Since its inception, the MIAA Division 1A "Super Eight" state baseball tournament has forced teams hopeful to earn an invitation to ratchet up the level of competition on their regular season schedules. That trend will continue for the 2017 as some of the premier programs from all over the state have agreed to take part in the first annual Compass Challenge.
The Compass Challenge will pit teams from different sectional regions against each other in a one day, one venue event. The first Compass Challenge will take place April 15, 2017 with 10 teams taking the field at Plymouth North High School.
“Massachusetts high school baseball has become a lot like college football,” said Silver Lake coach Kenny Tocci, who organized the event. “If you want to be in the Super 8 at the end of the year, you really have to build a resume all season.”
The Compass Challenge is sure to be a chance to build those resumes, as the lineup features two teams that won state titles last spring, two more that won Sectional crowns and a fifth that appeared in the Super 8. The field also features four teams that have a combined five appearances in the first three Super 8 tournaments.
“Some of the best teams in the state are going to be playing together on one day,” Tocci said. “Any team playing in this could wind up in the Super 8, and in any given year, this day of games will feature multiple teams that compete for state titles.”
From the South Sectional, Plymouth North, St. John Paul II, Bridgewater-Raynham and Whitman-Hanson will all join Silver Lake in competing, while Lincoln-Sudbury comes from the North and West Springfield, Taconic, Westfield and Minnechaug will all represent the West Sectional.
Match-ups for the first Compass Challenge will be:
Silver Lake vs. West Springfield
Lincoln-Sudbury vs. Plymouth North
Westfield vs. Bridgewater-Raynham
Taconic vs. St. John Paul II
“This field is easy to get excited about, especially when you consider the histories of some of these teams,” said Tocci. “Lincoln-Sudbury and B-R have both D1 state titles, and have been in the Super 8. Plymouth North has won D2 state titles and made the Super 8. West Springfield won the D1 state title last year. We’ve been in the Super 8 and won a sectional last year. Saint John Paul is the best smaller school in the state and has three state titles”
“Every team playing is extremely talented,” Tocci added. “Whitman-Hanson is a top team in D2, and the others out west could all compete deep into June.”
Added West Springfield coach Garrett Kendziera: “This event is going to be fantastic. You don’t see stuff like this every day. To have all these teams with so much talent in one spot, it really is great for high school baseball. If you like baseball, there’s going to be no better place to be.”
Competing deep into June is one of the things that helped kick-start this event. Last spring, West Springfield trekked to Kingston for a battle with Silver Lake in a battle of Super 8 hopefuls. Both fell short of that bid, but both went on to win their Sectional crowns with West Springfield eventually knocking of Lincoln-Sudbury to win the Division 1 state title.
“I really think that game against Silver Lake set us on the path to winning last year,” said Kendziera. “We end up losing on a walk-off homer by the Gatorade Player of the Year in one of the best games I’ve been a part of, but it built a lot of confidence for my guys that they could truly play with any team in the state.”
Both coaches knew they wanted to meet between the lines again next year, and the event sprouted from that seed of an idea.
“We had kicked around the idea of trying to make it an annual thing, and other teams got pretty excited about the idea right away,” said Kendziera. “We obviously added SL and St. Peter Marian last year to bolster our Super 8 chances and to be ready for the tournament. The other coaches out here were excited to have a chance to show that the west could match-up with anyone.”
PLAYING FOR A CAUSE
The Compass Challenge will also be used to raise awareness of Lupus, as well as to provide charitable donations to the Lupus Foundation. All proceeds from the event will go to the foundation, and players will all wear something with the color purple on it, which represents Lupus awareness.
“We’re hoping it will really open people’s eyes to what Lupus is,” said Tocci, whose mother passed away due to complications with the disease. “Not everyone knows what Lupus is, but it’s really devastating to see someone go through it. We’re excited for a great day of baseball to help a great cause about something that’s not really well known.”