Boston High School: Danny Graham

D1 EMass Final: Xaverian 3, Lowell 2

June, 13, 2012

BROCKTON, Mass. -– Simply put, this was a scary situation for Xaverian lefty Mark Stefaniak to launch himself into. Or to be more polite, one that demanded gumption.

Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning, under the lights at Campanelli Stadium, and with the meat of one of the state’s most feared lineups coming up, the senior came in to relieve Fairfield-bound lefty Tim Duggan. He promptly let Lowell load the bases up with no outs.

Stefaniak could have cracked after fielding Derek Reed’s bunt wildly with a bad relay to first to load the bases. And you couldn’t blame him if his heart skipped a beat when cleanup hitter Chad Gens, one of the state’s most feared deep-ball hitters, launched a 2-1 fastball over the left field fence -– but about 10 feet into foul territory.

Instead, Stefaniak went fastball again -– “I just thought hey, two strikes for me,” he later explained. Gens dunked the ball to third base, and the 5-2 putout at home was made cleanly. And then, an unreal sequence of events unraveled.

Matt Tulley popped up a fly ball to Xaverian second baseman Chris Hoyt. With the infield fly rule in play, Hoyt intentionally bobbled the pop-fly into the shallow infield grass, freezing pinch-runner Ricky Rosado at third with a quick throw to home.

Only, Hoyt’s throw sailed about 30 feet above catcher Andrew Elliott (unintentionally, of course), so Rosado gunned it for home after a split-second hesitation. First baseman Mike LaVita was there to cover, however, and Elliott fired from the backstop to make the 4-2-3 inning-ending double play.

And like that, the best threat of the night from Lowell (20-5) had been nullified. Six outs later, Xaverian (17-8) wrapped up its second Division 1 Eastern Mass. title in three years with a 3-2 win.

“We were all extremely fired up after that,” Hoyt said. “It was really, I thought, the momentum changer for them and for us. We were talking up real loud. It just changed the game, that whole entire play.”

Xaverian head coach Gerry Lambert commended his players for not giving up on the play.

“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “You always hope that the guys have the presence of mind to realize something like that’s happening. Even as a coach who’s into the game and yelling all the time, I don’t have the time to communicate that. Guys just have to be able to react.

“You can’t practice that play right there, that situation. I’m proud of Mike, Andrew Elliott for getting back to the ball, Chris Hoyt for being able to initiate the play, and it just barely worked out in our favor. We’ll take it. It wasn’t executed picture-perfect, but we just did enough to get it done.”

Hoyt sends ‘em home: Years from now, Xaverian faithful are probably going to remember Hoyt’s throw to home more than they are the two-run single the inning prior that put the Hawks ahead for good. But it’s no less important.

With two outs, and runners on first and second, pinch-hitter Aaron Drummey got hit by a pitch from Cam Latta to load up the bases. Hoyt then shot a 1-0 dribbler through the left side of the infield, just out of reach of the outstretched arms of Gens, to score LaVita and Aidan Desrosiers. Wolfe was caught in a rundown trying to take an extra base during the sequence, but the runs came across before he was tagged out.

Hoyt finished the evening 3 for 5, with 2 RBI, a run and three stolen bases.

“He’s the guy we want,” Lambert said of Hoyt’s two-run single. “I remember when he stepped up with the bases loaded, I thought, you know, if I had to pick anybody on the team…that’s the guy. For him to come up the way he did, he’s done it for me for three years, and he did it again today. Obviously, that was an enormous single -- not his hardest-hit ball, but we’ll take it.”

Just Short: The Red Raiders came into this contest having completed one of the most impressive defensive runs in recent memory of the Division 1 tournament. Capped with two superb starts from Tulley, a Virginia Tech signee, the Raiders allowed just two runs in four games.

But on the flip side, they scored just 10 runs in the North sectional, with five of them coming in their semifinal win over Malden.

“The pitching, I couldn’t have been happier with,” head coach Danny Graham said. “Defense was good. It’s just, it would have been a little nice…I said, and my coaches agreed, at some point offense is going to have to win a game for us. Your luck’s going to run out.”

