Boston High School: Kevin Graber

Frontline pitching staff carries Philips Andover

May, 23, 2013

ANDOVER, Mass. -– Over the course of the 2013 season, the success of the Phillips Andover baseball team has hinged on three arms, or, more specifically, two right-handers and a southpaw.

Senior Rory Ziomek and sophomore Tim Salvadore, or simply 'Sal' to teammates and coaches, have brought power from the right side, while post grad Tim Superko has added craftiness from the left.

This talent -– Ziomek and Superko are headed to Tufts University next season, and Salvadore has verbally committed to Boston College –- led Big Blue to an 8-6 regular season record and a second straight Central New England Prep School Baseball League (CNEPSBL) title. Last weekend in Worcester, Mass., PA defeated Deerfield Academy in the semis and Worcester Academy in the finals for the crown.

[+] EnlargeRory Ziomek
Karen Leavitt for ESPNBoston.comTufts commit Rory Ziomek, younger brother of former Amherst southpaw Kevin, distinguishes himself with his demeanor on the mound.
"Rory’s been with us for three seasons now, and he’s like an old pro," said fifth-year head coach Kevin Graber when asked to breakdown his three hurlers. "He understands every facet of this program and how we pitch. Superko is equally experienced, but it’s his first year (here). Sal is young, has a year under his belt and he’s kind of a phenom. He’s still got two years of high school; he throws really hard (and) competes like you wouldn’t believe. They all bring a little different piece to the equation.

"I have to think ... this is the strongest pitching staff we’ve had in recent memory."

In Ziomek, a 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound, Amherst native, Graber has what he describes as "John Wayne because he’s like the gunslinger at the OK Corral. He just stands on the rubber, looks at you over the top of his glove and you know you’re gonna get his best."

Heading into the season finale this Saturday against Phillips Exeter Academy, Ziomek has pitched 37.1 innings and posted a 1.50 ERA and 52 strikeouts. His last two regular season starts were back-to-back complete game shutouts, including a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts versus Tabor Academy to clinch a playoff berth.

Ziomek’s arsenal features mid-80s four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a slider in the mid-70's and a changeup around 70 mph. But his on-mound demeanor –- best summed up as fierce and intense –- is what distinguishes him from Superko and Sal.

“He knows what pitch to throw and when and where,” said senior catcher Harry Roche after describing Ziomek as magical. “He will hit you in your weak spot whenever he feels it’s necessary to hit you there. And he’ll make sure you end up grounding out if he wants you to or striking out if he wants.”

In three years at PA, Ziomek’s evolved from a thrower to a pitcher. And when he takes the mound for Tufts next spring, he will do so as the second person in his family currently pitching in college. Older brother, Kevin, a lefthander, is a junior at Vanderbilt University who this season has racked up two SEC Pitcher of the Week awards, 10 wins and a 1.99 ERA.

Superko also understands how to pitch, but according to the lefty tends to rely more on his curve. With only one season at PA, the Wellesley product developed most of his pitching acumen at Wellesley High in the Bay State Conference.

"Polished," said Graber when asked what differentiates Superko. "When he came to me he knew how to pitch."

The 6-foot-2-inch, 170-pound post grad throws a mid-80's fastball, a curveball he acknowledges as his ‘out pitch’ and “lots of changeups to right-handed hitters to keep them off-balance.” It’s been a successful recipe. Over 26 innings he has a 2.42 ERA and has held opponents to a .170 batting average.

"I’m competitive," Superko said. "Once I get on the mound I’m kind of in the zone. People will be like, 'Did you hear me cheering for you?' or something. I’m like, 'Nah, I was pitching. I can’t hear anything.'"

It’s this mindset which led his fellow starters to label him as both calm and tenacious.

"Superko’s really good at mixing up his pitches," said Roche, a day student from Andover who plans to walk on at Villanova University. "You never know what’s coming. I was hitting off him the other day and he was throwing a curveball when I wasn’t expecting it. And his changeup, it’s the best on the team in my opinion."

The triumvirate’s youngster, Sal, has the potential to not only excel at Boston College but perhaps beyond.

