ANDOVER, Mass. -– Over the course of the 2013 season, the success of the Phillips Andover baseball team has hinged on three arms, or, more specifically, two right-handers and a southpaw.
Senior Rory Ziomek and sophomore Tim Salvadore, or simply 'Sal' to teammates and coaches, have brought power from the right side, while post grad Tim Superko has added craftiness from the left.
This talent -– Ziomek and Superko are headed to Tufts University next season, and Salvadore has verbally committed to Boston College –- led Big Blue to an 8-6 regular season record and a second straight Central New England Prep School Baseball League (CNEPSBL) title. Last weekend in Worcester, Mass., PA defeated Deerfield Academy in the semis and Worcester Academy in the finals for the crown.
"Rory’s been with us for three seasons now, and he’s like an old pro," said fifth-year head coach Kevin Graber when asked to breakdown his three hurlers. "He understands every facet of this program and how we pitch. Superko is equally experienced, but it’s his first year (here). Sal is young, has a year under his belt and he’s kind of a phenom. He’s still got two years of high school; he throws really hard (and) competes like you wouldn’t believe. They all bring a little different piece to the equation.
"I have to think ... this is the strongest pitching staff we’ve had in recent memory."
In Ziomek, a 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound, Amherst native, Graber has what he describes as "John Wayne because he’s like the gunslinger at the OK Corral. He just stands on the rubber, looks at you over the top of his glove and you know you’re gonna get his best."
Heading into the season finale this Saturday against Phillips Exeter Academy, Ziomek has pitched 37.1 innings and posted a 1.50 ERA and 52 strikeouts. His last two regular season starts were back-to-back complete game shutouts, including a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts versus Tabor Academy to clinch a playoff berth.
Ziomek’s arsenal features mid-80s four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a slider in the mid-70's and a changeup around 70 mph. But his on-mound demeanor –- best summed up as fierce and intense –- is what distinguishes him from Superko and Sal.
“He knows what pitch to throw and when and where,” said senior catcher Harry Roche after describing Ziomek as magical. “He will hit you in your weak spot whenever he feels it’s necessary to hit you there. And he’ll make sure you end up grounding out if he wants you to or striking out if he wants.”
In three years at PA, Ziomek’s evolved from a thrower to a pitcher. And when he takes the mound for Tufts next spring, he will do so as the second person in his family currently pitching in college. Older brother, Kevin, a lefthander, is a junior at Vanderbilt University who this season has racked up two SEC Pitcher of the Week awards, 10 wins and a 1.99 ERA.
Superko also understands how to pitch, but according to the lefty tends to rely more on his curve. With only one season at PA, the Wellesley product developed most of his pitching acumen at Wellesley High in the Bay State Conference.
"Polished," said Graber when asked what differentiates Superko. "When he came to me he knew how to pitch."
The 6-foot-2-inch, 170-pound post grad throws a mid-80's fastball, a curveball he acknowledges as his ‘out pitch’ and “lots of changeups to right-handed hitters to keep them off-balance.” It’s been a successful recipe. Over 26 innings he has a 2.42 ERA and has held opponents to a .170 batting average.
"I’m competitive," Superko said. "Once I get on the mound I’m kind of in the zone. People will be like, 'Did you hear me cheering for you?' or something. I’m like, 'Nah, I was pitching. I can’t hear anything.'"
It’s this mindset which led his fellow starters to label him as both calm and tenacious.
"Superko’s really good at mixing up his pitches," said Roche, a day student from Andover who plans to walk on at Villanova University. "You never know what’s coming. I was hitting off him the other day and he was throwing a curveball when I wasn’t expecting it. And his changeup, it’s the best on the team in my opinion."
The triumvirate’s youngster, Sal, has the potential to not only excel at Boston College but perhaps beyond.
"Future Major Leaguer," said Graber of his sophomore stud from Holliston. "I work in scouting and I have a background in professional baseball. I believe in my heart that he will play in the Major Leagues."
In his second season at PA, the fiery and vocal 6-foot-3-inch, 180-pound hurler pitched 29.2 innings and led the staff with a 1.18 ERA and 4-0 record.
"I look to get ahead in the counts and get quick outs," Sal said. "That allows me to go deep in the ballgames. I feel like I can rely on a fastball/slider combination."
His four-seam fastball tops out at 90 mph, and is complimented by a sinker in the high-80s and a high-70s slider and changeup. This combination has made Sal the staff’s most dominant arm and one that oftentimes leaves batters feeling uneasy.
"I would say he’s wild," Superko said. "But that has a negative connotation when you’re pitching. He’s composed while being wild to the point of making hitters uncomfortable."
Sal boasts the deepest baseball roots. His father pitched in college for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and his grandfather was drafted by the Montreal Expos.
Big Blue’s 2013 campaign was built around three players who, at times, carried the team. Each played a pivotal role, especially during the two playoff games, in giving PA its 10th CNEPSBL title since 1988.
