Div. 5 baseball: Pioneer, Greenfield take different roads to state semifinals

Greenfield catcher Luca Siano celebrates after turning a double play against Bourne in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Vets Field. The 15th-seeded Green Wave will play No. 3 Boston English in the Final Four on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Assumption University.

Greenfield catcher Luca Siano celebrates after turning a double play against Bourne in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Vets Field. The 15th-seeded Green Wave will play No. 3 Boston English in the Final Four on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Assumption University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Jackson Glazier hits against Frontier earlier this season in Northfield. The fourth-seeded Panthers will meet top-seeded Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 Final Four on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Fitton Field on the campus of Holy Cross in Worcester.

Pioneer’s Jackson Glazier hits against Frontier earlier this season in Northfield. The fourth-seeded Panthers will meet top-seeded Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 Final Four on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Fitton Field on the campus of Holy Cross in Worcester. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 06-10-2024 7:28 PM

Modified: 06-10-2024 7:45 PM


The road to a Final Four is never the same. Just look at the Greenfield and Pioneer baseball teams. 

The Panthers have been knocking on the door of a state title each of the past two years, reaching the MIAA Division 5 semifinals in 2022 and 2023, and after returning the bulk of its roster, Pioneer looked poised to take another step forward this spring.

The Panthers bumped up to the Suburban League West — which features tournament teams like the Green Wave, Frontier, Hopkins Academy and Hampshire Regional — and won the league going away.

They ultimately entered the state tournament with a 16-5 record. That earned Pioneer the No. 4 seed in the Div. 5 bracket, where it has outscored opponents 23-2 to book a return trip to the Final Four. The Panthers will square off with top-seeded Georgetown on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Holy Cross in Worcester with a spot in the finals on the line.

While Pioneer reached the previous two semifinals, it has yet to make it to the championship game and is hoping to change that on Tuesday. 

“It’s an incredible opportunity,” Panthers catcher Braeden Tsipenyuk said. “We just really want to get over the hump this year. We have a great group of guys to do it. When you’re down, the boys pick you up. That’s how it’s been all year. We’ve had people in slumps. I haven’t had it recently at the plate but guys have picked me up. That’s the beauty of this game.”

It’s no surprise the Panthers are here. With the way Greenfield started its year, just making the state tournament might have seemed like a stretch. 

The Green Wave caught fire down the stretch back in 2023. Earning the No. 26 seed with a 9-11 record, Greenfield went on to reach the state quarterfinals, knocking off No. 7 Ware and No. 10 Westport to get there. 

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After graduating one player, the expectation was the Green Wave would carry over the late season momentum into this campaign. That didn’t go quite to plan. 

Greenfield started the season slowly, dropping to 3-8 overall after a loss to Pioneer on May 2. Seeing their season slipping away, the Green Wave pulled together and ripped off five straight wins and have lost just twice since, earning the No. 15 seed in the Div. 5 field. 

After beating Boston International, Greenfield saw upset after upset in its quarter of the bracket, allowing it to host No. 34 Westfield Tech in the Round of 16 and No. 23 Bourne in the quarters. The Green Wave knocked off the defending state champion Canalmen on Saturday to reach the Final Four, where they will face No. 3 Boston English on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Assumption University in Worcester. 

“I’m very proud of this team considering our start,” Greenfield coach Tom Suchanek said. “I don’t think many people would have envisioned us being where we are. They proved last year they could play and we were only one kid different from that team. We played poorly against Frontier here and if I told them they could go home halfway through the game, they probably would have left. Greenfield teams don't do that and I reamed them out. I don’t know if that did it but we started winning and we were in games.” 

Here’s a closer look at each matchup: 

Pioneer made sure to load up its schedule to be as prepared as possible to play a team like Georgetown in the state tournament. 

Moving to the Suburban West was part of that, as the Panthers were tested on a daily basis against some of the top teams in the area. Pioneer also traveled to take on unfamiliar foes, playing Oakmont — the top seed in the Div. 3 field — and Oxford, a Div. 4 tournament team. 

The Panthers had the goal of taking home a state title, and the challenging schedule has Pioneer ready to go against the state’s best. 

“I wouldn’t say we felt any pressure to get back [to the Final Four],” Pioneer’s Ben Werner said. “We’ve just been trying to stick to what we know. We’re putting the ball in play and we’re excited to be back. We played a tougher schedule this year that definitely helped prepare us for these moments. I’d say we’re playing great baseball right now. Everyone is contributing and working hard.”

Senior Hugh Cyhowski — a UMass Boston commit — and Ethan Quinn were expected to lead the Pioneer rotation this spring, but an injury to Quinn opened the door to others. 

Werner, a lefty, is a reliable option for Panthers coach Kevin Luippold while freshman Jackson Glazier has been a revelation on the hill, putting together numerous strong performances throughout the year – no more so than when he pitched 6 1/3 innings in relief, struck out eight and allowed just the one run in Pioneer’s Western Mass. Class D championship game 11-inning loss to Ware. Glazier will get the starting nod on Tuesday night.

The Panthers have allowed just 59 runs in 24 games on the season, an average of 2.45 per game. Knowing the pitching will be there, Pioneer’s performance at the plate will likely determine just how far they can go. 

“It’s going to take the bats,” Tsipenyuk said. “We know our pitching is going to keep us in it. Jack has been great all year. Hugh has gotten us to this point and just pitched a great game against Douglas. He was amazing. We’re getting Quinn back in relief, we have Ben and people haven't seen him. We’re going to defend. We just have to hit. We don't have to put up 12 — we need four or five and to execute.” 

