Sports Spotlight: Baker Inducted into Ashland High’s Athletic Hall of Fame
Dec 31, 2018 06:00AM
By Kenneth Hamwey
Denis Baker and T.J. Chiappone show off their championship rings and plaques at the 2015 sports banquet.
written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Sports Editor
Dennis Baker, Bellingham High’s softball coach and former athletic director, was inducted into Ashland High’s Athletic Hall of Fame on Nov. 18. The 70-year-old Baker, who graduated in 1966, was a three-sport star for the Clockers, excelling in football, basketball and baseball.
An all-league tight end in football, Baker was the sixth man on the 1964 Ashland basketball squad that lost to Holliston in the state finals. Baseball, however, is where he left his mark, compiling a career batting average of .480. He captained the 1966 team that posted a 20-2 record, won the Dual County League title and captured Ashland’s first State championship in baseball.
Baker was selected to play in the Hearst All Star game at Fenway Park in 1965, and in 1966 he earned All-Scholastic honors and was a first-team DCL all-star selection. A first baseman, Baker was awarded a full scholarship to play baseball at the University of Maryland.
Selected to coach Ashland High’s baseball team from 1982 to 1995, Baker also coached varsity baseball at Bellingham. His Ashland teams won 200-plus games and three Tri Valley League championships. In 1990 he was selected as Boston Globe Coach of the Year.
Baker was Bellingham’s A.D. for 15 years and worked in the system for 45. He’s been the Blackhawks’ softball coach for 21 seasons and was the baseball coach for 10. During his early days as an adaptive physical education instructor, he served as Bellingham’s Special Olympics coordinator for 27 years, working closely with the Lions Club.
“Any success I’ve achieved can be traced to the teachers and coaches I had at Ashland,” Baker said to the gathering of 250 at the National Laborers’ Training Center in Hopkinton. “Although I worked in Bellingham and consider it my second home, I never took my eyes off Ashland. I had the pleasure of coaching both my sons in baseball, and I continue to stay in touch with many of my teammates on the Division 3 State championship team.”
Baker, who was inducted as an athlete and also as a member of the 1966 State champion baseball team, thanked the Hall of Fame Committee for his selection. “It’s overwhelming,” he said, “and it’s like a homecoming. Baseball coaches like Clem Spillane and Al Adams were very influential, and I was fortunate to grow up in a close-knit town where we could play baseball all day long.”
When Baker returned to Bellingham High in 2013 after a 12-year stint as A.D., he enjoyed immediate success as the school’s sports chief. June 14, 2014, is a date he’ll never forget. On that day the baseball team won the State championship at Holy Cross in Worcester, and his softball squad captured the State crown at Worcester State. Coach TJ Chiappone’s baseball contingent defeated Monument Mountain and Baker’s softball team topped Grafton. “That day was so special and so memorable,” Baker emphasized. “I was so proud of what our student-athletes achieved.”
Another day, May 21, 2014, also was dynamic. On that date and on his watch, Bellingham High won TVL titles in baseball, softball and boys track.
Chiappone Injured in Hoop Team’s Opener
The Bellingham High boys basketball team won its opener, 49-40, over Nipmuc Regional but the victory was costly. Senior co-captain Corey Chiappone suffered a dislocated elbow 43 seconds into the game.
The point guard, who is being counted on to direct the Blackhawks’ offense this season, was taken to UMass Medical Center in Worcester after he was injured. Chiappone was hurt as he was diving for a loose ball and collided with a Nipmuc player, causing his right elbow to get caught in a pileup. He likely will miss four weeks.
“I’m pleased the diagnosis wasn’t a broken elbow,” Chiappone said. “I’m aiming for a Jan. 18 return. I’m really glad I can be back for the last part of the season and also pleased I’ll be okay for baseball.”
As for the game, Nipmuc jumped out to a 9-4 lead but BHS bounced back at intermission, leading 23-17. Trailing, 33-32, to start the final quarter, the Blackhawks got hot and outscored the Warriors, 17-7, for the triumph. Consecutive baskets by Ethan Carr, Justin Crayton and Tate Pike in the final quarter lifted the Blackhawks into a 38-33 lead, which they never relinquished. Michael Reissfelder led BHS with 10 points, Jack Buckley had eight and Tyler Warren chipped in with seven.
“The kids picked me up after Corey got hurt,” said coach TJ Chiappone. “They responded nicely and we got good contributions not only from our younger players, but also from our veterans.”
A 51-41 victory over Hopkinton in their second game left the Blackhawks at 2-0 to start the season. They were led by sophomore Tate Pike’s 16 points. Tyler Warren, another sophomore, had 10 points and junior Jack Buckley contributed 8. “We played three quarters of strong defense,” Chiappone said. “Tate and Tyler gave us solid play and we’re also getting contributions from a lot of other players.”
BHS Six Rallies for a Tie in Opener
The Bellingham High ice hockey team bounced back for a 2-2 tie in its opener against Minuteman Vocational, then lost to Dover-Sherborn, 4-1, in its Tri Valley League kickoff.
