The Boston College High (Boston) baseball team may have won the past two Division I baseball championships of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, but narrow escapes are what have defined the Eagles.
To reach the state semifinals, they won the South sectional championship each time in extra innings. In fact, the Eagles did that each of the past three years. Only two 2009 seniors were regulars during that entire journey -- center fielder Tyler Horan and first baseman Billy Kiley, this year's co-captains. What they learned as sophomores, they were able to pass along as seniors.
"I know it's a cliché, but it came down to experience," Kiley said. "When we were sophomores and played Walpole [Mass.] the first time [in the 2007 sectional], it was like, 'What are we gonna do?' What Tyler and I could now teach the team was how to be calm. They saw how we handled those situations."
In '07, the Eagles needed 11 innings to defeat Walpole, then fell short in the state tournament. Last season in a sectional rematch, BC High beat Walpole 7-6 in 11 innings on a run-scoring single by Horan with two outs.
This year, the opposition was Catholic Memorial (West Roxbury, Mass.). BC High won 7-6 in 10 innings. Kiley tied the score in the seventh inning when he able to escape a rundown between third base and home.
At the state tournament, the Eagles defeated Gloucester (Mass.) 8-3 in the semifinals and Saint John's (Shrewsbury, Mass.) 11-2 in the final. They erupted for an eight-run first inning against Saint John's, including a three-run homer by Horan, to finish 22-4.
"I'll remember all the comebacks," Horan said. "This group of guys never gave up."
Longtime BC High baseball coach Norm Walsh was gratified that this year's team was able to repeat while replacing so many major pieces, including every position up the middle. Junior Brendan Collins moved behind the plate to replace four-year starter Tom Conley, now playing for UMass. Senior Kyle Larrow moved in at second base, and junior Rob McCunney did at shortstop. Horan became the center fielder after serving as designated hitter the previous two years.
Walsh traces the current run of success to the seniors from three years ago, including current Duke pitcher/outfielder Alex Hassan.
"Alex was one of those kids who was ahead of the curve, who understood why we do repetitive drills all the time," Walsh said. "Jim Lefebvre [former major league player and manager] called it master the boredom of repetition. That was kind of the mantra for that group. You could hear Alex tell his teammates, 'The way this pitcher is pitching, that's like this drill we do every day. Just go up there and keep that in mind.' The young guys who graduated last year picked that up, and they passed that on to Kiley and Tyler, and they've sustained it."
Walsh has been at BC High for 34 years, the varsity baseball coach for 30. His first state championship team came in 2001, and he admitted it "was like a giant monkey off my back." Now, they're coming in bunches.
"It's like you go for a span hitting a bunch of line drives right at people, and they all get caught," Walsh said. "Then you go through a stretch where everything seems to fall in."
Lots of things fell in for Kiley during his high school career. He played for a state hockey champion as a sophomore, baseball as a junior, football and baseball again as a senior. Kiley played quarterback and safety on the football team, while Horan was a running back and linebacker.
Kiley hit .367 this past season. He lives in Quincy, a drive of 15 to 20 minutes to the BC High campus located in the Dorchester section of Boston. Horan led the team in hitting with five homers and drove in 24 while hitting .407. He lives about 45 minutes south of school in Middleboro. When he was a freshman and sophomore, he rode the train to school.
"The good thing was you can do your homework," Horan said. "The bad thing was if practice runs late and you miss the 6 o'clock train, the next one isn't until 8:30."
Horan and Kiley are both headed off to play college football; Horan at Virginia Tech, Kiley at Bentley University in nearby Waltham, Mass.
Asked whether any of the four state titles stood above the rest, Kiley said he would have to go with this school year's football and baseball championships.
"Because of all the ups and downs," he said, "and knowing it was the last time that you were going to play with these guys."
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer and can be reached at email@example.com.