[+] EnlargeTim Salvadore
Karen Leavitt for ESPNBoston.comPhilips Andover head coach Kevin Graber believes sophomore righthander and Boston College commit Tim Salvadore is potentially "a future Major Leaguer."
"Future Major Leaguer," said Graber of his sophomore stud from Holliston. "I work in scouting and I have a background in professional baseball. I believe in my heart that he will play in the Major Leagues."

In his second season at PA, the fiery and vocal 6-foot-3-inch, 180-pound hurler pitched 29.2 innings and led the staff with a 1.18 ERA and 4-0 record.

"I look to get ahead in the counts and get quick outs," Sal said. "That allows me to go deep in the ballgames. I feel like I can rely on a fastball/slider combination."

His four-seam fastball tops out at 90 mph, and is complimented by a sinker in the high-80s and a high-70s slider and changeup. This combination has made Sal the staff’s most dominant arm and one that oftentimes leaves batters feeling uneasy.

"I would say he’s wild," Superko said. "But that has a negative connotation when you’re pitching. He’s composed while being wild to the point of making hitters uncomfortable."

Sal boasts the deepest baseball roots. His father pitched in college for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and his grandfather was drafted by the Montreal Expos.

Big Blue’s 2013 campaign was built around three players who, at times, carried the team. Each played a pivotal role, especially during the two playoff games, in giving PA its 10th CNEPSBL title since 1988.

"Sal is a huge reason why we were able to come out on top on Saturday," Graber said. "He got the start in the semis against Deerfield and was amazing, with just one earned run in five complete innings.

"Rory came in on two days rest and pitched the sixth and seventh to close out the semifinals win."

And Superko pitched a complete game six hitter with seven strikeouts to secure the finals victory over Worcester.

Both Sal, who was named First-Team All-Central New England, and Rory, who was awarded the Central New England MVP, were individually recognized.

But their legacy along -– along with Superko –- will not be based on awards or championships. Instead it will be in their impact on future PA pitching recruits, the stories teammates will recall once their playing days are past and the cohesion with which they carried themselves.

"I think it just continues the idea that every year Andover strongly emphasizes their pitching staff," Ziomek responded when asked about their legacy. "Every year I’ve been here it’s gotten better. I think this will help (Coach Graber) and the rest of the team (recruit) new talent, younger kids, that he can work through the ranks."

"When I caught Rory during his one-hitter against Exeter," Roche said. "I went up to him afterwards and said, 'Rory, you gave me one of the best feelings multiple times in this game.' That feeling was striking out a kid looking to end an inning, tossing the ball back to the mound (and seeing) the kid would just stare there and look at it come in."

"One of the conversations I had with them early was that you have to foster the notion that you’re a team within a team," Graber said. "When you guys condition, you condition together. When you long toss, you long toss together. When you do flat ground work, you do flat ground work together. When we watch video, we watch video together. You guys need to support each other even when you’re not on the mound.

"And they have totally bought into that and (that’s why) they’re a true pitching staff."


A quick look at a few of the top seniors who will be playing collegiately next season:

Brendon Canavan (Middlesex School): Playing this season with a torn ACL suffered during an ISL ski race this winter, the 6-foot-1-inch, 180-pound catcher has been relegated to first base. But the team captain’s hitting has not suffered. Canavan is batting .424 with a .548 OBP through 12 games, and also providing the tone-setting leadership that, according to his coach, John Morrissey, has led to solid team chemistry.

Next year, Canavan, who lives in Carlisle, will suit up for Bates College, a decision he based on a number of factors, including the chance to play for coach Mike Leonard, a former Red Sox catcher. With two surgeries scheduled this summer –- one on his knee and the other on his right rotator cuff –- Canavan’s focused on improving his position flexibility.

"I’m working on my versatility since I can’t play catcher this year," Canavan said. "When I get (to Bates) next year (Coach Leonard) will have a senior catcher. So he was talking more about if (I’ll be) ready to play with my knee and shoulder and also trying first base, right field, left field...another position where I could play to get my bat into the lineup."

Cameron DiSarcina (Groton School): Through 12 games, the 5-foot-11-inch, 135-pound shortstop, who bats lefty and throws righty, has 18 hits in 36 plate appearances with 11 RBI. Coached by his father, Glenn, a former minor leaguer, and nephew to Gary, a 12-year major league shortstop, Cameron comes from strong baseball lineage.

