MADISON — Before the Hand baseball team took fielding practice on Monday, the group huddled up around senior Anthony DePino.
“He’s got all of those kids — all of those freshmen, all of those sophomores, all of those juniors — they aspire to be like him,” Hand coach Travis LaPointe said, while watching from a distance. “Not just to be like him on the field, but to be like him off the field.”
DePino is the catalyst for the Tigers, who are in the Class L state semifinals for the first time since 2008 and just the third time since 1997.
On Tuesday, the Tigers play Avon and will try and reach the first state championship game in program history.
DePino leads the team with a .405 batting average, 25 runs scored and five home runs. He also makes sure the team spends time together before practice, at team dinners after games and other activities.
“We’ve built a bond that I don’t think I have ever had with anyone in my entire life,” DePino said. “I can confidently say I am friends with everyone on this team.”
The third baseman started as a sophomore on a Tigers’ team that was the No. 4 seed in the Class L state tournament in 2019.
That team, like many Hand teams before, lost earlier than expected exiting in the quarterfinals.
This year, DePino wasn’t going to let it happen and has taken his game to the next level.
He has seven RBIs in the three state tournament games and three extra base hits including a three-run home run against Bristol Central.
“I am just going out there and playing the same way I would any other season,” he said. “I worked hard in the offseason.”
DePino credits new offseason workout programs for elevating his game, including his patience at the plate.
The senior has walked a team leading 26 times and when he gets on base, which is often — he has a .643 on base-percentage — he won’t shy away from stealing a base, he has 10 this season.
Against Bethel in the quarterfinals, DePino walked four times and stole multiple bases.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) May 12, 2021
“His statistics have taken a beating because he walks so much,” LaPointe said. “He’s patient, he is unselfish, and he accepts it. You don’t find that a lot in guys that had all this build up and they are able to accept the walk and let the other guys do the job.”
The guys behind him have stepped up in a big way.
After the Tigers’ first round exit in the SCC tournament, LaPointe made a switch to the lineup.
He moved DePino from third to second and Jack Pireaux to the third spot. Colin Telford bats first and Danny Weinstein bats fourth.
“My job is to get on anyway and it’s very hard for them pitch around Anthony,” Telford, the senior center fielder, said. “If Anthony gets on, Jack can go gap-to-gap and then bases loaded, Danny does what he does, he’s clutch.”
Telford is second on the team with 18 walks, Pireaux has 22 hits and 25 runs scored and Weinstein leads the team with 32 RBIs, but it all starts with DePino.
“He’s so important, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are without him,” Pireaux, the senior shortstop, said. “Every single day he brings it all, every game he is so locked in and it’s so infectious.”
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