By Jim Sullivan
---- — After seeing 13 of 18 players graduate from his program last year, American Legion Post 150 coach Tim Southall knew he had his work cut out for him.
“I think this is going to be one of our more challenging years, just because of the turnover,” Southall said of his 14th season. “It’s a whole new year, a whole new challenge from the last four or five years. But we’re still heavy favorites in District 8. The other teams in the league kind of have it in for us. We get everybody’s best, every time out, that’s for sure.”
last year’s team was laden with former Newburyport state champions like Ryan O’Connor and Jimmy Conway, as well as Triton and Amesbury alumni including Blaise Whitman, J.C. Collette, Tim Cashman. Add in Georgetown Division 4 state champion Ryan Browner and Amherst College’s Charles Nutter, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning during a tournament game two years ago, and it’s no wonder last year’s Nor’Easters racked up a 24-5 record. The 2012 squad was also named District 8 champions and became North Sectional champs, eventually bowing out to New Bedford in the state semifinals.
“Twelve of those 13 actually played college ball this year,” Southall said. “It’s hard to take, but it’s great to see all those guys move on and play at another level.”
This year’s Nor’Easters still have the pick of the litter when it comes to local high school and first-year college players and will not disappoint when it comes to star power. Pentucket’s Corey McNamara will be on the mound after a year at St. Joseph’s College.
“He had a good year up there pitching for them,” Southall said. “So we expect big things from him this year.”
McNamara will be joined on the field by fellow Sachems Darren Engelke, Ryan Kuchar, Josh Creamer and Bobby Barry while Bishop Fenwick’s Joe Levasseur will also be taking the ball for the Nor’Easters.
“He had a great season and a great career at Bishop Fenwick,” Southall said of Levasseur. “And we’re looking at him to really step up and become one of our top guys on the mound this year.”
One returning Clipper state champion will be the mystifying pitcher Brett Fontaine, who closed out Newburyport’s state championship back in 2011. Fontaine will also be able to count on his fellow state-champion and brother Colt to back him up at second base. Another Newburyport hurler for Post 150 will be leftie Connor MacRae.
Behind the dish will be Amesbury’s Mac Short while St. John’s Prep ‘s Tyler Chaisson and the Governor’s Academy’s Mark Daniel Beluk will also be donning the tools of ignorance for the Nor’Easters. Triton’s Richard Fecteau will be playing at shortstop once his time in the Cape Cod League is done and Georgetown’s,David and Colby Ingraham will be putting in their first year of service.
“That’s generally one of the biggest challenges for me,” said Southall. “Getting all these guys together and gelling on the same team. (But) it’s a hometown team. For guys who have played their high school careers elsewhere, this gives them a chance to play at home and in front of a hometown crowd.”
Currently at 1-0, the Nor’Easters will play Exeter at Eiras Park in Rowley Saturday at 3 p.m., then take on Middleton Sunday at 5 p.m.
“They know they need to compete, but they also know that they’re going to have a good time doing it,” said Southall. “But my goal is to get them better. So, they need to come prepared to play. This is probably the best team that any of these guys will ever play on. It’s better than any high school team. It’s comparable to some Division 3, some Division 2 schools. These are guys who are all going to be playing in college, and they’ve got to compete.”
Legion ball can help with college play, but it can also lead to other things. Nor’Easters alumni Michael Johnson of Georgetown was just drafted in the 14th round by the L.A. Dodgers organization.
“He texted me right after he got the call,” Southall said of Johnson. “And I was grinning from ear to ear. He’s a great kid, and he’s worked really hard. It’s something that I can share with the players on the team.”