NHS Baseball Team Had All The Attributes For Success Gassett Led Redhawks In Interim Role
The 2023 baseball team at Natick High finished its regular season at 15-5 before bowing in the state tourney to Springfield Central. Photo courtesy of Paradise Studio
During the 2022-23 school year there were a variety of positive outcomes by athletic teams at Natick High and near the top of the list was the Redhawks’ baseball squad.
The players finished their regular season with a 15-5 record, won the Carey Division championship and qualified for the state tournament at the halfway mark of the season. The Division 1 playoffs, however provided a challenging test and that’s where the 13th -seeded Redhawks ended their season, bowing out of the tourney after losing to Springfield Central, 4-2, in the opening round.
Natick’s regular season achievements, nevertheless, were dynamic because it was in a transition stage — veteran coach Jason Hoye was serving as the high school’s interim principal and Billy Gassett, his assistant for 10 years, took the head-coaching reins, also on an interim basis.
“For 10 years I coached the pitchers and catchers,’’ Gassett said. “And I really enjoyed that role. I agreed to take the head-coaching post until Jason returns and that shouldn’t be long because a new principal has been chosen.’’
The 53-year-old Gassett, who works as a carpenter at Natick’s DPW water treatment plant, isn’t one to take center stage for the Redhawks’ outstanding season. He’s quick to compliment others. “Matt Lodi, who coaches infielders and serves as third-base coach, helps in so many other ways,’’ Gassett emphasized. “And Nick Robert coaches our outfielders and first basemen. Over time, a system was built and it got results this year.’’
Early on, the Redhawks realized the 2023 season could be special. They beat Walpole in their opener, 2-0, but a 6-3 loss to defending state champion Milton had an upside.
“We led Milton, 2-0, heading into the seventh inning but the lead slipped away and we lost,’’ Gassett recalled. “We showed we could play against Walpole and we showed Milton that we could compete against one of the best teams in the state.’’
Gassett listed a half dozen strengths that played a key role and propelled the Redhawks into a power in the Bay State Conference.
“We had a mature team (11 seniors), a high baseball IQ, experience and depth,’’ he noted. “Also, our players were very coachable and athletic. Our defense and pitching were assets because we took care of the ball in close games.’’
Gassett’s goals in pre-season didn’t stress a specific number of wins and there wasn’t any mention about winning the division or qualifying for the tourney. His objectives focused on “winning the moment.’’
“We emphasized to win at practice and to win the pitch, the at-bat, the ground ball and the inning,’’ said Gassett, who played baseball at Natick high and Bridgewater State. “If those situations are taken care off, then winning usually falls into place. When we won our 10th game and knew we were tourney-bound, the coaches said ‘good job,’ but we emphasized the importance of getting ready for practice and our next game.’’
Natick’s senior captains — pitcher-DH Charlie Collins and catcher Will Fosberg — were always ready and prepared. Gassett liked their take-charge approach, their dedication and their leadership by example. Collins had a 7-1 record, a 1.93 E.R.A. and 73 strikeouts in 58 innings. The cleanup hitter, he batted .281 and had 16 RBIs. Fosberg hit .345, clouted 3 home runs and knocked in 16 runs. His .345 batting average led the team.
“At 6-foot-4, Charlie was overpowering with his fastball,’’ Gassett said. “A left-hander, his velocity and his control also were outstanding. The ace of our staff, his change-up and curve were effective and at the plate he hit for power. An honor student, he’ll be playing next year for Colby College.
“Will was one of the most feared hitters in the BSC. He’s a special player who was highly recruited and got a scholarship to play at Northeastern. His baseball IQ is high, he called all our pitches and he’s got a cannon for an arm. He watches film to improve and he blocked the plate well and was able to cut down opposing teams’ running game.’’
Senior right-hander Hank Beaudoin was Natick’s No. 2 starter but he also played right field and third base. He was 3-2 with an E.R.A. of 4.16 and he batted .325. “Hank was crafty,’’ Gassett said. “He got the job done, using a fastball that moves and a change-up and cutter. A spray hitter, he was our set-up guy, getting on base a lot. His baseball IQ was reliable.’’
Senior right-hander Charlie Doyle was Natick’s third starter. He had a 3-0 record, including a no-hitter against Lincoln-Sudbury. “Compiling an E.R.A. of 2.01, Charlie had good placement on his fastball, curve and change-up,’’ Gassett said. “An intelligent pitcher, he frustrated hitters because he threw strikes. He was calm in the moment.’’
Senior right-hander Mark Cronin was Natick’s closer who also was used in the middle innings. “Mark had an E.R.A. of 3.62 and averaged a strike an inning, throwing a fastball and a curve,’’ Gassett noted. “He was our shut-down guy. We called on Mark when a game was on the line.’’
Senior lefty Emerson Davis and junior left-hander Jack Zirlen rounded out the bullpen. “They were ready when called on,’’ Gassett offered. “They’re competitive style added to our staff in a positive way.’’
Natick’s infield was a strength. Senior Jason O’Keefe played first base, junior Robert Farr handled second-base chores, senior Ryan Jewett was the shortstop, and senior Drew George was at third base. O’Keefe hit .257; Farr batted .333; Jewett hit .277 in the ninth slot and George compiled a .333 average. Farr’s 22 hits led the team.
“Jason was our leadoff hitter,’’ Gassett said. “Defense and speed were his strengths. He was a captain in basketball and that experience made his very competitive. Robert hit second in our lineup in his first year on the varsity. An excellent fielder, he was consistent, intense and always thinking.
“Ryan is tall (6-1) and fluid. He made all the routine plays at shortstop and also turned in many spectacular ones. A contact hitter with good bat control, he was fast and speedy on the bases. Drew played quarterback in football. A singles and doubles hitter. he also displayed a strong arm at third. He could charge a ball quickly and he was a good locker-room presence.’’
The Redhawks’ outfield featured freshman Jack Weierman in left, junior Jack Byrne in center and freshman Braeden Homer in right.
“Jack is tough as nails,’’ Gassett emphasized. “A consistent fielder who handles pressure well, his range was very good and his strong arm was a plus. Byrne hit .297 in the No. 5 slot, had 19 hits and 11 RBIs. He covers a lot of ground in centerfield. His speed is excellent. He’s so good that we expect him to get on base. Braeden worked his way into the lineup because he does everything well. He’s got a high baseball IQ, he’s a very good fielder and he’s competitive, able to work an opposing pitcher for seven or eight pitches.’’
Gassett coached by relying on an athletic philosophy that emphasizes 100 percent effort, reaching one’s potential and having fun.” I stressed to not be afraid to be excellent and be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Life lessons our players learned were to be resilient, overcome adversity and to take care of yourself and the relationships you’ve build.’’
Gassett is a 1987 graduate of NHS where he played baseball and football. The baseball team his senior year was Division 1 South champs. As a junior he was on a football team that went to a Super Bowl but lost, 22-20 to Brockton. At Bridgewater State he caught and played the infield. Married, he and his wife Beth have a 16-year-old daughter (Layla).
Calling his interim role fun and exciting, Gassett hopes to return next year as Hoye’s assistant.
“I want my old job back,’’ he said smiling.