The Pioneer offense has scored 185 runs on the season, an average of 7.7 per game. Tsipenyuk, Alex McClelland, Evan Tsipenyuk, Cyhowski, Ethan Mauthe, Jackson Campbell, Werner, Heath Gomez and Glazier give the Panthers a lineup that can hit 1-through-9, and the bats have picked up of late. 

After scoring just four to knock off Hull in the opening round, Pioneer put up 11 in a win over Bromfield and on Sunday, scored eight runs to knock off Douglas in the quarterfinals. 

“We’ve come together and are executing,” Campbell said. “We’re playing small ball and really focusing on making sure everyone is making plays. At the beginning of the season we were trying to figure out how everyone was playing. We really started clicking.”

Defensively, the Panthers have stepped their game up in the postseason. The Pioneer defense was lights out against Douglas in the semis, and has become a strength of the team.

“We’re playing really well in the field,” McClelland said. “We’re just having fun, going with the flow and getting the extra work in. We have to hit. Jack is going to pitch really well.”

Georgetown earned the top seed in Div. 5 following an 18-1 campaign, the majority of its opponents playing in either Div. 3 or 4. 

The Royals made the semis following wins over No. 32 Cape Cod RVT (11-0), No. 16 Maynard (9-0) and No. 9 Hopkins (9-2). On the season, Georgetown has outscored its opponents 206-42, surrendering just 1.9 runs per game. 

A closely-knit team, Pioneer is looking to stick together and get over the semifinal wall and into Friday’s D5 championship game at Polar Park in Worcester. 

“We all need to be together and engaged all the time,” Campbell said. “A lot of times when we get down, it’s because we’re quiet. We just need to be up the whole time, engaged and together. When someone’s down, we need to pick them back up.” 

It’s all about playing your best down the stretch, as Greenfield has shown the last two years. 

It was a team meeting after the 3-8 start that helped the Green Wave get going in the right direction, with a win over Frontier shortly after — their first win over the Redhawks since 2019 — giving Greenfield the confidence it could turn things around. 

“We had a good team meeting,” Greenfield’s Michael Pierce recalled. “After the team meeting we pulled our stuff together. We had better camaraderie after that. We’re seniors so realizing we could end our season without going to states was a tough realization for us.”  

Having a nothing-to-lose attitude after the start of the year has helped the Green Wave play free throughout the state tournament, pulling out wins over Westfield Tech (5-2) and Bourne (7-3) – the Canalmen having ended Greenfield’s season in the quarters a year ago. 

Playing well on the defensive side has given the Green Wave a boost down the stretch. 

“I thought we could do it but I didn’t think we would,” Greenfield’s John Marchefka said. “It was a do or die moment. We were 3-8 and we knew we had to make something happen. That realization helped us. Our defense has really kept us together. We’ve been incredibly focused. When we need to make plays, we’ve made the plays. That’s been the biggest thing.” 

Despite being a 15 seed, it’d be wrong to doubt Greenfield on Tuesday. 

The Green Wave have two aces — Pierce and Caleb Thomas — who are capable of shutting any team down. Arthur Fitzpatrick and Deven Dubie provide other arms in the pen. Since the 3-8 start, Greenfield has held its opponents to just 26 runs in 11 games, an average of 2.3 per contest. With Thomas pitching a complete game against Bourne on Saturday, Pierce will get the start on Tuesday against English. 

“After beating Bourne we have a lot of confidence,” Pierce said. “We’re not as intimidated as you’d think facing this new, big team. We’ve made it just as far as they did.”

At the plate, Dubie, Marchefka and Pierce are senior bats who can all hit the ball at the top of the lineup. Thomas, Preston LaFleur, Luca Siano and Fitzpatrick have been multi-year starters for the Green Wave while eighth graders Chase Zraunig and Nick Prasol have cracked the lineup and made big impacts. 

Greenfield has scored 143 runs in its 22 games this season, an average of 6.5 per game. 

“The beginning of the season was rough,” Dubie said. “We honestly didn’t know if we’d even make states. We pulled it together and started playing some good baseball. In states a lot of teams beat teams they weren’t supposed to beat. It fell right for us.” 

Suchanek, the longtime Green Wave coach, has seen his fair share of state semifinal games, last playing one in 2013. He noted that typically the games have been very competitive, telling his team not to focus on the opponent’s seed or record. 

“We lost three games by one run,” Suchanek said. “We were there. It’s nice getting here. I’ve been here before in the old format and every time we were here, we didn’t get beat by a lot. We had three games by one run and I don’t think we’ve been beaten by more than two runs. I told these guys, forget about the seeds and their record. It doesn’t mean anything now. Teams get hot and you can beat teams that are better than you. You still have to play it between the lines.

“We’ve peaked right now,” Suchanek added. “We have two good pitchers who will keep us in the game. The last two or three games, one we didn’t make any errors and two we only made one and it didn’t come back to haunt us. That’s all you can ask for.” 

Boston English enters with a 21-2 record, knocking off No. 30 Rockport (5-4), No. 14 Bartlett (11-1) and No. 6 Ayer Shirley (7-2) to reach the title game. 

The Eagles have outscored their opponents 210-73 on the season, with their two losses coming to Div. 1 opponents Acton-Boxborough (9-5) and Lincoln-Sudbury (10-8). So what will it take for the Green Wave to advance to the championship game? 

“It’s going to take a near perfect game,” Greenfield senior Keegan Fisher said.