2024 high school baseball preview: Pioneer looks to get over Final Four hump

Pioneer’€s Hugh Cyhowski pitches against Franklin Tech in Northfield last spring.

Pioneer’€s Hugh Cyhowski pitches against Franklin Tech in Northfield last spring. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL Franz

Frontier celebrates the last out after beating Smith Vocational  at Vets Field in Greenfield in the Western Mass. Class C championship game last spring.

Frontier celebrates the last out after beating Smith Vocational at Vets Field in Greenfield in the Western Mass. Class C championship game last spring. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL Franz

Greenfield’s Michael Pierce pitches against Granby  at Vets Field last spring.

Greenfield’s Michael Pierce pitches against Granby at Vets Field last spring. STAFF PHOTO/THOMAS JOHNSTON

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 04-03-2024 5:13 PM

Modified: 04-03-2024 6:14 PM


Is it possible to finish the year with a 21-2 record and not be satisfied with the results? 

The Pioneer baseball team sure wasn’t. 

The Panthers won the first 18 games of their season in 2023 and did so in convincing fashion, cruising into the Western Mass. Class D finals. There, Pioneer fell to Ware in a close 3-1 contest. 

Still, the Panthers had the MIAA Division 5 state tournament to try to avenge the loss and return some hardware to Northfield. After reaching the D5 Final Four in 2022, Pioneer won a trio of games to get back to the same spot a year later. This time it fell to Hopkins Academy in the semifinals at Mackenzie Stadium in Holyoke.

This spring the Panthers are focused on avenging those two losses, and with nearly the entire roster back, Pioneer coach Kevin Luippold said he’s seen a new focus with his group as they look to get over the hump and capture a state title. 

“We saw how hard we worked last year and that resulted in a Western Mass. championship loss and a Final Four loss,” Luippold said. “We know how hard we have to work now to be the best. We can’t just play our best to beat the best; we have to be the best this year.” 

Moving into the Suburban League West will certainly help prepare Pioneer for the type of teams it will need to beat to achieve its goals. 

The Suburban League West features state runner-up Hopkins, a pair of teams in Greenfield and Frontier that reached the Div. 5 quarterfinals and a Hampshire program that went 15-5 a season ago. Easthampton rounds out the six-team league, which should be one of the more competitive battles throughout western Mass. this spring.

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Toss in independent games like Oxford, Oakmont and Southwick, and the Panthers are set to challenge themselves throughout the regular season. 

“The new league is exciting,” Luippold said. “We have some tough independents in there as well. We just have to win 10 games to get in the state tournament. The kids need to put 18-0 out the window. We went 21-2 and didn’t attain anything.”

Pioneer has plenty of talent returning this spring. Hugh Cyhowski — a UMass Boston commit who has 148 career strikeouts — and Ethan Quinn will lead the rotation once again. Quinn spent the offseason playing for NH Prospects, getting to practice against numerous Div. 1 commits, and will be a key player again both on the mound and at the plate. 

Braeden Tsipenyuk is a player Luippold said has stepped into a leadership role and will serve as a captain while returning behind the plate. Alex McClelland returns to the leadoff spot after hitting .443 a season ago, Ben Werner will step in to replace Ian Simpson at center and the lefty will be called upon to pitch big innings, while junior Ethan Mauthe adds more power to the Panther lineup. 

Jack Glazier and Evan Tsipenyuk are freshmen who will see time this season. Glazier will serve as a pitcher while also playing second while Evan Tsipenyuk slides in at first. Pioneer also added Jackson Campbell, who comes over from Greenfield and has the ability to play a number of positions for the Panthers. 

“We’re setting the bar high,” Luippold said. “We want to get over the hump of the Final Four. That’s our long term goal. One thing we didn’t do last year was try to win the day. We need to get better practice by practice. The tougher games will help us. We talked about being a fourth quarter team and being able to get a run in the fifth, sixth and seventh when we need it.” 

Trying to win the Suburban League West won't be easy. As mentioned above, Frontier and Greenfield both made deep runs in the state tournament last year and will be threats to take the league this spring. 

The Green Wave were the No. 26 seed in the Div. 5 tournament last year but pulled off upsets over seventh-seeded Ware and 10th-seeded Westport to reach the quarters, where they fell to eventual champion Bourne. 

Returning nearly his entire roster, veteran coach Tom Suchanek — now in his 51st season leading Greenfield — has seen his players take a step forward as they’ve grown a year older, with the Green Wave having the talent to make another tournament run. 

