the Maryland baseball team from 1961 through 1990. He remembers struggling to lure top local talent to College Park.

It was a tough sell — a program with a track record of inconsistency in an unrelenting conference. The Terps made the NCAA tournament in 1965, 1970 and 1971 but couldn't transform their short-term triumphs into long-term results.

"At Maryland, you've got to be good enough to get a lot of the local kids," Jackson said. "The tough part is that everybody wants to go south."

In 1986, when Maryland basketball star Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose, Jackson saw an effect on his baseball program. Some parents were unsure about the culture in College Park.

Jackson remembered one player in particular who was a top pitcher from Baltimore. The pitcher's plan was to come to Maryland, but the news of Bias' overdose made his family rethink the decision, and he chose to attend UMBC.

"The Len Bias thing really turned everything upside down," Jackson recalled. "From that point on, for a long period of time, we had a lot of trouble recruiting at the University of Maryland."

Since Jackson retired in 1990, four coaches have taken the reins at Maryland. Tom Bradley finished 243-306-4 (.442) in nine seasons. Terry Rupp was 227-271 (.456) in nine of his own. Erik Bakich started 38-74 (.339) in his first two years, Maryland's worst two seasons since 2001.

Bernie Walter, the legendary former Arundel High baseball coach who worked on Maryland's staff under both Bakich and Szefc, said there were 13 players on other ACC and Southeastern Conference schools from the state of Maryland in 2009. If the Terps had been able to land at least some of those top recruits, Walter suspects the team wouldn't have struggled as much.

"I think the key to improving your program is keeping the better players home," said Walter, who is now retired.

Eventually, Bakich started to glean some of that local talent, paving the way for Szefc (pronounced CHEF) to take over a deeper, more talented team when Bakich left for Michigan in 2012.

In Bakich's final season in College Park, the Terps won 32 games and were one of the final teams left out of the NCAA tournament.

The Terps didn't reach their ultimate goal — that year they wore caps with "Omaha," the location of the College World Series, written on the back — but suddenly the state of Maryland baseball was starting to look a little brighter.

'Get away from mediocrity'

The atmosphere was lively as Maryland finished its final practice Tuesday at Shipley Field before heading to South Carolina on Wednesday. Players cheered as 6-foot-8 pitcher Ryan Selmer fell on his back but still threw a runner out at first during a drill. Senior shortstop Blake Schmit playfully gestured toward his teammates as they distracted him from the dugout. Those same dugout dwellers urged a cycle of players filling in as third-base coach to use enthusiasm as they waved runners around to score.

But practice never got more animated than that. That's partially because the team is focused on making sure its season continues as long as possible, but it's also because Szefc was watching like a hawk the entire time.

The stone-faced, stocky coach stood with his arms crossed by third base, monitoring his players as they breezed through drill after drill in the 88-degree heat. Szefc didn't say much. He didn't have to. His presence was felt.

"I'm going to be honest," junior right-hander Bobby Ruse (C. Milton Wright) said as a smile formed underneath his bushy mustache. "The first time I met Coach Szefc, it was a little bit intimidating."

Every once in a while throughout the practice, Szefc offered his two cents. He commended one player for handling a ground ball a certain way. He bashed another for not sliding into home plate. He only swore once, and never raised his voice except to shout out instructions.

Szefc, who led Marist to the NCAA tournament four times and was most recently an assistant at Kansas State, immediately put his stamp on the program after being hired in July 2012.

Between the talent Bakich brought in and the professionalism Szefc demanded, the players knew they could end the 43-year tournament drought.

"The more you get away from mediocrity, maybe something like this can happen," Szefc said. "I never really saw a deal-breaker in [deciding to come to Maryland]. Any coach is going to have some kind of vision. It's not really a matter of if. It's a matter of when."

'Out with a bang'

After Maryland began the season by losing two of three at Florida, players remember reading a Baseball America story saying that they wouldn't be an NCAA tournament team. It added even more motivation for them.

"I think that's when guys realized, 'Alright, we really need to prove something this year,'" said sophomore right-hander Kevin Mooney (North Harford).

The team won its next seven games. Despite a few hiccups — like getting swept at Boston College and losing to James Madison — the Terps qualified for the ACC tournament for the first time since 2005, when every team in the conference was invited.

Starters Jake Stinnett, Jake Drossner and Mike Shawaryn emerged as anchors on the mound. Maryland batted .270 as a team during the regular season, while their opponents batted a measly .232. Few gave the Terps a shot against Virginia and Florida State in the ACC tournament, but the Terps beat both teams and surged into the championship before losing to Georgia Tech.

"They've got that stigma to them," Ruse said of Virginia and Florida State, both top-5 teams at the time Maryland faced them. "They're almost like a big league squad, but when we play, we can beat anybody."

