One of Natick High’s best-kept secrets during the 2018-19 school year was just how capable and dynamic Kenny Phillips would be as a starting pitcher and how dominant Will Haskell would be as a hitter.
The tandem not only compiled some amazing statistics, but they also helped the Redhawks go 14-6 during the regular season, the best record for a Natick baseball team since 2010 when it posted a 15-5 mark.
Phillips and Haskell will be seniors next season and if their final campaign is anything like their junior seasons, coach Jayson Hoye no doubt will be pleased. Phillips went 6-2 and his earned-run average was 0.88. He pitched 47 innings, yielding six earned runs and walking only nine batters. Haskell hit .455, compiled 25 hits (14 for extra bases), had 27 runs-batted-in and scored 20 runs.
Both players, who were chosen as Bay State Conference all-stars, get high praise from their coach.
“Kenny relies on a fastball (low 80s mph), curve and change-up,’’ Hoye noted. “A right-hander, he works fast, has great location and he’s mentally tough. His control is excellent and he keeps the ball down, able to get opposing hitters to over-swing.’’
Haskell was the team’s designated-hitter but he also can play the outfield. “Will was amazing at the plate, knocking in 27 runs and scoring 20,’’ Hoye recalled. “He accounted for 47 of our 111 runs in the regular season. He swings hard and can hammer the ball. Will is a big strong left-hander who hits to all fields. He’s very competitive and puts together tough at-bats. Both Kenny and Will are role models, good students and capable of playing baseball at the college level.’’
The pair flew under the radar last spring but they’re acutely aware their final year will be a challenge. They know they’ll be targeted after their exceptional efforts as juniors. Following is a look at the Redhawks’ all-stars, their reflections on last season, their goals for 2020 and their hopes for better tournament results:
What makes the 5-foot-9, 125-pound Phillips so sound on the mound are his focus, aggressive style and high baseball IQ. Those strengths carried him through pre-season practice last spring.
“I wasn’t sure what role I’d have,’’ Phillips said. “I didn’t know if I’d be a starter or if I’d be used in relief. I got the nod to start our second game and began to settle in. I had prepared for the season by playing club baseball. I also worked out twice a week. Hard work paid off but what I achieved was still surprising.’’
Phillips put on an A-plus display when he pitched against Wellesley and faced off against their star hurler, Jay Driver, who’ll be pitching for Harvard next spring. All Phillips did was shut out Wellesley, 1-0. More dynamic was his pitch count. He finished his complete game, three-hitter by throwing only 59 pitches.
“That was the best game I had all season,’’ he noted. “It was exciting. As far as my top thrills for the season, I’d choose being selected as a BSC all-star and also starting in our tournament opener against Bridgewater-Raynham (5-1 loss in first round). It’s an honor to be included as an all-star because there are about six pitchers in the league who’ll be going to Division 1 schools. I knew I had a good season but still was surprised to be an all-star.’’
The Natick native knows he’ll have to be on his toes in 2020 because his heroics and his statistics are no longer under the radar.
“I didn’t think much about compiling statistics,’’ he said. “I just tried to keep improving every game. Will and I know we’ll have a target on our backs, so it’ll be about adjusting, improving and working on our mechanics. I played this summer in Georgia with my club team and I’ve worked on physical training. I’m not big so I concentrate on arm strength and mechanics.’’
Phillips ‘ team and individual goals for the year ahead are lofty but he’s up to the task. “I want to win every game, qualify for the Super 8 Tournament, win the Carey Division and advance as far as possible in the playoffs,’’ he emphasized. “Personally, I want to improve on my 0.88 E.R.A. and beat Newton North. It’ll take a huge effort to lower my E.R.A. but I’ll strive for that. And, I want to beat Newton North because I lost a pair of 1-0 games to them during the season.’’
Complimenting his catcher, Luke Grignaffini, “for keeping me calm,’’ Phillips admires Natick’s returning catcher for “his support, calling a strong game, taking charge and controlling the tempo.’’
