They come from divergent cultures and are a generation apart.
But Touching all the Bases proudly awards its most treasured honor, the Matt Johnston Award for heart-and-soul dedication to baseball, to Lawrence High senior Jose Cedano.
Why? Simply put, through baseball and their love of the game, the late Johnston and Cedano are so alike.
Johnston was a former Central Catholic dirt dog and later an Eagle-Tribune sports intern, who dove into baseball head first.
Not blessed with great natural skills, he persevered and climbed over every hurdle to make the varsity team.
That description has to ring familiar with Lawrence High coach Brendan Neilon, one of Cedano’s biggest fans.
“In an era where everyone loves to fall in love with stats, Jose is the hardest working player we have ever had, most likely the hardest worker in the area,” said Neilon.
“We have had some great players here with loads of talent but as far as the will and drive to win in any way, Jose is at the top of that list. He is the guy we could not win without this year and was voted our MVP.”
Cedano’s unspectacular .286 average and even this year’s all-conference selection pale to what matters most in his eyes.
“He has two MVC championships under his belt here and has done everything to help his team win,” said Neilon, noting how his Salem State-bound backstop refuses to take even a pitch off.
“He blocks every baseball thrown at him regardless of the count, the score, in a real game or practice.”
Cedano’s career at LHS was all about getting on the field and winning. He is the perfect choice for the 2013 Johnston Award.
YENNACO AWARD TO WHITTIER’S WELLS
You got the feeling watching Whittier Tech ace Andrew Wells that he savored every strikeout.
Yes, all 112 of them.
The right-hander worked the hill with the same balance between confidence and cockiness that made Jay Yennaco of Pinkerton Academy a third-round draft pick by the Red Sox and one of the most dominant pitchers in New Hampshire history.
The award, given to the region’s nastiest power pitcher, is a perfect match for Wells. This spring he took on all comers, pacing the Cats to a Division 3 North championship.
At 11-1, Wells was nothing short of a monster. He should continue to shine, potentially in two sports, at Worcester State.
PENA AWARD TO KNIGHTS’ WHITLEY
If you can hit, you can hit, right?
North Andover’s Tyler Whitley heard the talk about the jump to the Merrimack Valley Conference from the tiny Cape Ann League.
He was destined to self-destruct at the plate, right?
All Whitley did was bounce from a .254, 18-run junior season in the CAL to a .391, 11-run, 18-RBI season in the MVC. The kid hit everyone hard.
Again, he’s well-deserving for the 2013 Carlos Pena Award for the area’s sweetest swing.
WEB GEMS ALL AROUND
If Cam Devanney or Anthony Licari had to pay for a lunch all spring, the Central Catholic pitchers ought to be ashamed of themselves.
The middle infielders saved their pitchers on more than a handful of occasions, spinning double-plays, soaring through the air to haul in hot shots and basically patrolling their ground like wolves on a hunt.
Licari went from eight hits his junior year to 30 hits and a .400 average this spring.
Watching Devanney and Licari work the middle was a treat. Devanney returns for two more years, but the Raiders will have some huge shoes to fill on defense with Licari moving on to the University of Tampa, where he’ll look to make the team as a walk-on.
Of course, you’d have to go a long way to convince Pelham High coach Billy Beauchesne that his middle duo takes a back seat to anyone.
“This is the best second-shortstop combination in Pelham High history,” said Beauchesne of shortstop Jake Vaiknoras and second baseman Chris Gamble.
Those two put on a defensive show as Pelham reached the state semifinals. The best news of all is both return in 2014.
Anyone who has seen an Andover football game knew that senior Cam Farnham can fly.
Still, his scoring from second on a deep infield pop out vs. Chelmsford boggles the mind.
Endicott gets a good one in the two-year captain Farnham, who struggled a bit early on offense but made people pay in the second half.
BEST FASHION STATEMENT
With all due respect to Andover’s Nate Giammasi and his old school baggie “flannels” look, complete with the 1960s era stirrups, the best look of spring goes to the Ingraham Three.
That is Georgetown’s David, C.J. and Colby Ingraham and their minions, many of whom chose to grow out and slick back the hair, a la Oakland’s Josh Reddick.
The flowing, flipping locks out the backside of the helmet were classic. They look like Dirt Dogs. They play hard and look good.
FAN FAVORITE DOMINATES LATE
If you had to root for one athlete this spring, you couldn’t have gone wrong with Central Catholic’s Brady Abraham.
The senior right-fielder overcame the loss of his mom in 2006 and then a broken collarbone from a ski accident his junior year. He grew into one of the most feared hitters in the region.
After a 9-for-36 start, Abraham met with his coach.
“I met with Brady the day before a game and made a mechanical adjustment in his stance and swing,” said coach Marc Pelletier.
Abraham closed with the area’s top second-half, going 19 for has final 34 with 15 RBIs and 15 runs scored.
MORE CLOSING PUNCH
Speaking of late domination, you have to give it up to Pat Mahoney for closing his three-sport career at Timberlane in style. He finished on a 19-of-37 rampage with 10 RBI in the last 12 games.
Ask any coach over at Timberlane, and they’ll rave about him as an individual and team leader. He’ll be missed.
BASEBALL BOUNCING BACK
The signs are there that the down cycle in high school baseball locally could be coming to an end.
Yes, I feel a rally coming.
First, there is the MVC’s postseason improvement. With runs to the sectional finals by Dracut and the sectional title by Billerica, the Valley made a nice accounting of itself in the tourney with a 12-9 overall mark.
Then, I look at a talented group of sophomores kicking it into gear already.
The MVC Division 1 MVP was Central sophomore Cam Devanney.
Andover’s sophomore class features four potential lead arms in Alex Brickman, Gabriel Hernandez, Daniel Amidon and Reid Bryant.
Haverhill’s sophomore group takes a back seat to nobody. Josh Goldstein tossed a pair of complete-game gems. Pat Yale led the Hillies with a .432 average. Sean Doherty split time and hit .308, while Casey O’Sullivan was the regular right fielder.
Lawrence High shortstop Elvis Peralta is electric. I can’t stop seeing a young Ruben Sosa. Speed, hands, contact, pow!
New Hampshire looks stacked as well. Pinkerton and Salem are primed to rebound from sub-par seasons. Londonderry may never leave the top four in the Granite State.
Pelham has rebounded under Billy Beauchesne nicely, and Windham might be the most promising program on the planet right now.
Windham is destined for long-term greatness. All the Jags need now is a coach, but expect some heavy hitters to turn out for that position, vacated by Derek Lee after this spring’s trip to the state semis.
So, readers of my blog, I am sorry that I doubted the MVC’s and region’s strength this spring. I was wrong. But I will be proven correct on the prediction that this league and the region are on the upswing.