The former coach Jackson suspects recruiting will become easier once Maryland moves to the Big Ten, because it will be one of the conference's southernmost schools, and players prefer to play in warmer weather.

The current players can leave satisfied that they've left their mark on the ACC.

"We kind of struggled in years past," Mooney said, "but I think now we've gone out with a bang. Don't forget who we are."

Patience rewarded

The moment the entire team, coaching staff and fan base waited years for had finally arrived. The ignominy that surrounded the program since 1971 would finally be removed.

Eyes remained glued to a projection screen inside Looney's Pub in College Park as team names were called during Monday's NCAA tournament selection show. Players gasped when Texas and Texas A&M were paired together. They groaned when Louisiana-Lafayette was shown celebrating. They waited anxiously, region by region, as their name still wasn't called.

"Before it, if you had asked me, I would have said 100 percent [we'd make it], but each name got rattled off," Ruse said. "We thought we were going to go to Vanderbilt. We thought we were going to Oregon State. We were like, 'Damn, were we actually going to make it?'"

A program that waited 43 years for their name to be called had to wait a little while longer.

And then it happened, when the final region was revealed.

Players, coaches and fans jumped, celebrating and hugging one another.

The wait was finally over. Maryland baseball is back in the NCAA tournament.

Orioles' Adam Jones surprises two local sports teams at Patterson Park

Members of the Bluford Drew Jemison Rockets baseball team gathered in a group on the third-base line of Utz Twardowicz Field on Tuesday afternoon.

The day was already special. The weather was gorgeous, they were playing baseball and knew they had raised enough money to keep their previously struggling program afloat.

But all of a sudden, their day got even better. Orioles center fielder Adam Jones walked through the third-base gate, waved and strolled down the base path toward the players, many of whose mouths hung open in shock. They had no idea he was coming.

“It’s awesome meeting Adam Jones because he’s an Orioles player,” 14-year-old outfielder Danyelle Dominique-Taylor said. “Watching him play last night was amazing.”

Jones, wearing a pink and black plaid shirt and sporting a pair of snazzy sunglasses, high-fived the Rockets players and members of the Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake track team. The baseball team raised $3,500 and the track team raised $10,500, and Dick’s Sporting Goods matched each of those totals as part of their Sports Matter initiative.

Tuesday was a day to celebrate those accomplishments and promote youth sports in Baltimore.

Jones presented a $7,000 check to the Rockets and a $21,000 check to the track team. He then signed autographs underneath a green canopy to the right of home plate and schmoozed with the young athletes in attendance.

He joked with players as they came up to him one-by-one.

“What position do you play?” he asked a fan.

“Center field,” the fan responded.

“You better than me?” Jones asked, looking up from the glove he was signing and smiling.

“Definitely.”Jones then talked about the importance of programs like this to keep kids involved in sports. Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation has worked to help at least 180 teams across the country to raise a total of more than $4 million.

The SHARP Center predicts that 27 percent of United States public high schools will not have sports by the year 2020. The goal of fundraisers like this one, Dick’s community marketing manager Bobbie Bardzik said, is to ensure that children across the country have a chance to continue doing what they love and have someone to look up to like Jones.

“When I was 5 to 16 or 17 [years old], everything was free or a very low cost,” Jones said. “Nowadays it’s $100 or more for the summer. Programs like this give the kids an opportunity.”

As soon as Girls on the Run executive director Lara Mish submitted her grant to Dick's, she started freaking out. “Oh my god, how are we going to do this?” she thought.

But once she got hefty donations from Charm City Run and orthodontist Mairead O’Reilly in Annapolis, among other organizations, the goal didn’t seem so daunting.

When her sister, Jen Bornemann, was married May 10, she didn’t ask for any gifts. Instead, she and her partner asked for donations for Girls on the Run. They raised $1,900, and are still collecting money to this day.“It actually seemed impossible to me at the beginning,” Mish said. “It really did.”

But they did it. They reached the goal they set out to achieve of $10,500, and Dick’s matched that amount.

For baseball coach John Merrill, Tuesday was a chance to see his kids soak in the moment and meet one of their heroes. As soon as Danyelle saw a chance to jump in a picture with Jones, she darted over and snuck into the shot.

A team that nearly didn’t have enough funding to remain in existence is now flourishing, thanks to the fundraising campaign orchestrated by the Parks and People Foundation.

“It gives them sort of a goal to look at,” Merrill said. “He’s a hero and is a good role model for them to look up to.”

One player who looks up to Jones -- and loved watching his two-run home run Monday night -- is Dujuan Heckstall. Heckstall’s favorite player is Wei-Yin Chen, but he was still star struck when he met Jones on Tuesday.

As Dujuan and his teammates posed for a picture, he pointed to his right sleeve. There was Adam Jones’ signature.