“We have a lot of experience,” Suchanek said. “We went deep in the state tournament. We lost five or so games by one run so we were in quite a few. The experience we gained from last year should be a plus, but we can’t rely on that. Hopefully we can learn from last year, be more baseball savvy, do a better job hitting and we’ll see where it takes us.” 

Frontier won its second straight Suburban League West title and Chris Williams took home his first Western Mass. title as a coach last spring, as the Redhawks knocked off Smith Vocational to win the Class C championship. Frontier went on to reach the quarters of the Div. 5 field, but has since moved up to Div. 4 this spring.

“The [Suburban League West] is quite legit this year,” Williams said. “We’re going to have to bring it every game. There’s no days off on our schedule. Pioneer coming in adds a whole new competitive element. They’re probably coming in as the favorite based on the level they played at last year and having the same guys on the mound. We’re the back-to-back league champs and we don’t plan on rolling over too easy. The guys are fired up and ready to go.”

The Bi-County North is wide open with Pioneer now in the Suburban West. Will it be Athol — which moves over from the Suburban West — who takes the league? What about Turners Falls, which brings back its core players? Mahar, which reached the Div. 5 tournament, will certainly have something to say about that, as will Franklin Tech, which will be trying to replace a large senior class from a year ago.

Here’s a closer look at how each Recorder area team is shaping up this spring: 

Athol

COACH: Josh Talbot

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Bi-County North/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 5-15

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: Missed state tournament

ROSTER: Logan Cormier, Riley Young, Noah Wein, Anthony Lopez, Alex Lavigne, Ethan Heuer, Oliver Johnson, Marc Gould, Hunter Smith, Enyert Arias Cepeda, Raydin Sousa, Eli Wein, Dominik St. Andre, Andrew Robinson, Trevor Bullock, Akeem Gerand, Aidin Lashua, Cooper Smith

OUTLOOK: The Bears have been rebuilding the last few years, but now those young players are experienced veterans as Athol looks to contend for the Bi-County North.

Cormier has rehabbed back from a health issue and will be an elite, all-around player for Athol, both on the mound and at the plate.

Young is a senior with an experienced bat who will play behind the plate, Wein is a player Talbot said he expects to make a leap on the mound while Lopez is another talented arm that can give Talbot three pitchers to work with.

“We had way too many errors and walks the last couple years and have been in rebuild mode,” Talbot said. “Our change of leagues comes as we come out of our rebuild. I believe this year’s team would have been more competitive in our old league than we have been so the change gives us a great opportunity to make a big leap from last year.”

Franklin Tech

COACH: Dan Prasol

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Bi-County North/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 8-12

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: Missed state tournament

ROSTER: William Ainsworth, Kyle Begos, Benjamin Dodge, Jacob Martin, Zaydrien Alamed, Gavin Crossman, Colin Eddy, Tucker Hicks, Jacob Knight, Mason Lehtomaki, Loki Rhodes, Tyler Yetter, Dylan Young, Kaleb Betit, Levi Clark, Hunter Donahue, Brody Hicks

OUTLOOK: The Eagles graduated six contributing seniors, meaning Tech will be retooling with a younger roster.

“We’re in a rebuild,” Prasol said. “Any time you lose that much leadership you have to bounce back. Our captains this year have stepped up. We’re trying to change the culture and are looking for these young kids to compete and improve. Even though we’re in a rebuild, I don’t think we’re that far off. We’ll live and die by our arms.”

Those arms are Begos and Lehtomaki, with both capable of carrying the Eagles to wins.

Donahue, Hicks and Betit are freshmen who will see time, Clark is another freshman who will see time in the outfield and pitch while Yetter is a key cog behind the plate.

Frontier

COACH: Chris Williams

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban West/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 17-7

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: D5 quarterfinals

ROSTER: Jack Conlon, Tyler Cusson, Nico Fasulo, Rosco Palmer, Aidan Heffernan, Gabe Solodky, Wyatt Edes, Kaden James, Owen Babb, Porter Hall, Ben Caron, Max Skribiski-Banack, Colin West, Grayson Loos, Brady Poreda, Austin D’Urso

OUTLOOK: The Redhawks are looking to make it three Suburban West titles in a row.

Cusson and Edes bring veteran leadership on the mound, while Loos is a player Williams said has the potential to be Frontier’s ace, having won a few postseason games on the bump last year. He’ll be tasked with replacing Liam Skribiski-Banack, the Redhawks’ ace from last season.

“As long as he’s pounding the zone, his offspeed stuff works well,” Williams said of Loos. “He throws hard. The sky is the limit for him.”