"Sal is a huge reason why we were able to come out on top on Saturday," Graber said. "He got the start in the semis against Deerfield and was amazing, with just one earned run in five complete innings.
"Rory came in on two days rest and pitched the sixth and seventh to close out the semifinals win."
And Superko pitched a complete game six hitter with seven strikeouts to secure the finals victory over Worcester.
Both Sal, who was named First-Team All-Central New England, and Rory, who was awarded the Central New England MVP, were individually recognized.
But their legacy along -– along with Superko –- will not be based on awards or championships. Instead it will be in their impact on future PA pitching recruits, the stories teammates will recall once their playing days are past and the cohesion with which they carried themselves.
"I think it just continues the idea that every year Andover strongly emphasizes their pitching staff," Ziomek responded when asked about their legacy. "Every year I’ve been here it’s gotten better. I think this will help (Coach Graber) and the rest of the team (recruit) new talent, younger kids, that he can work through the ranks."
"When I caught Rory during his one-hitter against Exeter," Roche said. "I went up to him afterwards and said, 'Rory, you gave me one of the best feelings multiple times in this game.' That feeling was striking out a kid looking to end an inning, tossing the ball back to the mound (and seeing) the kid would just stare there and look at it come in."
"One of the conversations I had with them early was that you have to foster the notion that you’re a team within a team," Graber said. "When you guys condition, you condition together. When you long toss, you long toss together. When you do flat ground work, you do flat ground work together. When we watch video, we watch video together. You guys need to support each other even when you’re not on the mound.
"And they have totally bought into that and (that’s why) they’re a true pitching staff."
ISL BASEBALL: SENIOR ROUND UP
A quick look at a few of the top seniors who will be playing collegiately next season:
Brendon Canavan (Middlesex School): Playing this season with a torn ACL suffered during an ISL ski race this winter, the 6-foot-1-inch, 180-pound catcher has been relegated to first base. But the team captain’s hitting has not suffered. Canavan is batting .424 with a .548 OBP through 12 games, and also providing the tone-setting leadership that, according to his coach, John Morrissey, has led to solid team chemistry.
Next year, Canavan, who lives in Carlisle, will suit up for Bates College, a decision he based on a number of factors, including the chance to play for coach Mike Leonard, a former Red Sox catcher. With two surgeries scheduled this summer –- one on his knee and the other on his right rotator cuff –- Canavan’s focused on improving his position flexibility.
"I’m working on my versatility since I can’t play catcher this year," Canavan said. "When I get (to Bates) next year (Coach Leonard) will have a senior catcher. So he was talking more about if (I’ll be) ready to play with my knee and shoulder and also trying first base, right field, left field...another position where I could play to get my bat into the lineup."
Cameron DiSarcina (Groton School): Through 12 games, the 5-foot-11-inch, 135-pound shortstop, who bats lefty and throws righty, has 18 hits in 36 plate appearances with 11 RBI. Coached by his father, Glenn, a former minor leaguer, and nephew to Gary, a 12-year major league shortstop, Cameron comes from strong baseball lineage.
But when the Shirley resident opted to play for Merrimack College next fall, it wasn’t a decision based solely on baseball. In Merrimack, DiSarcina found a great fit with its strong engineering department, close geographic proximity and solid baseball program. Plus, he’ll have the chance to play immediately.
"My Dad got recruited to Division 1 (UMass) and all that stuff," DiSarcina said. "But he told me that it’s not about going to play D1. It’s about finding the place where you’re going to be the happiest on and off the field."
This summer he’ll hone his game -– including expanding his inside plate coverage, adding more muscle and developing as an outfielder –- as a member of the Chelmsford Legion.
And when he finally pulls on the Warriors’ uniform next spring, his father will be there to watch.
"It’s going to be nice to see him play for the next four years," Glenn admitted.
Trevor Holmes (Governor's Academy): Arguably the ISL’s most feared hitter Holmes leads the league with four homeruns, while also batting .462 with 15 RBI through 12 games.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pound catcher is described by his coach, Mike Kinnealey, as possessing tremendous bat speed and power, a dynamic arm and the mental makeup to thrive in the most stressful game situations. It was this combination of attributes which captured the University of Connecticut’s interest and earned Holmes a baseball scholarship.
In addition to catching this season, the two-year captain has also joined Governor’s pitching staff. Over 21 innings, he’s posted a 1.67 ERA with 26 strikeouts and six walks. His success has opened the possibility of pitching and/or catching for the Huskies.
"I used to pitch back in middle school," Holmes said, "But I came in here and the opportunity arose for me to be a catcher. I threw off the hill once last summer, and my summer coach liked what he saw so he put me on the mound and exposed me a little bit. It took off from there."
This summer Holmes will again play for North East Baseball, before leaving his hometown of Ashburnham for the Storrs, Conn. campus and summer classes on July 11.