After a decade of discouraging seasons and tough losses, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School baseball team this week clinched a berth in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) tournament with a pair of wins, over Bishop Feehan and Nantucket.
It’s been a long time coming. Coach Gary Simmons said this was the first time the team has qualified for postseason play since he took over the team seven years ago, and to his best recollection the team last made it to the state tourney ten years ago.
When coach Simmons took over the program, the Vineyarders played in the South Coast Conference, which featured perennial powers like Bourne, Dennis-Yarmouth, and Old Rochester — to name a few.
And things didn’t get any easier a few years ago when the Vineyarders shifted into the Eastern Athletic Conference (EAC), another league populated by strong baseball programs that are able to draw from a much larger pool of athletes than the Vineyard.
As if the EAC wasn’t tough enough, the baseball team faces a challenge here at home as athletes now have more and more sports to choose from, and the rising popularity of other sports like lacrosse, for example, attracts players who might otherwise play baseball.
All this makes the Vineyarders’ accomplishments this season all the more impressive, and Coach Simmons said he couldn’t be happier with his team. “I think they get a sense of pride,” he said. “I think the players understand it’s been a long time since we made the tournament.
“This is a good example of a team never giving up. For some of the older players, there were some tough seasons. It hasn’t always been easy, even this season, but the kids stuck with it and have accomplished something special.”
Last Wednesday, May 16, the Vineyarders took the field against EAC rival Bishop Feehan and won easily by a final of 9-1. Ryan Fisher was supposed to start but was scratched at the last minute and was replaced by Jack Roberts, who responded with a brilliant game on the mound.
Roberts pitched a complete game and gave up one earned run on five hits with six strikeouts and only two walks. At the plate, Chris Morris and Noah Stobie both went 2 for 4, and Roberts went 2 for 3 with two runs scored and a stolen base.
On Friday, the Vineyarders hosted Somerset Berkley and held a 5-2 lead heading into the top of the seventh, when the wheels fell off. Andrew Williamson started the game and was strong, giving up only two runs in the first six innings.
But Williamson had a high pitch count, and after giving up a hit and hitting another batter with a pitch, Coach Simmons brought in Alec Tattersall to relieve. The Raider bats then exploded, and S.B. scored eight runs, two of which were charged to the starter, Williamson.
In the game, Stobie went 2 for 3 with two runs scored and two stolen bases, and Jack Roberts went 3 for 4 with a single, double and a triple — just a home run shy of the cycle.
With the loss, M.V. had to wait until their game against old rival Nantucket on Saturday, played at McKeon Park in Hyannis, to punch their ticket into the postseason.
Behind starter Will Stewart, who has been their best and most consistent pitcher all year, the Vineyarders romped to a 9-1 win. Stewart pitched six innings and gave up just three hits while striking out eight and walking only two.
Stobie went 3 for 4 in the game with three runs scored, and Mike Montanile went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and a run scored.
After the game there wasn’t much time to celebrate making the tournament for the first time in ten years. The coach realized the team could make the 3:45 pm boat and gathered the troops to dash for the boat.
“But when we got on the bus I went around and shook all the players hands and congratulated them, and we were able to savor it a little,” the coach said. “They were singing songs and celebrating on the bus.”
The Vineyarders next game is at home against Bourne on Friday, which is also Senior Day.