The Blackhawks trailed Minuteman Voke, 2-0, but got power-play goals from forwards Jake Houston and Jace Rudolph with less than five minutes remaining in the contest. Forward Matt Pelletier assisted on both goals. Against Dover-Sherborn, BHS fell behind early, 4-0, and couldn’t recover.
“The team rallied nicely against Minuteman Voke,” coach Joe Robidoux said. “They showed determination and it was a good character game.”
How Other BHS Teams Fared
The BHS girls basketball team dropped its first three games of the season, losing to Ursuline, Nipmuc and Hopkinton on the road. “We had scoring opportunities in all our games but had trouble converting on drives and layups,” said coach Megan Puopolo. “Liz D’Augustino has given us solid efforts on defense and rebounding.”
The boys and girls track teams both opened their seasons with losses to Medway and Dedham. For the boys, Brandon Murphy won the mile against Medway; Dan Kurczy won the 1000 against Medway and took first in the mile and two-mile against Dedham (his mile and 1000 times were freshman records); and Andrew Keeler finished first in the shot put against Medway and was second against Dedham.
On the girls side, Haylee Morrison managed a pair of second-place finishes against Dedham in the 55-meter run and the 300. Jordan Houston scored points by finishing third in the 1000 against Medway and second in the mile against Dedham. She also was part of the winning 4x400 relay team that battled Dedham.
The wrestling team bowed in its Tri Valley League opener, 42-18, to Holliston.
BHS Runners 7th In All-State Meet
The Bellingham High boys cross-country team finished seventh with 199 points at the Division 2 All-State Meet in Westfield on Nov. 18. Newburyport took first place with 61 points and was followed by Seekonk with 119 and Mount Greylock with 145.
The Blackhawks’ top finisher was Ethan Carr in eighth place in a time of 17:12. The other BHS runners who placed were Brandon Gillcrist at No. 49 in 18:23; Brandon Williams at No. 72 in 18:38; Michael Reissfelder at No. 91 in 18:48 and Dan Kurczy at No. 92 in 18:49.
The season-ending meet capped off another highly successful fall season for the Blackhawks. They won the Tri Valley League Small Division championship, finished second in the TVL meet, then won the Division 6 meet for the second straight year.
BHS coach Peter Lacasse was pleased with the seventh-place finish, considering all the wrinkles his runners tried to iron out. The first snag was changing the course from Northfield to Westfield. Then, the runners had to adapt to competing in three inches of snow. The event was moved back a day and the Blackhawks had to compete without their No. 3 runner.
“You never know how kids are going to react to change,” Lacasse said. “The course in Northfield was not fit to run on, so the meet was moved to Stanley Park in Westfield. Our kids had never run in snow but they competed in three inches on the course in Westfield. Because the venue was changed, the meet had to be run a day later, on a Sunday. Missing Cam Hasselbaum was another adjustment. But the kids did well in spite of the changes and showed lots of mental toughness.”
BHS Defeats Norton on Keeler’s FG
Bellingham High’s football team ended its 2018 season with a 9-7 victory over Norton on Thanksgiving Day, thanks to senior John Keeler’s 24-yard field goal with two seconds left in the contest. The triumph enabled the Blackhawks to finish their campaign at 3-8, and the victory ended the Lancers’ 10-year winning streak against BHS.
Norton took the lead four minutes into the second quarter when the Lancers’ Nate Sicard ran for 35 yards to the Blackhawks’ two-yard line, setting up quarterback Tyler Elliott’s two-yard rush for the game’s first TD. Senior running back Evan LaRoche (offensive MVP) cut Bellingham’s deficit to one (7-6) with a two-yard TD run late in the quarter. The winning kick came on second down from the seven-yard line as the Blackhawks opted to go for the field goal.
“It was the seniors who wanted him to kick it for the win,” coach Dan Haddad said. “Jim Kilduff (defensive MVP) said that ‘Keels’ could make it, and all the players were nodding in agreement. So I told Keels, ‘It’s your game, go.’ He’s the most unselfish guy I know, such a great team player. I’m so happy for him; he deserves this.”
Haddad noted that Kilduff and Laroche were “terrific,” and he lauded the offensive line—Jacob Bassett, Dan Gavin, Zach Gabriel, Brady Feola and Vinnie Decaria. “They were under pressure all day long and protected our quarterback really well. I thought Gavin Elder played well. He was very poised and threw a couple of nice passes in the frigid conditions. Our defense also was stellar, led by Bassett, Kilduff and Feola.”
Haddad commented on the squad’s overall season, saying, “This is something to build on. Being in just about every game and just being one play away gets very frustrating. These seniors never turned on each other and never missed a practice. Even when our injuries started mounting, all those injured players were always there. They may not have the wins that were expected, but they have such a strong work ethic and more character than anyone I have ever met. I’m proud to be their coach.”