D1 North Baseball: Lowell 5, Malden 1

June, 8, 2012
LOWELL, Mass. -- After hours of start time uncertainty and an eventual postponement the day before, and another hour rain delay the next day, Lowell is headed to Saturday’s Division 1 North Sectional Finals.

The Red Raiders beat Malden 5-1 at Alumni Field Friday, leaving only Newton North separating it from a sectional championship.

Lowell got strong pitching performances from R.J. Noel (5.1 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 3 hits, 3 strikeouts, 2 walks) and Nick Godfroy (3.2 innings pitched, 4 hits, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks).

With the team playing on back-to-back days, Lowell (20-4) coach Dan Graham was able to conserve most of the arms for Saturday, and any potential games next week.

“I take nothing for granted, but I knew coming into the game that R.J. was rested, Godfroy was rested, Chad (Gens) was rested, and if need be, I could use Matty (Tulley) too,” said Graham. “There’s no sense in holding anyone back today and planning ahead for tomorrow because if you don’t win today, there is no tomorrow. Coming in with the arms, we felt good with where we were at.”

The effort was aided in the second inning when Tulley, who was dropped into the No. 5 spot in the lineup, hit a bomb over the left field wall for the first run of the game.

Two batters later, Andrew Marasa hit a ball to right field that Malden’s Nick Powers misplayed, which turned Marasa’s single into a three-base hit. Roger Roman plated him with the third hit of the inning.

Lowell added another in the third when a Chad Gens sacrifice fly allowed Noel to cross the plate.

“We really wanted it,” he said. “We were upset that we really didn’t score as many runs as we should, but we definitely came ready to hit, play defense, and all that.”

Gens helped out again in the fifth when he crushed a 1-0 pitch from Malden (17-6) pitcher Brad Applin off the centerfield wall for a double. He scored two batters later on a Joe Parisi single to make the game 4-0.

Malden got on the board in the sixth inning when the heart of the batting order hit four straight singles, which knocked in Austin Teal.

On to LeLaucher: Lowell will play Newton North Saturday, the No. 22 seed that not many people, if any at all, expected to be playing in the sectional finals. In contrast, it will be playing a Lowell team that many prognosticators had pegged for a postseason run before the season even started.

North did not get there by blind luck, however. With postseason victories over Lexington, Billerica, St. John’s Prep, and Acton-Boxborough, it defeated four of the top 11 seeds in the tournament to get to where it is now. If it is able to defeat Lowell Saturday, it will add to that list.

Gens and the rest of the Red Raiders are confident they can keep this run going beyond Saturday.

“There’s always a sense of urgency when you’re playing in the North finals,” he said. “We can beat them. We beat A-B, we beat all the teams they played, so we can do it.”

Flawless on the mound -- and field: Lowell’s pitching and defense has been as good as it could ask for over the past three games. It has now given up one run in 27 innings. While there were times in the later innings when Godfroy got behind in counts and seemed to struggle with his command, Graham stuck with him and the senior rewarded him by pitching out of trouble.

Instead of having a quick trigger and burning through pitchers, Graham left himself the opportunity to use his ace (Tulley) on six days rest Saturday, with other fresh arms (Gens, Cam Latta, etc.) to use if necessary.

“It worked out today,” said Graham. “We only had one pitching change today. It took Nick a minute or two to get settled in once he got out there, but once he did he started doing his thing, changing speeds and throwing strikes. He was our No. 2 starter most of the year.

“I like our team, I think we’ve got talent,” he added. “I’m very happy these kids are going in there and playing to their ability, not getting nervous, and executing. It makes my job a little bit easier.”

No more delays: Saturday’s games will mark the end of an unorthodox two-week stretch for most of the teams in the state playoffs. A week of inclement weather and end of the school year activities has brought about many scheduling conflicts for the remaining teams in the state playoffs, and Lowell is no exception.

“Those kids had their prom two weeks ago on Tuesday,” said Graham. “It’s been tough from the time the prom rolled around, through graduation this last Wednesday, and in preparation for the state tournament.”

“Monday (May 28) we won the league. Tuesday (May 29) these kids had the prom, they had the day off. Wednesday, I didn’t bring them back until late at night. Then the tournament’s starting. We know we have a bye, we’re waiting until Saturday to play. We got rained out on Saturday and ended up playing on Sunday.

