CARVER – Patience.
First-year head coach Quirino doCanto knew it would play a big part of the Carver High baseball team's approach at the plate in the state tournament. South Shore League All-Stars Derek Lopes and Nate Dirado, the team's two junior captains, apply it well.
Behind 12 total walks – five from Lopes and Dirado, combined – the No. 25 Crusaders defeated No. 40 Avon, 19-0, on Friday to advance to play No. 8 Douglas in the Division 5 Round of 32 on Monday at 3:30.
Big picture, all three knew patience was needed to even get to this point.
“Things have been turning around since the halfway point of the season," Dirado said.
The Crusaders dug themselves out of a 2-10 start to finish 7-13 and claim the No. 25 seed in the Division 5 bracket. The team had won three of its last four entering tournament play Friday, with the outlier being a one-run loss to Rockland last week.
“In the first half of the season, it was very difficult for us," doCanto said. "Coming in as a new coach, I was trying to sell them what I know and getting them to believe in the things I, as well as the other coaches, know. It’s a difficult process, especially at a young age of high school kids. As they started believing and trying it a little bit more, I think they saw more success. At the end of the day, they’ve grown as baseball players and they’ve learned a little bit.”
DoCanto, 44, took over this spring after Carver made a run to the Division 5 Elite Eight last year under former coach Bobby Payzant, who went 20-16 in two seasons. DoCanto was previously the head coach at Wareham High for four years until 2014 and he later returned to the Vikings as an assistant for three seasons, then the opportunity at Carver opened up. He spent the time in between the tenures earning his master's degree from Southern Illinois University.
The Crusaders' start to the season featured a 2-1 start with victories over Sturgis East (11-10 win) and Hull (14-3 win). Then eight straight losses rolled in, four by five or more runs.
But close finishes against its South Shore League peers, Norwell (12-11 loss on May 4) and Abington (4-2 loss on May 8), led Carver to a 3-1 non-league win over Wareham at home on May 10, the first stride of the turnaround.
“They wanted it. They came out to practice every day and showed they wanted to learn and get better,” doCanto said. “All these kids have been committed to this program since day 1. That shows at the end of the year when we’re playing these games.”
“We started banding together," Lopes said. "We started to hit better, field better and improved overall as the year went on. It showed. We got better.”
Lopes finished the regular season with a .384 batting average, plus three doubles, six triples, two home runs and 18 RBIs as the starting center fielder. Dirado hit .333 with three doubles and 19 RBI as a pitcher/catcher hybrid. On the mound, Dirado maintained a 2.49 ERA in 33 innings of work.
“In the offseason, we put in a lot of work,” Lopes said. “We all hit throughout the winter and improved and got better. Obviously it didn’t work great at the start because we started 2-10, but once we fixed it and everyone got more and more experience, everyone started to feel more comfortable. As that went on, we became better. And here we are.”
Every Crusader that stepped to the plate came across to score in Friday's five-inning, mercy-rule win over Avon (12-8). Lopes went 1-for-2 with two walks and three runs, right fielder Levon Mulready went 2-for-3 with 3 RBIs and one walk, and second baseman Cam Zaniboni went 1-for-2 with 3 RBIs and two walks.
Starting pitcher Joey Mannix struck out five and allowed one hit in four innings of work. Reliever Bob Alpert registered two strikeouts in the final frame.
“I think it’s a little bit of a confidence booster – winning 19-0 doesn’t help anybody on either side – but I think the kids did what they needed to do today," doCanto said. "They were patient up at bat with a guy not throwing too many strikes. That worked to our benefit today. They made plays in the field. Only giving up one hit in five innings showed we were doing things right.”
Mannix, a junior, took over a bulk of the pitching responsibilities after last year's workhorse, Ray Boutiette, graduated and resumed his career at Massasoit Community College this spring, where he boasted a team-best 1.88 ERA in 48 innings across 12 appearances (10 starts) his freshman season.
“He’s been really good all year," Lopes said of Mannix. "Very consistent. I love sitting in center field and watching him pitch. I can see the movement on his pitches, I get excited just watching it.”
“He’s been dealing,” Dirado agreed with a chuckle.
Last year, a 14-7 regular season record clinched Carver the No. 8 seed (of 45 teams that made the cut) in the Division 5 bracket. The team made it to the Elite Eight but lost, 3-0, to top-ranked Hopedale, which advanced to the state title game two rounds later.
Ahead of a matchup with Douglas, this year's No. 8 seed, Lopes and Dirado said this No. 25 Carver squad can keep its momentum humming despite being the lower seed: "Baseball is a very mental game," Dirado said. "It's not always the 'best team' that wins."
“We’ve just got to keep preaching that we’re good enough to be here," Lopes said. "We’ve got to keep everyone up and ready to go. If we’re ready and exude confidence, the team will follow along.”
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Once 2-10, Carver High baseball earned lopsided state tournament win