Having a good left-handed pitcher in your rotation can mean the difference between a good season and a great one. Case in point, last year's Newburyport team was able to ride the two-man rotation of Brett Fontaine and lefty Ryan O'Connor all the way to a state championship.
O'Connor is now off at Bentley University, leaving the Clippers in search of a new southpaw. Luckily for them, they had junior Connor MacRae waiting in the wings.
In his first varsity season, MacRae has gone 4-0 with one no decision and put together an ERA of 0.41. And when he's not on the mound, MacRae plays a mean first base.
"There's no question that he's been solid as a junior," Clippers coach Steve Malenfant says of MacRae. "The expectations will just grow higher for him. He now has experience. I hesitate to say it, but there's almost that Clint Eastwood element to him. Still waters run deep is probably the key phrase with him."
Like many Newburyport players, MacRae started playing baseball in the Pioneer League at the age of 6.
"Those were the days," MacRae says of his time in the Pioneer League. "All of our friends would meet up down there, and we'd watch each other play. I had always pitched in the Pioneer League, but it wasn't a big thing. Any kid could pitch then."
Pitching became more important when MacRae got to the junior varsity level last year. He did well enough to make it onto the varsity roster come tournament time. MacRae didn't see any playing time, but he was able to observe O'Connor's slider and liked what he saw.
"I noticed that he could throw a slider for a strike, and that made me really want to throw that pitch," MacRae says of O'Connor. "(Now) that's my go-to pitch. If I'm not throwing well with my fastball, I can just go right to my slider, and it's a strike. It's a weird pitch, it just snaps right into the strike zone."
MacRae got his first chance to throw that slider in a varsity game against Amesbury in late April. He also recorded his first win that day with the 5-3 victory. But it was the no decision against Pentucket on May 7 that MacRae says was his favorite game so far.
MacRae was matched against the Sachems' lefty ace Alex Ministeri, and both southpaws ended up throwing into the 10th inning in what would be a 14-inning affair that the Clippers were able to win 4-3 on a passed ball.
"All I would ask him each inning was, 'How is you arm feeling?'" Malenfant says of MacRae, who went 9 1/3 innings that afternoon. "And he'd say, 'Great, not a problem.'"
"(There was) something about that day," says MacRae. "I was getting more momentum as the game went on. My arm honestly wasn't tired at all. Although, obviously the next day it was killing me."
With his arm feeling fine during a win against Maimonides last Sunday, MacRae decided he was ready to take his spot behind Fontaine and Colby Morris in the Clippers' tournament rotation.
"The team's mood is pretty good," MacRae says going into the tournament next week. "We've got two good captains, so we get good encouragement from them. I'd say we're ready to go."
"Connor's a quality person," says Malenfant. "He's a good student, he works at things. He's quietly efficient. That's probably the key element to him."
Malenfant feels that MacRae's talents and poise will take him and the Clippers far.
"I think that because he holds his poise so well while he's on the mound, nothing really freaks him out," says Malenfant. "He knows his situations. He understands what he has to do to throw strikes. It's been a pleasant addition, because it allows us to go three deep so that the other two guys can get a little rest on their arm. That pretty much bodes well for the tournament, too."
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