“We win that game 1-0 (against Westford), then we’re supposed to come back on Monday, and we end up getting rained out so we have a day to actually go indoors and get some work in and talk to the kids and work on some offensive stuff. We did a better job when we came back out on Tuesday (against Malden Catholic). We got a dynamite pitching performance from Cam Latta. Then these kids graduated on Wednesday (June 6) so we got a quick day of work. We were supposed to play yesterday, so we got out here and did most of our pregame out here on the field. We were waiting to take the bus to Fraser Field to play a game, it got rained out there, then we had to come back and get ready to go today."

Graham continued, “The good part about today was the kids got out of school early so, with a 4 p.m. game, we were able to get out here early, take a full pregame, and make sure we were ready to play. So it was a little bit more routine, which was nice, with not as many distractions, which is nice. I think the focus was where it needs to be.”

The scheduling was more of an inconvenience to the players, but not anything that couldn’t be worked around.

“It’s a pain,” said Gens. “We were ready to play yesterday, but I guess it was kind of good that it rained yesterday since we played well today. We got extra swings in in practice and we hit good today.”

D1 Baseball: Lowell 2, Malden Catholic 0

June, 5, 2012
LOWELL, Mass. -- For its second straight Division 1 North tournament game, Lowell kept its opponent off the scoreboard entirely.

With strong defense and a complete game by Cam Latta, Lowell advanced to the tournament semi-finals with a 2-0 victory over Malden Catholic Tuesday.

While Latta was not overpowering hitters (7 strikeouts over 9 innings), he relied on the team behind him to take care of the balls in play. This allowed him to work quickly and efficiently throughout the game, while allowing only four hits and stranding 7 MC runners.

Malden Catholic (14-8) led off the second and third innings with doubles, but each time, Latta was able to work around them and not let the runner advance beyond second base.

“I knew my defense would help me behind me, so I just tried to throw as many strikes as possible and not put too many guys on base,” he said.

Lowell (19-4) got on the board in the second after having runners on the corners with one out. Dylan Dennis, the MC starter, threw to first to check on Roger Roman. The ball ricocheted off the first baseman’s glove and got away from him.

This allowed Andrew Marasa to score from third and for Roman to advance to third.

It’s other run came in the fifth on a bases loaded Chad Gens sacrifice fly.

“What’s encouraging for me is, I still think we have better days ahead, especially from an offensive standpoint,” said Lowell coach Dan Graham. “I think we’re capable of doing a better job, and I think we will.”

MC’s threatened in the third inning when it had runners on first and second with two outs, but Latta was able to induce two flyouts to end any scoring chance MC had.

Sixteen of MC’s 27 outs came on fly balls.

Lowell warmed up three pitchers during the eighth and ninth innings, but they weren’t needed. He struck out Manny Powers looking to end the game and helped his team move on to the semi-finals.

Under the Radar: Latta’s quiet emergence as a reliable starting pitcher gives Lowell more potential arms to throw at teams as the postseason rolls on. While Matt Tulley is the well-publicized ace of the staff, Latta has earned the trust of his coach and his teammates to be put on the mound as the team’s No. 2 starter.

“He’s a kid that, early in the year, pitched in relief, and pitched in relief a lot,” said Graham. “I think like 15 games into the season, the kid had 12 appearances. He was doing so well in relief, we put him into the rotation, then he put three great starts together. Seeing that, with a kid like Matty, I have all the confidence in the world with Cam, against anyone, to give us a shot to win.

“So for him to come out of the bullpen and establish himself in the rotation, to prove everyone right, and to come out and pitch the way he pitched today, is awesome.”

After warming up arms in the late innings, it appeared Graham was waiting for the opportune time to make a move. He decided to ride the wave and keep his starter in, even after he approached -- and eventually went over -- 100 pitches.

“That means a lot to me,” said Latta. “He believes in me and we’re trying to go far in this tournament.”

Latta was assisted by MC’s tendency to jump on pitches early in the count and try to drive them. In 10 of its 15 at-bats between the third and sixth innings, he had to throw at most two pitches to each hitter. That quick work helped keep the fatigue at a minimum, and helped him go farther in the game.

“It was good because they were first-pitch swinging,” he said. “They were getting pop-ups, so they were quick and easy outs.”