But when the Shirley resident opted to play for Merrimack College next fall, it wasn’t a decision based solely on baseball. In Merrimack, DiSarcina found a great fit with its strong engineering department, close geographic proximity and solid baseball program. Plus, he’ll have the chance to play immediately.

"My Dad got recruited to Division 1 (UMass) and all that stuff," DiSarcina said. "But he told me that it’s not about going to play D1. It’s about finding the place where you’re going to be the happiest on and off the field."

This summer he’ll hone his game -– including expanding his inside plate coverage, adding more muscle and developing as an outfielder –- as a member of the Chelmsford Legion.

And when he finally pulls on the Warriors’ uniform next spring, his father will be there to watch.

"It’s going to be nice to see him play for the next four years," Glenn admitted.

Trevor Holmes (Governor's Academy): Arguably the ISL’s most feared hitter Holmes leads the league with four homeruns, while also batting .462 with 15 RBI through 12 games.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pound catcher is described by his coach, Mike Kinnealey, as possessing tremendous bat speed and power, a dynamic arm and the mental makeup to thrive in the most stressful game situations. It was this combination of attributes which captured the University of Connecticut’s interest and earned Holmes a baseball scholarship.

In addition to catching this season, the two-year captain has also joined Governor’s pitching staff. Over 21 innings, he’s posted a 1.67 ERA with 26 strikeouts and six walks. His success has opened the possibility of pitching and/or catching for the Huskies.

"I used to pitch back in middle school," Holmes said, "But I came in here and the opportunity arose for me to be a catcher. I threw off the hill once last summer, and my summer coach liked what he saw so he put me on the mound and exposed me a little bit. It took off from there."

This summer Holmes will again play for North East Baseball, before leaving his hometown of Ashburnham for the Storrs, Conn. campus and summer classes on July 11.

CNEPSBL: Philips Andover wins second straight title

May, 19, 2013

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Up until this past week, there was no guarantee that Phillips Academy-Andover would be grab a spot in Central New England Prep School Baseball League (CNEPSBL)/Thomas Blackburn Championship Tournament. Having won the title a year ago, the Big Blue struggled this season and needed to beat Tabor Academy on Wednesday to qualify. On the strength of pitcher Rory Ziomek, Phillips Academy cruised to a 5-0 triumph to earn the bid.

With the pressure off, the Big Blue walked into Assumption College's Rocheleau Field on Saturday with a "nothing to lose" attitude. That mindset certainly paid off as the fourth-seeded Big Blue defeated top seed Deerfield Academy, 10-7, in the semifinal round before knocking off No. 2 seed Worcester Academy, 12-8, in the afternoon in the title tilt.

"This is our second championship in a row but this is a much-different team than last year," fifth-year Phillips Andover head coach Kevin Graber said. "Last year's team was very dominant. This year we had to scratch and scrap and faced a lot of adversity along the way.

"Our pitching carried us into this tournament and our depth manifested itself and we were able to get our offense to catch up in the end. My philosophy has always been for us to be playing our best baseball at the end of the season, especially in a end-of-the-year tournament. We did that this year."

On the strength of 10 hits and a multitude of wildness by the Hilltoppers' pitching corps, the Big Blue (10-6) led late, 12-4. In hindsight, they were fortunate to construct such a cushion because Worcester (19-11), which blanked Phillips Exeter in its semifinal matchup, decided to make things a bit more interesting late.

Phillips Andover jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning after Hilltopper starter Nick Johnson served up four consecutive walks. A double-play later in the frame led to the Big Blue's second run.

[+] EnlargeJohn Simourian
Brendan Hall/ESPNFreshman John Simourian went 5 for 7 in the championship game with 4 RBI to lift Philips Andover to its second straight CNEPSBL title
In the bottom of the inning, Worcester Academy cut the deficit to one after junior John Marculitis (3-for-4) tripled and later came home on Jessey Valdez's fly out. In the fourth, the Hilltoppers took a 3-2 lead thanks to Marculitis' two-run double. But the tide of momentum would quickly change over to the Big Blue side in the fifth. Johnson opened the frame by allowing a single and plunking the next two Phillips Andover batters to load the bases.

