---- — There are very few things quite like high school baseball.
The sun's out, the grass is green and every season's unique lack of predictability makes each spring a roller coaster.
This year's been no different. And while the three local baseball squads have had different seasons and appear on different trajectories, each of the three have provided us with some fireworks.
Entering the season, the Fishermen looked primed for a big season. With a deep pitching staff and an explosive, veteran lineup, they haven't disappointed.
The Fishermen entered yesterday's game against Winthrop at 8-4 and in second place in the NEC South and are looking like a serious contender in Division 2 North.
:SEASON HIGHLIGHTS: There's been no shortage of entertaining games for the Fishermen this year. Unfortunately for them, two of the best games they've played in — a shootout against Bishop Fenwick and a nine-inning marathon with Lynn English — have ended in losses.
The biggest win of the year, though, is pretty clear. Last week, the Fishermen welcomed a strong Beverly squad to Nate Ross Field and proceeded to blast them out of the park.
Their veteran lineup exploded for a six-run fifth inning to put the Fishermen in the driver's seat and pitcher Lenny Taormina kept the Panthers' bats at bay to give Gloucester a key 9-6 win.
A close second for the first-half highlight came just days before that win over Beverly when the Fishermen absolutely thrashed Marblehead to the tune of 17-0, in a mercy-rule-shortened, five-inning victory.
:OUTLOOK: The Fishermen look like they've got it all going for them as we head into the home stretch of the season. They've got eight games remaining, during which they'll look to clinch a tournament berth early and then fight for seeding.
Once in the Division 2 North tournament, Gloucester (8-4) is the kind of team that nobody would want to draw.
The Fishermen have a ton of pitching depth with a staff led by ace Jason Vizena and supplemented by a slew of other experienced hurlers.
And with the pop they've got in their lineup — led by Jordan Pallazola, Alex Webb, Mike Muniz and Vizena, among others — they certainly look like legitimate contenders.
:WHAT'S TO COME: The Fishermen still have plenty of big games left on their schedule down the stretch as they fight among the top dogs in the NEC.
They'll see Beverly again Friday and will also square off with NEC South leader Danvers and a hot Saugus squad over the season's final weeks.
Gloucester wraps up its season with a huge test in St. John's Prep, considered to be among the state's top teams in Division 1.
The rigors of the schedule may ultimately hurt Gloucester's seeding come tournament time.
But one thing's for sure. They'll be battle-tested.
The Vikings were a hot pick among many pundits to potentially dethrone defending Division 4 state champion Georgetown coming into the season.
So far, though, Rockport's struggled to get it going. The Vikings are sitting at 3-7 at the season's midpoint and have dropped five-straight games.
The good news is that the Vikings are still in good shape to qualify for the tournament by the Sullivan Rule. They're 1-1 against Division 4 opponents with two games remaining within their division, so they'll need just one win over Georgetown or Manchester Essex to punch their ticket.
:SEASON HIGHLIGHTS: Rockport's struggled offensively all season, and that was no exception in its best win of the year.
Toward the end of April, the Vikings welcomed CAL Small leading Lynnfield to Evans Field with ace pitcher Tucker Meredith set to get his first start of the year after missing the first few weeks of the year with illness.
Meredith told coach John Parisi that he had nothing in the tank after the first inning, but that didn't matter. Meredith proceeded to spin a complete-game gem, scattering one run and four hits over seven innings while his teammates found a way to scrape out two runs to steal a nice 2-1 win.
:OUTLOOK: As we said before, the Vikings' struggles may not affect their postseason standing much. They knocked off Manchester Essex earlier in the year, getting them halfway to the 2-2 record they need against Division 4 opponents.
Now, they just have to find a way past Georgetown (next Tuesday) or the Hornets (May 18), and they're in. After that, not much else matters.
:WHAT'S TO COME: Expect Rockport to pick things up down the stretch. They've got plenty of talent with Meredith and Conor Kuykendall pacing the pitching staff and big bats like Adam Balzarini, Mike Tupper, Conor Douglass, Nick Scatterday, Caleb Tanson and Meredith.
The Vikings just have to put it all together. If they can string together some big wins, don't be surprised to see them turn it on in the second half.
Like the Vikings, the first half of the season was unkind to the Hornets, who enter the homestretch of the season at 2-8.
There's been some flashes, though, and with a 1-1 record against Division 4 opponents, they stand a good chance of punching their tournament ticket via the Sullivan Rule.
:SEASON HIGHLIGHTS: Give the Hornets credit: Their two wins have both come with a bang.
Their first win was impressive, as they handed Lynnfield a loss at Memorial Field with a nice come-from-behind win.
The second one was much bigger. With the season seemingly slipping away, the Hornets hosted then-undefeated Georgetown and rode a great performance from freshman pitcher Brandon Bartlett to a 5-4 upset.
With that win, the Hornets put themselves in position to make the tournament with a win over Rockport next weekend.
:OUTLOOK: It doesn't look great for the Hornets, who have put themselves in a tough spot with a weak first half. However, they just need to steal one against Rockport and they're dancing. They've got the horses to do it with bats like Max Nesbit and Cory Burnham solidifying the middle of the order.
They just have to put it all together
:WHAT'S TO COME: Barring an improbable late-season run, the Hornets will likely need the Sullivan Rule to punch their ticket. They've got plenty of winnable games left on their schedule, though, and every game should serve as a primer for would could ultimately be a do-or-die matchup for both the Vikings and Hornets next weekend.