Boston High School: Zach Clifford

Recap: No. 11 Northbridge 8, No. 14 Auburn 7

May, 3, 2013
NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. -- The way this contest was being played out, you had to figure a dramatic finish was waiting in the wings.

In a game filled with timely hitting on both sides, Northbridge junior Mike Ferraro delivered the biggest one of all at a most opportune time Friday afternoon.

In a tie game, with one out and Austin Young representing the winning run at second base in the bottom of the seventh inning, Ferraro drove an 0-2 pitch to right field for a single that plated Young and give the Rams an 8-7 triumph over SWCL rival Auburn.

“I was actually looking curve ball because (Rockets pitcher Tyler Lamonda) had thrown me one on the previous pitch," Ferraro said. “The next one he threw me was an outside fastball so I just tried to put it in play and was able to get enough of it for a single. This game just kept going back-and-forth. It was very intense but certainly a lot of fun.”

The win improves Northbridge to 11-1, as it completes a series sweep over the Rockets (10-3), whom it defeated last month in the final of the Rocket Classic. Earlier in the week the Rams qualified for the post season for a 21st consecutive time.

“We fought our way through this thing,” Rams coach John Demagian said. “We got some big hits today. These kids work their butts off so I’m really happy for them.”

As expected between these two state juggernauts, this was a see-saw affair from the get-go.

Auburn jumped out to a 2-0 first inning lead on Zack Tower’s two out, two-run double. But the Rams answered in the bottom of the frame. With two runners on, Tower, playing third base, fielded a ground ball but threw wildly to second in his attempts for the force out. The ball sailed into right field easily scoring Tyler Galimi, who singled. Moments later senior Matt Niejadlik scored from third as part of a double steal.

Northbridge (13 hits) went up 4-2 the following inning. Lamonda opened things by plunking Rob Fraser. Two outs later, Galimi, a junior, poked a single to left field. Fraser scored from second after left fielder Jason Vrusho’s throw took a funny hop off the infield grass that rolled to the back stop. Taking second on the play, Galimi scored moments later on Niejadlik’s line single to right. Once again, it appeared as though there would be a close play at the plate, but Drew Goodrich’s throw hit the lip of the grass just in front of catcher Zach Clifford and changed direction prior to Galimi sliding across.

“We had a couple of things happen to us that were out of our control," said Rockets coach Eric Swedberg. “I felt we had two guys dead at home that inning but the ball hits the lip of the infield both times and bounces to the back stop."

Auburn got a run back in the third. Tyler Desjardins doubled deep to center off of Rams starting pitcher Brian Carroll and later scored on a fly out. Northbridge was able to re-gained its two-run cushion in the fourth with two out. Niejadlik walked and took second on a pass ball. One out later, the senior trotted home on Jake Ryan’s single off of reliever Mike Vaitkunas.

Against a quality opponent like Auburn, no lead can be considered safe. Like Northbridge, the Rockets have solid hitters up and down its lineup. It showed in the fifth after scoring a pair to even things at 5-5. With two runners in scoring position, both crossed the plate following DJ Scavone’s ground single to left.

But in the bottom half of the inning it was the Rams’ turn at the plate. With a pair of base runners on, Galimi belted a two-run single to right allowing Northbridge to move ahead 7-5.

“We always know facing Auburn it’s going to be a tough game,” said Galimi, who finished 3-for-4 with 3 RBI. “It’s always good to come out with a win. It gives us a lot of confidence to beat this team every year.”

The lead would prove to be short short-lived however. In the top of the sixth, Auburn put two runners on with two out. Senior Joe Fahey followed by stroking a single to right off of Young, who replaced Carroll, scoring both and knotting things up at 7 apiece.

“Our guys were locked in and hit the ball on the nose today,” said Swedberg, his team banging out 13 hits. “Today we focused on doing our present job and the task at hand. We weren’t focusing so much on the score. That was our philosophy coming in.”

The Rockets saw a golden opportunity to jump ahead in the top of the seventh fall by the wayside. After retiring the first two batters, Young ran into problems after issuing a pair of singles followed by a four pitch walk. But the sophomore righty tight-roped his way out of danger by inducing Vrusho to pop out on the first pitch he saw to squander the threat.

In the bottom of the frame however, the Rams managed to capitalized on their opportunity. Young led things off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Ferraro next delivered his game-winning hit to set off a wild celebration once Young touched home.

“Auburn is a good team and I’m sure we will face them again (in the postseason),” said Demagian. “We can hit the ball. We certainly practice it enough. These kids have a lot of confidence in themselves right now. There is a lot of energy coming from that dug out.”

No. 18 Auburn turns to its hefty line again

August, 23, 2012
Auburn playersBrendan Hall Led by junior Will Greelish (second from left) and senior Aaron Dyke (third from left), No. 18 Auburn will once again boast one of the state's heaviest lines at nearly 280 pounds across.

