BRIDGEWATER, Mass. –- As he spoke with a reporter following his team’s season-opening 4-1 win over Marshfield, Bridgewater-Raynham catcher Joe Freiday pointed out to right field, where atop the wall of the warehouse beyond the fence hung a banner commemorating the Trojans’ MIAA Division 1 State Championship last spring.
While oversized, the banner barely covers one-eigth of the two-story wall.
“If you notice, there’s a lot of room for a Super 8 [banner],” the Virginia Tech-bound Freiday said, referring to the inaugural Division 1A state championship tournament introduced for this season.
B-R’s title defense should be an interesting journey, one with lofty expectations -– including a preseason No. 1 ranking in ESPNBoston.com’s statewide poll. But this afternoon’s win over the Rams, a team that is normally a thorn in the Trojans’ side, has to be encouraging.
Notre Dame-bound junior righthander Jack Connolly earned the win after striking out 10 batters in five innings, allowing two hits and an unearned run on 73 pitches (46 for strikes), a performance Trojans head coach John Kearney called “mid-season form”.
“His velocity, his control, midseason form –- as expected,” Kearney said.
Meanwhile Freiday, Connolly’s cousin, appeared to pick up right where he left off a season ago, going 2-for-2 with two RBI, a walk, and a monster opposite-field solo homer in the bottom of the sixth, that gave the Trojans all the insurance they needed. Freiday appeared to get a little bit too under the first-pitch, wristing a chest-high heater from righthander Brian Kwedor, but the ball sailed to his delight.
“Usually the approach is dead red fastball on first pitch,” Freiday said. “When I get it, I’m gonna do what I can with it....I thought I was going to either pop out or land at third, but I’m not going to complain about it.”
In relief, junior righty Andrew Noviello shone. The University of Maine commit struck out five of the seven batters he faced in the final two innings to pick up the save, planting high-80’s fastballs and tight curves on the outside corners to leave batters whiffing.
The B-R bats, of course, were able to give him some room to work with. Freiday plated the first run in the bottom of the first, taking what he admitted was a “defensive swing” on a 1-2 fastball and lining to left-center to score Cory DiNunno from second base.
“Really, I was just trying to fight it off, and I guess I got the good part of the bat on the ball and put it up the middle,” Freiday said.
That was followed by in the second by a balk that scored Cory Wasylow, and a Noviello sacrifice fly deep to left in the third to score Tyler Carey for a 3-0 lead.
Nick Pomella (2-for-3, RBI) got one back for the Rams in the top of the fourth with a single that scored Nick DeGrenier, but the Rams mustered just two hits the rest of the way, going down on strikes in nine of their final 13 at bats.
Raw power: Freiday admits he was surprised by how much his sixth-inning homer carried, despite the slight wind coming in right-to-left. Coming off his bat, it looked almost like a routine pop-fly.
Big swings are nothing new for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Freiday, who made ESPN Boston’s All-State Team last year after hitting .455 with five homers. But a newfound focus on weight training this offseason seems to have brought his power hitting to new, uncharted levels.
Freiday says he lifted weights for the first time ever this offseason, with noted local strength guru Eric Cressey, whose renowned facility in Hudson has helped produce local MLB success stories such as Royals lefthander Tim Collins and Marlins relieve Steve Cishek. Cressey is known for his abstract, astutely customized workout plans for clients, and part of Freiday’s individualized program involved a focus on core and leg strength. By the end of the winter, Freiday says he was deadlifting up to 455 pounds.
“I’ve always had natural strength, but I guess I put it to use this offseason,” Freiday chuckled. “His [Cressey’s] programs are ridiculous, he knows his stuff. It’s incredible.”
Twin terrors: It won’t happen often, but with just one game this week, Kearney opted to give Noviello some work in relief. As noted above, the results were satisfactory.
“I wish we could do that every game,” Connolly laughed. “It’s gonna be fun pitching with him, definitely.”
During the preseason, both Connolly and Noviello clocked in the high-80’s, with the latter hitting 89 miles per hour with regularity, prompting Freiday to declare, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets up to 91 this year, that’s my bold prediction.”
As a starting rotation, the economical Connolly and overpowering Noviello provide a 1-1A punch rivaled by few in Massachusetts.
“How do you differentiate? The two are just so good,” Kearney said. “We’ve had a [radar] gun on both of them, and Jack’s actually picked up a few miles an hour. He’s throwing legitimately now 88, and Novi has touched 90 several times...and they both have that unbelievable breaking ball. It’s nice to have them both back as juniors like that, it’s great.”