No tax on the staff: Because Latta and Matt Tulley combined to pitch 17.1 innings for Lowell over the past two games, the rest of the team’s arms are available for Thursday, when it is expected to play Malden in the Division 1 North Semi-finals.

R.J. Noel, who pitched two-thirds of an inning Sunday against Westford, has been the only non-starter arm Lowell has used in the state tournament so far.

“Eighteen innings of tournament baseball, we haven’t given up a run yet,” said Graham. “We’ve gone to the pen one time, that’s it. Our defense has been great. To see the pitching in the first two games be the way it was, you have some arms rested. You have some other kids you can go to. (Cam) was unbelievable today.”

Tulley shows his 'gritty' side to BC High

May, 19, 2012
LOWELL, Mass. -– The fire remained within.

Matt Tulley leaned against the fence at the top of Lowell High’s dugout, arms outstretched, and gazed out at the BC High players warming up in the outfield at Alumni Field. He was his usual self -– that is, quiet, calm, relaxed, but locked in.

[+] EnlargeLowell
Brendan Hall Lowell's prized righthander Matt Tulley (11 K's, 4 hits, 2 runs) displayed what coach Dan Graham called "grittiness" in the team's win Friday over BC High.
“Do you have the time, sir?” he politely called out to a nearby reporter in the dugout.

“Quarter past,” the reporter responded, and the senior righthander flashed a small grin. Forty-five minutes before first pitch meant time to warm up, time to go to work, time to buckle down and brace himself for one of the state’s best hitting lineups.

Tulley earned a scholarship to Virginia Tech this past offseason in part for the low-90’s velocity and late life on his fastball, but also for his competitive streak. In the big games, Tulley always wants the ball, and he never gives off signs of panic.

Unlike his earlier starts this season, there weren't scouts visibly out front, radar gun in tow, clocking his every pitch warming up in the bullpen. Tonight was a change of pace –- a capacity crowd for “Senior Night”, charting each of his strikeouts with “K” signs posted just below the press box windows –- and as usual, he rose to the occasion.

To end the first inning he delivered the looping 12-to-6 curveball that has become his vicious outpitch, and punched the air as he stormed back to the dugout. The next time up, Tulley ran into some trouble when an Eagles baserunner took two bases off a throwing error by Tulley on the pickoff to first. Head coach Danny Graham walked out to the mound to calm him down; Tulley exhaled, and retired the next batter to end the inning.

More trouble came in the fifth, when Rich Roach raced home on a wild pitch and easily beat Tulley’s would-be tag at home plate, tying it up at 1. Roach appeared to mutter something as he got up, and Tulley jawed right back. Tulley then got No. 2 hitter Ryan Tufts looking on another breaking ball to end the inning.

“Kid slides into home, beats the throw, Matt tags him, no big deal,” Graham said. “Kid says something to him, Matt says something right back. It probably lit a little fire under his a--. He is kind of mellow, a little bit laid-back sometimes, but the fire is within.”

More trouble in the sixth. UConn-bound cleanup hitter Bobby Melley crushed one off the wall in left-center, for a stand-up triple, then came home on another passed ball.

You get the idea by now -– Tulley grabbed the ball, and finished what he started. That was the final hit Tulley allowed, as he struck out 11 batters with just four hits scattered to pick up his fourth win of the season. That accompanies a pretty decent job at the plate, which included a sacrifice bunt and an RBI double.

“I knew I had to not just be on my A-game, but my A-plus game,” Tulley said. “They were coming for me, and everyone else.”

“His pitch count’s getting up there, I don’t know whether I’m going to have to make a move or not, how tired he’s getting,” Graham said. “When he came in in the sixth, he grabbed the pitching chart, and he’s studying it. And I know he’s not studying it for our relief pitchers that are coming in.

“So maybe that did ring true in the back of his head. This is a meaningful spot for him, with a two-run lead, and if there’s anybody out there finishing this game out, I want it to be me.”

Tulley went into the last offseason with some kinks to be worked out with his curve. And so he went to a local legend, Mark Deschenes, a Lowell native and UMass-Lowell star who at one point was one of the Cleveland Indians’ top pitching prospects. Among other things, Deschenes stressed the importance of not tipping his pitches, and keeping a consistent release point.