Hoye also gets some well-deserved praise. “Coach Hoye knows the game, is approachable, knows how to motivate players and he builds confidence,’’ Phillips said. “He’s a calming influence who balances having fun and working hard.’’
Calling his parents (Ken and Mandy) role models for their support and encouragement, Phillips embraces a competitive philosophy that includes winning and reaching one’s potential. “Winning is important that’s why I take each at-bat and each inning one at a time,’’ he noted. “And, it’s also important to grow as a player and reach your potential. ‘’
Three life lessons Phillips learned during his junior season included “being resilient, being a good teammate and being mentally tough.’’
All of those factors entered into the equation when Phillips stepped onto a mound. Start with his stunning victory over Wellesley and finish with Natick’s 14-6 record, its’ best in nine years.
“That record was a big achievement and I was proud to be part of it,’’ Phillips said.
Early on, the role for Haskell was a bit more defined, thanks to getting called up from the jayvees as a sophomore. With five games left on Natick’s schedule, the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder clouted a three-run homer in his first home at-bat, sparking the Redhawks to a 5-3 triumph over Needham.
“It was exciting,’’ said Haskell. “We beat a rival and it was my first at-bat in my first game at home. It’s a great memory and I was pleased to be part of a varsity team as a sophomore.’’
Haskell’s style at the plate is a combination of being aggressive and also deliberate. He’ll jump on the first pitch if it’s decent and he’s willing to work the count. The clean-up hitter, his swing produced contact and power. Of his 14 extra-base hits, two were home runs.
“I’d like to think my strengths are seeing the ball well, being consistent, having a good baseball IQ and being steady on the bases,’’ he said. “My stats last spring were good because of the three hitters in front of me — Max Ferrucci, Aidan Hawley and Felix Ferrucci. They made it easy and gave me a chance to see good pitches and do some damage.’’
Haskell showed the kind of damage he could do on the diamond when Natick played North Attleboro in a non-league game in April. The Redhawks won, 9-6, and improved to 3-0. “I went 2-for-3 and had a homer and a triple for two RBIs,’’ he recalled. “They were the defending Division 2 champs. We jelled and the win enabled us to start fast.’’
Haskell is definitely aware that he’ll see the best every opposing pitcher has next spring. He knows he’ll be on the radar screen.
“I never thought I’d compile the numbers I had this year,’’ he said. “It happened quickly and change came fast. Everything was positive except losing in our playoff opener. The key to another quality season will be a strong work ethic, a will to improve, to be flexible and ready.’’
Haskell’s teams goals for 2020 are: win as many games as possible, win the BSC, and qualify for the playoffs. His individual goals don’t include statistics. “I’m not concerned with numbers,’’ he emphasized. “It’s about winning and that means focusing on at-bats, hitting hard, adjusting to pitchers, improving and being flexible. Losing in the tourney opener was a big disappointment because the season ended so quickly. Winning games tops stats and rankings.’’
Haskell, however, was honored and humbled when he was selected as a BSC all-star. “It wasn’t an objective,’’ he noted. “But, to be included with other talented players is pleasing. I was surprised to be chosen and it’s a feather in your cap but winning was still my prime focus.’’
Crediting his right-fielder (Aidan Hawley) as a quality contributor, Haskell admires his ability and talent. “Aidan has a strong arm, good strength and is a clutch competitor who gets on base often,’’ he said. “And, our coach deserves credit for the year we had. He stresses hard work and has faith in his players. He’s a good motivator who has a solid relationship with his players.’’
Calling his parents (Joel and Heather) role models for their encouragement, Haskell has excelled because he’s a proponent of an athletic philosophy that stresses winning by competing hard. “The key is to compete intensely and earn your victories,’’ he said. “Reaching your potential every day is another key and that’s achieved by resiliency, mental toughness and leadership.’’
A native of Natick, Haskell is preparing for his senior year by playing club and Legion baseball. “I work out often and I work on hitting,’’ he said.
That formula and an ability to adapt make Will Haskell a premier offensive threat.