Hopkins Academy's Banas a hidden gem

ATHOL, Mass. -- With each delivery, the expression on Garrison Banas’ face told the story.

Banas, the senior wunderkind of the Hadley-based Hopkins Academy baseball team, was hit by a pitch a day earlier against Mohawk Regional just below the right knee.

The prognosis during the bus ride home from Buckland was not good. Banas could barely put weight on the leg let alone be expected to take the mound for his next scheduled start (Saturday) against Athol.

But a phone conversation between Banas and Hopkins coach Pat Lemieux early yesterday morning told a different story. Banas said he wanted to give it go.

Despite being in constant pain Banas managed to gut out a seven-inning performance, allowing four hits while striking out 15 as the Golden Hawks rallied late to pull out a 6-4 victory. The performance was just another example of the competitive fire that burns inside him.

There is little doubt that Banas has emerged as one of the top pitchers in all of Massachusetts. His numbers are staggering. He has recorded 373 career strikeouts. Last season he tossed three no-hitters, including a perfect game. Earlier this season he combined with teammate Aiden Barrett on a no-no and just this past Monday Banas hurled another no-hitter of his own while striking out 17 against Pioneer Valley Regional. In 60 1/3 innings pitched thus far this season, he has allowed just 19 hits and has tabbed 132 strikeouts to go along with his eight victories. Banas, a lefty who is clocked in the high 80s and throws four different pitches, says he approaches every game with the same mind-set.

“I just try to get better each time out,” said the 5-11 Banas, who has maintained a 3.30 GPA and will prep at the Salisbury School next season. “[Saturday] I couldn’t use the excuse that my knee was hurting because the rest of my teammates look up to me and I didn‘t want to let them down. I’m basically going out there not looking to pitch a perfect game but to just give my best effort. I don’t pre-determine that I’m going to go out there and throw another no-hitter. Sometimes it just happens that way.”

Banas, along with Barrett (10 hits allowed in 31.2 innings, 40 Ks), have become Hopkins’ one-two punch on the mound and both are key reasons as to why the Golden Hawks have staked themselves out to a 14-2 record and sit atop the Hampshire League standings.

“I try to learn from how [Garrison] pitches,” said Barrett, a junior, who drove in the winning run against Athol with a two-out double in his club’s final at bat. “Like him, I’m always working and trying to get better. When I’m on the mound I try to be as good as Garrison but everything is about team here. There’s no animosity between us at all. We all need to work together as a team in order to get better.”

It’s no secret that whenever Banas or Barrett toe the rubber the Golden Hawks like their chances. The goals here are the same as most high school programs -- earn enough victories to qualify for the postseason, win the league title and take your best shot at a state championship.

Last year, Hopkins didn’t win its league but did qualify for the postseason, reaching the Division 3 Western Mass. semifinals before falling to Ware.

Lemieux is smart enough not to look too far into the future in terms of state titles just yet. Instead he adheres to the old adage of taking things one game at time. But it’s hard not to think this team finds itself in a viable position to do something special this year knowing they can give the ball to either Banas or Barrett and not have to worry.

In regards to Banas, Lemieux has had the luxury of coaching him for four seasons and admits his amazement every time he watches him pitch.

“I don’t know where he breaks down into all-time greatness but he’s the best pitcher I’ve every seen,” said Lemieux. “He’s special for us and he’s special for our school. For me personally he’s a great kid. I love him like my own son. Every year he’s just gotten better and better. He does a great job mixing his pitches and hitting his spots. At times he can be overpowering and at times he can be a wizard and just screws you into the ground with his junk. He’s tough and he’s a natural leader on this team and everyone looks up to him.”

Lemieux, who also serves as Hopkins' athletic director, was quick to point out that during the offseason Banas spends much of his time working on improving his game whether it be in the weight room, throwing in the gym, working with private pitching coaches or reading books on pitching fundamentals.

All of that extra work has paid huge dividends not only for the Golden Hawks but for Banas himself, who hopes to play for a Division 1 college program following his stint at the Salisbury School.

It would be easy for Banas, when you consider all of the attention and fanfare he has received, to let it go to his head. But not so. He is a kid without an ego and views himself as just one of the guys on this team. Through a solid upbringing, Banas has made sure to keep both feet planted on the ground. He also isn’t fazed by the fact that some people may cast a bias eye toward him due to the fact that he pitches at the Division 3 level where the talent pool may not be quite as strong as compared to Division 1 baseball in the state.

“To me it doesn’t matter what division you play in,” he said. “If you’re doing very well and throwing your best stuff people are going to come and look at you. It doesn’t matter where you play they’ll come find you.”

It’s a pretty safe bet that some collegiate program will find Garrison Banas soon enough as well.