To say it’s worked would be fair. Whereas a year ago at this time, Tulley went mostly fastball-cutter, he was now pounding four pitches for strikes. Half of his strikeouts tonight came by way of the backwards-K.

“Coming into this season, I didn’t think my curveball was going to be my plus pitch,” Tulley said. “But it has been all year. I could always throw it for a strike.”

Noted BC High head coach Norm Walsh, “It’s not so much the fastball, it’s the ability to change speeds on the breaking balls. He goes from the hard slider to the softer curve with a bigger break to it. And he competes – that’s the biggest thing.”

And to that last point, Tulley recalled a recent conversation with Graham, where the coach reminisced about legendary former Peabody hurler Jeff Allison, a former first-round draft pick seemingly destined for a promising big league career before highly-publicized off-field issues derailed the path.

In Allison, Graham always appreciated the gritty side. Asked about recalling the conversation with Tulley, Graham lit up.

“Grittiness, that’s it,” he said. “I think people want to see grittiness. They want to see you be the guy that wants the ball in the most meaningful spots in the game. That’s it. If you’ve got something in the tank to give, they want to see it.

“He doesn’t necessarily have to show emotion out there, it’s just the grittiness. It’s in your body language, it’s your presence out there on the mound. Just showing it.”

Across the basepath, Tulley’s toughness drew praise from Walsh as well.

“He gets right back up on the mound, and he wants to go right after you,” Walsh said. “That’s exactly what you want to see in a pitcher. Be aggressive, go after hitters. Melley took him deep and he’s right back up there, and that’s exactly what you want from a pitcher.

“Nothing phases him. The passed ball, wild pitch, whatever you want to call it, he didn’t care. He went right back out and threw it again.”

Recap: No. 13 Lowell 4, No. 7 BC High 2

May, 18, 2012

LOWELL, Mass. -- It is a known fact that big-time pitchers are usually at their best in big-game situations.

Lowell High’s Matt Tulley certainly falls into that classification of big-time pitcher. Tonight the senior righty showed why, as he surrendered just four hits while striking out 11 in a complete game 4-2 non-league victory effort over BC High at Alumni Field.

“I knew this was the most-anticipated game of the year for us,” said Tulley, who will play for Virginia Tech next season. “I was just very excited to play. Coach (Danny) Graham told me about a pitcher from this area named Jeff Allison (who played at Peabody High and was a first-round pick of the Florida Marlins) and how gritty a player he was and I just tried to follow that.

"Warming up in the bullpen I didn't feel that good. I don't know what it was but I wasn't to worried about it. I just knew I had to zone in more and get focused. Once I got out there I felt great.”

Tulley mixed his fastball and cutter with a knee-buckling curve, which proved to be his most effective pitch of the evening as it kept Eagles (13-5) off-balanced throughout.

“We had chances but let to many opportunities go by,” BC High coach Norm Walsh said. “(Tulley) is obviously one of the top 4-5 guys we’ve seen all year. Him changing speeds on his breaking ball was the biggest thing. It wasn't so much the fastball but the ability for him to change speeds on the breaking ball. He competes. That’s what you want to see out of your pitchers -- to be aggressive and go after hitters like he did tonight.”

With the contest tied 2-2 through 5 1/2 innings, the Red Raiders (13-3) put this one to rest in their half of the sixth. With John Arens in relief of starter Trent Berg (5 IP, 2 runs, 7 hits, 4 Ks) on the mound, Lowell’s Roger Roman opened the frame with a single. After advancing to second on Matt Cassella’s well-executed sacrifice bunt, the senior eventually came around to score the go-ahead run on a Chad Gens fielder’s choice. The Red Raiders added another run moments later on a Tulley (2 hits, 2 RBI) single to left that scored Mike Hart, who walked.

“We knew it was going to be a good game,” Graham said. “It was a great performance by Matt, and he was very gutsy right to the end. Credit our kids. This one was fun to watch. (BC High) is a helluva team and they compete hard. You could see at the end of the game how meaningful it was to beat a program like BC High. Anytime you win it’s great but when you beat a quality team it’s even better. Our kids were definitely up for the challenge.”