For the game, three Hilltopper combined to hit eight Big Blue batters. Hilltoppers head coach Dana Forsberg made the decision to pull Johnson in favor of Nick Economos. But the lanky right-hander walked John Festa to force in a run and knot the game 3-3. A passed ball ensued to plate Phillips Andover's fourth run. Harry Roche then lined a single to right for another run and push the lead to 5-2.

The Big Blue weren't done. Later in the inning they loaded the bases before Forsberg summond Greg Hemmer to the mound. But Hemmer was immediately greeted by a John Simourian a two-run single pushing Phillips Andover's advantage to 7-3. Simourian, a freshman transfer from Belmont Hill, finished 5-for-7 at the plate on the day and also drove in four runs.

"I'm just glad we came out with the win," said the Big Blue catcher. "As it showed today, everybody is a fighter on this team. There isn't one guy who wouldn't lay everything he has down for the sake of the team. I think that's what led to another championship for us."

After Worcester Academy got a run back in the fifth, the Big Blue responded with four more uns in the sixth highlighted by Joey Verhaegh's two-run double. In the seventh, back-to-back doubles from Chris Hohlstein and Connor Farrell increased the Big Blue's lead to eight runs.

To the Hilltoppers credit, they didn't go down without a fight in their final at-bats. Three errors sandwiched around a Marculitis RBI single pulled them to within four runs. But Phillips Andover and future Tufts University pitcher Tim Superko (CG, 6 hits, 7 Ks) worked through the circus-like atmosphere of the inning to nail down the victory, giving the Big Blue their 10th CNEPSBL crown since 1988.

"This is probably the most-talented team that I have ever had here," said Forsberg, who last won a title in 2011. "The kids played hard. When you are down big like that it is easy to fold but that never happened. These kids never stopped believing. We preach to our pitchers that you have to throw strikes.

"If you don't throw strikes and put people on those runs are going to cross and that bit us today. This was a special team and the toughest team that I've ever coached. They love the game of baseball. We've got some good kids coming back and some nice ones coming in so we'll be ready for next year."

Semifinals: Stefaniak shines, Dennehy says goodbye
In the day’s first game, the Hilltoppers jumped on Phillips Exeter pitcher Hunter Carey for three first inning runs and made it stand due to the mound majesty of Mark Stefaniak. The lefty dominated the Big Red, striking out 15 in the process.

“I just went out tried to throw strikes and get ahead of the hitters,” said Stefaniak, who also will pitch for Tufts University next year. “When you get ahead of hitters you have a much-better chance to put them away. That is what I focused on today and tried to stay ahead of their hitters.”

After his rough opening frame, Carey settled down and kept Worcester Academy off the board the rest of the way. But it was the first inning that haunted the future Trinity College hurler. The Hilltoppers took a 1-0 lead on consecutive doubles by Anthony Barry and Brad Petitpas. Hemmer followed by blistering a moon shot over the center field fence for a two-run homer. That would prove to be enough run support for Stefaniak who handcuffed the Big Red (11-7) early and often.

“That team came out swinging and were ready to hit from the beginning,” said 42-year Phillips Exeter coach Bill Dennehy, who is calling it quits at season’s end. “I thought Hunter hung in there after that first inning but their pitcher was just too tough on us today.

"This is my last year and it’s been tough to think about. You surprise yourself when you see how fast it goes even after 42 years. I couldn’t have had a better job. I've been blessed here. What I’m going to miss most is being around the kids on a day-to-day basis. That was always the biggest thing for me. We've always had great kids here.”

In the day’s other semifinal, Phillips Andover jumped out to a 6-1 lead and held off a couple of late Big Green (10-3) surges to come away triumphant. The Big Blue put this one away with a five-run third. A two-run double from Farrell and RBIs by David McCullough and Matt Hosman pushed Phillips Andover out to a 6-1 lead. Deerfield Academy shot back in the fifth, scoring four times. Cullen Geary keyed the inning with a two-run single.

In the Big Blue's half of the sixth, they put this game out of reach after scoring three more times on a SAC fly, a fielder's choice and a Simourian double to lead 9-4. Phillips Andover led 10-5 going into the final inning. The Big Green scored a pair in the bottom of the frame on RBIs by Coltan Dana and Conor Quinn failed to draw any closer.