Heffernan pitched some big innings last year as well while Max Skribiski-Banack and Babb are other arms at Williams’ disposal.

Fasulo brings speed at the top of the lineup, Conlon is a player Williams is excited to have back after missing last season with an injury, Palmer comes over from Smith Vocational and has been making plays throughout the preseason while Cusson is a big bat in the midle of the lineup.

James caught last year and is the vocal leader behind the plate this spring.

Greenfield

COACH: Tom Suchanek

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban West/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 12-11

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: D5 quarterfinals

ROSTER: Michael Pierce, Caleb Thomas, Deven Dubie, Preston Lafleur, Arthur Fitzpatrick, John Marchefka, Malik Moore, Luca Siano, Chase Zraunig, Bryce Hamon, Keagan Fisher, David Knox

OUTLOOK: Pierce, Thomas and Dubie led the rotation last year and are all back and ready to help the Green Wave make a run at the Div. 5 title.

Pierce will also see time at third, Thomas will play shortstop while he’s not pitching and Dubie starts in center field.

Lafleur is a senior who will play right and pitch, Marchefka — a senior — had a big season at the plate as a junior while Fitzpatrick (2B, SS), Moore (1B) and Siano (C) were all key cogs last year as freshmen and will look to take a step forward with another year of experience.

Hamon, Fisher and Knox will rotate in while eighth grader Zraunig will also see time.

Mahar

COACH: Dan Guertin

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Bi-County North/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-10

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: D5 prelims

ROSTER: Will Barnes, Luke Connors, Sam Connors, Jayden Delgado, Tristan Gaj, Lucas Isrow, Morgan Softic, Leighton Soucie, David Vitello, Matt Vitello

OUTLOOK: A young Senator squad made the state tournament a season ago and returns multiple key cogs from that unit.

Barnes, Isrow and David Vitello are the three seniors, Barnes playing center and seeing time on the mound while Isrow will play left field and Vitello slots in at second base.

Sam Connors returns as a top arm while eighth grader Luke Connors will compete to start behind the plate. Softic makes the transition to the rotation and will see big innings on the hill, Delgado is a player who could be in line for a breakout season while Gaj, Soucie and Matt Vitello will all see action.

Mohawk Trail

COACH: Doug McCloud

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Bi-County North/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 4-14

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: Missed state tournament

ROSTER: Brady Gancarz, Cole Bassett, Mason Bassett, Jed Niquette, Noah Sprague, Doug Wilcox, Grady Patenaude, Phineas Tuttman, Logan Moore, Ty Griswold, Antonio Hernandez, Jackson Lilienthal, Weston den Ouden

OUTLOOK: The Warriors ended their last season on a high note, winning three of their final four games to build some momentum heading into this spring.

Moore had a big summer with the Greenfield Post 81 Junior Legion squad, Den Ouden, Lilienthal and Griswold are returning senior leaders who will each play big roles while Patenaude and Griswold are returning juniors who will also be key contributers this spring.

Mohawk Trail will be young, with four eighth graders on the roster.

Pioneer

COACH: Kevin Luippold

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban West/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 21-2

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: D5 semifinals

ROSTER: Alex McClelland, Braeden Tsipenyuk, Ethan Quinn, Hugh Cyhowski, Ethan Mauthe, Evan Tsipenyuk, Jack Glazier, Ben Werner, Jackson Campbell, Hayden Girard, Heath Gomez, Judah Glenn, Michael Cyhowski, Brody Welcome, Jacoby Stumpo

Turners Falls

COACH: Scott Minckler

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Bi-County North/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 7-11

TOURNAMENT RESULTS: Missed state tournament

ROSTER: Cameron Burnett, Trent Dobias, Joey Mosca, Dylen Richardson, Deven Sloan, Derek Wissmann, Alex Quezada, Ledwin Villafana, Moises Borrayes, Jackson Cogswell, Ethan Eichorn, Brody Girard, Curtis Kretchmar, Mario Pareja, Kainen Stevens, Nathaniel Ttinque, Jonathan Ainsworth, Julian Kaiser, Angel Ruiz Scott

OUTLOOK: With six seniors, the Thunder are a threat to take the Bi-County North.

Junior Alex Quezada is Turners’ top arm while Mosca, Richardson, Cogswell, Girard, Kretchmar, Stevens and Kaiser give Minckler plenty of options on the hill.

Burnett slots in at first base, Richardson will be key at center field, Stevens has the ability to catch or play center along with his work on the mound while Wissmann is a power bat in the lineup.