The Red Raiders looked to put this contest away in their half of the first after loading the bases with no out. But Berg, who also used his 12-to-6 curveball with authority, pitched his way out of trouble by striking out Tulley and R.J. Noel before inducing Derek Reed to fly out. Walking the proverbial tightrope much of the evening, Berg, a junior, failed to escape trouble in the third.

Back-to-back singles by R.J. Gray and Gens started things. A Tulley sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position. After Berg set Noel with a strike out, Reed next singled to plate Gray with Lowell’s first run.

The Eagles tied it up in the fifth. Rich Roach opened with a double to left, took third on a deep fly out by Chuckie Connors and sprinted home on a wild pitch. Lowell got that run back its half of the fifth. Gens singled, stole second and came around to score on Tulley’s double down the left field line which short-hopped over the glove of third baseman Justin Silvestro making it 2-1.

Showing great resiliency, the Eagles answered back to begin the sixth. Bobby Melley blasted a triple to right and scored moments later on a passed ball to deadlock this tilt yet again, 2-2.

But on this night, the Red Raiders simply had too much firepower offensively and it showed in the bottom of the frame after taking a two-run advantage. With Tulley in full command on the hill, that would prove to be more than enough run support for him to secure the win.

“We put some pressure on them,” said Walsh. “When we kept it on them we scored but we just didn’t get it done as often as we needed to do it.”

Tulley buckles down for Lowell in MVC tilt

May, 20, 2011

LOWELL, Mass. -- Matt Tulley pitched Lowell High School one game closer to winning the Merrimack Valley Conference outright with a complete game, two-hit, 10 strikeout, 2-0 victory over conference foe Chelmsford High School Friday.

“We shared (the MVC title) last year and we’re still in a position where if we win, it’s guaranteed ours,” said Lowell head coach Danny Graham. “If we would have lost and they were to win their last league game, there would be a co-champ, but we want to take it on our own this year, we definitely want to win it.”

Tulley’s first two innings were quiet, but he found himself in trouble in the third. He walked Colin Clancy to start the inning, and Clancy then advanced to second on a passed ball, which put a runnier in scoring position with no outs. After Joe Gennaro grounded out to second, Clancy was on third with one out, seemingly able to score on a sacrifice fly or ground out to the right side of the infield. The next sequence showed why Tulley is considered one of the best pitchers in the Merrimack Valley, if not the state.

Even though he was facing the top of the Chelmsford lineup, he struck out the next two batters, defusing the strongest scoring threat Chelmsford had all game. He then came out the next inning, facing the Chelmsford No. 3, 4, and 5 hitters and struck out the side.

“He reaches back and gets the outs when he has to, I saw him do it early in the game and again in the middle innings,” said Graham. “Once we got those runs (in the third), I always say you have to go out and have shut down innings, and he did that three times in a row. From a momentum standpoint, that obviously keeps us in a good position in the game.”

Tulley was also responsible for Lowell’s only runs offensively. Derek Reed lead off the third inning with a single, and then stole second. A throwing error by the third baseman allowed Rory O’Connor to reach base and put runners on the corners for Tulley. On the eighth pitch of his at-bat, he lined a single to right-centerfield, bringing in Reed and getting O’Connor to third.

“It was a long at-bat and I was watching something on Dustin Pedroia last night how he just fights every at-bat, and I just had that in mind,” he said.

O’Connor was able to score because Tulley was caught in a rundown between first and second when he tried to take the extra base on the throw in to the infield. He was able slide back to first safely, beating the rundown, and letting O’Connor score the second run of the game.

Not happy with the two-run lead, Graham tried to manufacture a run in the fourth with Chad Gens on third and no outs. Gens made a dash for home with R.J. Noel squared around to bunt, but he missed the pitch, leaving the runner in the difficult position of getting back to third after running most of the way up the baseline.

“Our offense has shown a lack of consistency as of late but that’s not because we’re not capable, I think it’s just because we need to buy in a little bit more and do what the kids are being asked to do,” said Graham.

Regardless of the mistake, Tulley was able to keep Chelmsford off the board and not let a runner get beyond second base for the remainder of the game.

“This is the best I’ve felt after a game because the past three years Chelmsford has belted me around,” he said. “Now that I’ve pitched well against them I feel good.”