Archbishop Williams baseball smiling over perfect start

Top-to-bottom threats in batting order keep pressure on opposition

By Jacob Feldman | GLOBE CORRESPONDENT   MAY 04, 2014

Pat Clifford was recalling, with a smile, a preseason meeting he had with his senior second baseman, Eddie Riley , after an Archbishop Williams baseball practice last week.

Riley has always had tremendous range in the field, but he hit just .118 as a sophomore and .158 last spring. So Clifford explained to him that some of his at-bats would likely go to a designated hitter again.

It is nothing that he had not heard before. He understood the coach’s thinking.

Since then though, Riley has earned his at-bats. Through nine games, the 150-pound middle infielder from Quincy leads the Bishops with 13 hits.

“Before the season started, he was determined to become a better hitter and get that spot in the lineup and not have someone hit for him,” said Mike Sorenti of his fellow team captain. “So far, he’s proved how hard he’s worked.”

Though he played hockey in the winter, Riley made sure to continue working on his swing and getting bigger at the same time. He said that has helped him get off to a hot start.

Batting out of the five-spot in the order, he does not lead unbeaten Archies (9-0) in average — that would be No. 9 hitter Matt Downing, who raised his average to .417 with three hits in Monday’s 7-0 win over Arlington Catholic.

Second baseman Eddie Riley (No. 2) has improved his batting while continuing to excel in the field.

“From top to bottom, this is the strongest we’ve ever been in my four years,” Sorenti said. “It just shows the depth of our lineup — start to bottom we can hit the ball.”

The Archies started 8-0 a year ago before hitting a bump in the road.

“We are trying to get over that hump this year and just keep on moving forward toward the tournament,” said Ryan Earle, a junior captain.

Thus far, 2014 has brought more of the same for Earle. The anchor of the Bishops’ lineup since his freshman year, Earle is hitting a robust .387 with a team-high 13 RBIs.

The 6-foot-2 pitcher has also been nearly unhittable on the mound, posting a 0.46 ERA with 51 strikeouts through five starts. Earle usually only throws three pitches — fastball, changeup, and slider — but batters still struggle to get hits.

In the seventh inning Monday, the Hanover resident struck out the first batter of the inning with a high fastball and fooled the last with a game-ending slider.

Last year, Earle was a rare sophomore captain, but he showed that he deserved the honor.

A day after Archbishop Williams was knocked out of the Division 3 tournament with an eight-inning 2-1 loss to Westwood, Clifford was dropping equipment off at the school, hoping to get the loss off his mind. He noticed Earle looking around the building.

Earle explained that he was looking for then-freshman Richie Ryan . At some point during the year, Clifford had asked Earle to help the youngster bulk up.

On Day 1 of the offseason, there was Earle, looking to help Ryan get ready for next season.

“What a leader,” Clifford said. “That’s why he gets elected captain as a sophomore, things like that. He puts the time in and he helps everyone else get better.”

The second starter is Xaverian Brothers transfer CJ Golbranson , who entered last Wednesday’s game against Bishop Fenwick sporting a 0.70 ERA.

He and fellow Xaverian transfer Anthony Rioles , a third baseman from Weymouth, have helped Clifford fill the holes left by last year’s senior class. The pair have fit right in.

The Bishops displayed their relaxed nature during batting practice last week, trying to get each teammate to crack a smile when they stepped to the plate and often succeeding. Clifford said the laid-back demeanor comes from his philosophy, and Sorenti said it has been a key to the team’s success.

“Everyone has fun and I truly believe that is why we are winning,” he said.