“I’m never washing this shirt!” he exclaimed.

'Track record' is difference between Tommy Hunter and Jim Johnson, Buck Showalter says

When Jim Johnson blew a save in the past two seasons, Orioles manager Buck Showalter continued to stick with him as the club’s closer because of his experience in the role.

This year, though, closer Tommy Hunter’s leash seems to be a bit tighter.

After giving up four runs in the ninth inning Tuesday, Hunter didn’t get a chance to redeem himself Wednesday in the Orioles’ 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards. Hunter still appears to be the closer, but there seems to be a small level of uncertainty after he blew his second consecutive save Tuesday night.

“The difference between Tommy and Jimmy is that Jimmy had a track record,” Showalter said. “Tommy does, too, with certain other things, so there’s some unknown about where this will go with Tommy.”

Johnson converted 51 of 54 save opportunities in 2012, tops in the American League.

Showalter continued to stick Johnson in the closer’s role last year, even though he wasn’t as unhittable as the previous season and led the major leagues with nine blown saves. He went on to save 50 games again.

That might not be the case for Hunter, who had flirted with disaster for most of the early season before it finally caught up to him with the back-to-back blown saves.

After allowing just three earned runs in 112/3 innings to start the season, Hunter has given up at least one run in his past four appearances. He has a 21.60 ERA in 31/3 innings in that span, making his season ERA climb to 6.60.

Showalter has never been a fan of a closer-by-committee approach, but he said he’s considering it.

“I consider everything,” Showalter said. “Which time of the night? Midnight, 1, 2, 3 of 4 [a.m.]?”

Showalter objects to call reversal

Showalter said he disagrees with the decision made by baseball’s replay officials to overturn the call when Tigers pinch-runner Rajai Davis slid into second base in the ninth inning Tuesday night.

Davis was initially called out by second base umpire Paul Nauert, but the call was reversed after the officials examined the play more closely at the request of Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.

“I finally saw the replay that they used to overturn it,” Showalter said Wednesday. “I’m glad I didn’t see that last night before we talked. That’s what they overturned it with?”

After Don Kelly and Ian Kinsler lined out and Torii Hunter walked, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run home run to give Detroit a 3-1 lead. Victor Martinez followed with a solo home run.

Though the call at second base didn’t directly lead to the Orioles’ downfall, Showalter said he thinks the crew made the incorrect decision. He said part of Davis’ guard protruded and helped him reach second base. The longer the extension is, Showalter said, the quicker the runner gets to second base.

“They have a thing now, it can only be X amount of inches,” Showalter said. “Otherwise you could take a lead at first, take one step and carry a 10-foot pole and reach and touch second base.”

Johnson back on minor league DL

Right-hander Steve Johnson had right shoulder discomfort once again Tuesday night, Showalter said.

The Orioles considered promoting Johnson this week, according to Showalter, but they didn’t do so because Johnson hadn’t pitched enough since coming off the disabled list May 3.

Johnson, who was placed on the disabled list again Wednesday, is coming to Baltimore to be examined by team doctors, according to an industry source. He has faced continued discomfort in his shoulder this year.

Johnson gave up three runs, three hits and two walks in two innings for Norfolk on Tuesday in his third start after missing three weeks because of the inflammation in his throwing shoulder.

Guilmet impresses in two games

Showalter praised relief pitcher Preston Guilmet for his performance Monday night and said he has liked what he saw from the right-hander in his brief stint with the Orioles.

Guilmet, 26, replaced Bud Norris after the starter was ejected in the eighth inning Monday for hitting Torii Hunter and retired all four batters he faced. Guilmet then recorded the final out in Tuesday’s loss before he was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after the game.

Showalter said he and his staff are still searching for a weakness from Guilmet.

“What am I missing?” Showalter said. “What did Cleveland know that we didn’t know?”

Around the horn

Orioles director of player development Brian Graham and minor league infield instructor Dave Anderson are candidates to fill in for third base coach Bobby Dickerson during Tuesday’s game on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Showalter said. Dickerson will miss the game to attend his daughter’s graduation. … Showalter will miss Saturday’s game in Kansas City to attend his daughter’s law school graduation. Graham will fill in as an extra coach for that game. … Right-hander Chris Tillman will start Friday against the Kansas City Royals. Tillman said his groin has felt much better in the past couple days, and he has “no worries” about the injury. … With a single in the first inning Wednesday, center fielder Adam Jones extended his hitting streak to nine games. He recorded his 12th multihit game and American League-leading 11th infield hit of the season. … Frederick Keys catcher Steel Russell, who is the son of Orioles bench coach John Russell, suffered a hand injury that the club fears could be a broken finger. … The Orioles are 5-10 in day games this season. … Double-A Bowie outfielder Dariel Alvarez and right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson were named the Orioles’ Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Month for April, respectively.

Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.