The Hopedale High boys tennis team started its season with three specific goals for the 2019 season — win the Dual Valley Conference title; capture the Division 3 Central Sectional championship; and win the State crown.
Two out of three isn’t shabby but a trace of disappointment and frustration lingers for the Blue Raiders.
They advanced to the State championship final once again but Weston was standing in their way after the Blue Raiders advanced to the finale by virtue of a 5-0 triumph over Belchertown in the semifinals. Weston, which shut out Hopedale, 5-0, has now defeated the Blue Raiders for the State crown for the last three years.
The Wildcats’ Jacob Gilligan, Ben Gilligan and Michael Philipkosky won their singles matches and their doubles teams of Masaki Nawa and Josh Li and Logan Brand and Chris Colsman also were victorious.
“It is disappointing to lose in the State championship game and it’s also frustrating to lose to Weston for the third straight time,’’ said Hopedale co-coach Ryan Mulry. “But, it’s a testament to our kids to play in three straight State finals. It’s a difficult task and it takes lots of hard work to get there.’’
The odds of Hopedale dethroning the Wildcats were long and Mulry was acutely aware of the Herculean task that his Blue Raiders faced. “Weston is a powerhouse program,’’ he emphasized. “They know what’s needed to win and they’re very businesslike.’’
Mulry, nevertheless, lauded his core group, saying: “They’re a lot of fun to be around and it was evident at the start of the season that they had a desire to get back to the States. The players did a fantastic job of enhancing the tennis tradition at Hopedale. Five of the seven starters are seniors but there’s a good group coming up that’s eager to get their chance.’’
The Blue Raiders earned their third matchup against Weston by blanking Belchertown, which entered the semifinals with 17 wins. Jack Figgins, Matt Costanza and Ben Tammaro all won their singles matches and the doubles teams of Tyler Flynn and Jackson Tahmoush and Griffen Nosek and Gabe Terando made it a clean sweep.
“We played well across the board,’’ said Mulry after the semifinal. “They gave us their best punch but we responded, fought hard and finished strong.’’
Hopedale dominated Belchertown and they also dominated the Sectional playoffs. The Blue Raiders took control by defeating Hudson and Quaboag by 4-1 scores then clinched the crown by blanking Bromfield, 5-0.
“Winning the Sectional for the second consecutive year was cool,’’ said Mulry. “It’s also unbelievable because it took a lot of adapting. The spring was tough with all the rain forcing last-minute postponements and canceled practices.’’
The 25-year-old Mulry, who shares the coaching duties with Brian Kiesman, points to a variety of strengths that enabled the Blue Raiders to finish the regular season at 13-3 and end the campaign at 17-4.
“A strong work ethic, focus, athleticism, depth and technique were our key assets,’’ Mulry emphasized. “Having five seniors gave us experience and all seven of our starters are multi-sport athletes.’’
Figgins competed at first singles and was dynamic all season. A quality student-athlete, Mulry labels him “an excellent ambassador’’ for Hopedale tennis. “Jack has good technical ability,’’ Mulry said. “He’s accurate, has great endurance and can wear opponents down.’’
Costanza, called “the face of the program’’ by Mulry, played second singles. The six-year veteran gets well-deserved praise. “Mat is a talented power player,’’ Mulry said. “He’s consistent and his tennis IQ is off the charts.’’
Tammaro saw duty at third singles. Referred to as “the road-runner’’ by opposing coaches, Mulry said the label is appropriate because he can run all day. “Ben forces his opponents to make mistakes,’’ Mulry noted. “He’s a competitor who’s very athletic and his tennis IQ is very good.’’
Flynn and Tahmoush complemented one another well at first doubles. “They were together for about a month,’’ Mulry said. “Both are excellent ground-stroke players and Jackson has one of the best serves on the team.’’
The second doubles contingent included Nosek and Terando. “Griffen was a first-year player who relied on great instincts and was selected as the team’s most improved player. Gabe is a pure athlete. He’s got a high tennis IQ and he was chosen as the recipient of the Coaches Award.’’
Softball Squad Ousted
By Turners Falls
Hopedale High’s softball team has been to the State Tournament four times in Shanna Lathrop’s eight-year tenure as the Blue Raiders’s coach. And, for the fourth time, Turners Falls again proved to be a thorn in Hopedale’s side as the Western champion eliminated the Blue Raiders, 9-1, in the semifinal at UMass-Amherst.
The way the season ended for Hopedale’s players and fans was disappointing but the team’s overall achievements were outstanding. The girls posted a 9-1 record to win the Dual Valley Conference title, then methodically beat West Boylston, Assabet and Millbury to claim the Division 3 Central Sectional championship. Hopedale finished its campaign at 19-3.
“It’s disappointing,’’ Lathrop said. “The girls, however, should hold their heads high because of what they achieved. We’re still young, so we could be back in the States again.’’
Hopedale’s only run came in the fourth inning when Kathleen Maloney tripled to right field and scored on Taylor Goldstein’s groundout to first. The Thunder took control by scoring two runs in the second inning on Aly Murphy’s home run and adding two more when Lexi Lacey doubled in the fifth.
Lathrop was pleased that her forces battled hard and never gave up in spite of the Thunder’s potent offensive attack. “They’re a stronger team but we got hits and had runners on base. We just couldn’t drive them across. We put the ball in play often but their defense was excellent. As for our kids, they’re a wonderful group, very coachable and one of the best teams I’ve ever had. ’’
The Sectional, which the Blue Raiders have won four times in the last eight years, was a show of strength, determination and grit. Hopedale pummeled West Boylston, 14-2, and Assabet got similar treatment in a 13-3 loss. The final, however, was a challenge as the Blue Raiders overcame four errors, broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning and posted a 3-1 victory. Rachel Swanson’s double to left field off Millbury pitcher Abi Gilbert drove in two runs, clinching the win.
“Rachel gave us some strong play in the Sectional,’’ Lathrop said. “The overall key to winning the tourney was our preparation and our resiliency. Millbury was the second seed. It was a hard-fought win because we committed four errors and left eight runners on base.’’
The Blue Raiders’ talented nucleus carried the squad all year long, relying on togetherness and a team-first attitude.
Sophomore Bianca Fitch was the team’s top pitcher. She had an 18-3 record and an earned-run-average of 1.86. She also hit .367. “Bianca demonstrated poise all year,’’ Lathrop said. “Her control was good, she mixed her pitches well, and read the hitters effectively.’’
Another sophomore, third baseman Julia English, provided both offense and defense. She had a .363 batting average entering the States. “Julia was a consistent power hitter who’s also a skilled fielder,’’ Lathrop said.
Maloney, the centerfield, had a .507 batting average through 21 games. “Kat hit for power and she was very supportive,’’ Lathrop noted.
Other keys were Lena Swift in right field; catcher Carly Smith; Rowena Murphy at shortstop and Goldstein at first base. Swift hit .318 and Smith had 19 RBIs to go with her .323 average. Murphy took a .307 average into the States and Goldstein hit for a .417 average.
“Lena was consistent and aggressive at the plate,’’ Lathrop said. “Carly was the backbone of the infield. A solid contact hitter, she read opponents well and was a calming force. Rowena made the tough plays at shortstop and her arm is extremely strong. A tri-captain and a capable hitter, Taylor led by example and was very supportive.