AUBURN -– As a unit, they were among the state's most efficient, paving the way to more than 4,200 rushing yards, and among the biggest, averaging nearly 260 pounds across. Paired with a blend of power and finesse between four change-of-pace backs, it was a lethal combination that led to an unprecedented fourth straight Super Bowl championship for the Auburn Rockets.

All five starting offensive linemen return, now averaging nearly 280 pounds across, and the unit is comprised primarily of seniors with two or three years of varsity experience. And yet, true to the Belichickian mantra professed by head coach Jeff Cormier, it's as if they're right back at square one.

"We've got a ways to go," says senior Aaron Dyke, arguably the best of the bunch, and a preseason ESPN Boston All-State selection. "The whole team's got a long way to go. But we take it day by day."

If you've been to one Auburn practice in August, you've been to them all. Humility and brevity are the operative themes, and you can't argue with the method's success given the program's track record under Cormier. The only difference in 2012 is the absence of questions about their win streak, which was snapped at 41 last year to rival Shepherd Hill.

"Once we lost, we blew out every team," Dyke said. "But I know every team's coming back with more studs than they had last year. We bring back 27, but I know Holliston, Shrewsbury, Northbridge, they bring back everybody."

Says senior tackle Steve Domenick, "It's not really about going undefeated, it's about taking it one game at a time. We never focused on the whole streak thing, we just wanted to go out there every game and play some good football."

The Rockets graduated one of the state's most dynamic rushing tandems in the fleet-footed speedster Fred Taylor, now playing defensive back at Dean College, and Dan Flink, an ESPNBoston All-State selection now suiting up for Mass. Maritime Academy. Eric Desjardins is the only back returning with experience, and figures to take the lead role, but it should be a competitive training camp with Zach Clifford and Mark Wright.

Ideally, it would be a smooth transition. The Rockets consistently outweighed opponents at the point of attack in 2011, utilizing tight splits and combo blocks to nullify their opponents' top threats in the front seven. They were especially efficient on the right side with Dyke (6-foot-4, 295 pounds) and junior Will Greelish (6-foot-4, 325 pounds). Both have been receiving varied interest from an assortment Division 1 schools across the Northeast, including Boston College, UMass, UConn and Buffalo.

"I expect them to be very physical at the point of attack," Cormier said. "People know we're gonna run the football, which makes it that much more difficult to run the football. Those guys are gonna be under stress. There's going to be some pressure on those guys, with some young guys back there, they're gonna have to hold their blocks a little longer, move people a bit further. We're gonna have to compensate for our lack of experience at the running positions."

Defensively, where the Rockets have used odd fronts in the past, they will likely stay in a four-man front, given their size and depth in the trenches. As an added ripple, one of those key defensive linemen -- end Steve St. Jean -- will take on a new role this year as tight end.

St. Jean is an imposing figure at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, and is gaining interest from the MAC conference for track and field -- last spring, he finished third in New England in the shot put. It's still a work in progress, but if he adapts quickly he could leave Cormier with a favorable amount of options in the passing game for returning starting quarterback Drew Goodrich.

"He's trying to feel that out," Cormier said. "He didn't play tight end a year ago, so it's really square one, just trying to load him up with blocking assignments, kinda settle hiim in. But I think that he's pretty athletic as far as flexibility, and the possibility of options."

2011: 12-1, Won Division 3 Central Mass. Super Bowl
Coach: Jeff Cormier (14th season, 115-40)
Key Returnees: Aaron Dyke, Sr. OG/DL, 6-4, 295; Will Greelish, Jr. OT/DL, 6-4, 325 lbs.; Jordan Giampa, Sr. C, 6-2, 285 lbs.; Steve Domenick, Sr. OL/DL, 6-2, 250 lbs.; Matt Ramirez, Sr., OL/DL, 5-10, 240 lbs.; Steve St. Jean, Sr. TE/DE, 6-4, 245 lbs.; Tyler Simmons, Sr. TE/DL, 6-1, 220 lbs.; Avery Sweet, Sr. TE/DL, 6-2, 250 lbs.
Strengths: Size, experience at offensive and defensive lines
Weaknesses: Experience at skill positions
Outlook: The Rockets made headlines last season when their win streak, third-longest active in the nation, was snapped by Shepherd Hill. Then they made headlines again with their imposing line comprised entirely of underclassmen, led by Dyke and Greelish on the right side. As a unit, they are one of the state’s heaviest across, and with the graduation of its top two backs (Dan Flink, Fred Taylor) and wide receiver (Connor Fuller) that unit will be taking on an even bigger role. St. Jean brings a unique skill set to the offense this year, his first as tight end, with his athleticism allowing him to play in space in addition to supporting the run, and that has to be pleasing to Goodrich. If the line continues on last year’s success, when the Rockets ran for over 4,000 yards, then it should be a smooth transition for the new blood in the backfield.