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New Mission baseball coach Moe Gomez needed all of one practice to realize he had a gem in shortstop Alex Fernandez.
The ball sounded differently off his bat. The defensive instincts at shortstop are things he hadn’t seen in his 20 years of coaching in the Boston City League.
“He just had it all,” Gomez said. “Everything he does on the field comes naturally to him. He’s got talents and instincts you can not teach. We put him in there as a freshman and he’s started for us all four years.”
Fernandez arrived in Boston from the baseball hotbed of Santo Domingo four years ago. A fan of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano growing up, Fernandez understood the reasons for leaving his native land.
“There was more opportunities for me here,” the soft-spoken Fernandez said. “It was tough coming here and not being able to speak any English, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.”
At 6-foot-1 and a compact 230 pounds, Fernandez figures to be a third baseman at the next level (UMass-Lowell), but Gomez has no qualms about playing him at shortstop.
“For us, he has to play shortstop,” said Gomez, whose team is 10-1 on the season. “He can make all the plays there because of his natural ability.”
One area where Fernandez has improved is his power. The batting average has always been there (Fernandez is hitting .475), but now he’s hitting with power. Fernandez has belted three home runs, one of them coming last week when his blast defeated Charlestown.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Fernandez said. “But as soon as I hit it, I knew it was going. It just felt good coming off the bat.”
Coaching with a heavy heart
Courtney Sigsbury has coached softball at Woburn for the past 17 seasons and enjoyed every minute of it.
That being said, Sigsbury was about to put it all aside when her father, legendary Woburn football Rocky Nelson, was first diagnosed with cancer last season. The disease took his life in December.
“I was all set to take a leave of absence to be there for him.” Sigsbury said. “But when we knew it was getting worse, he sat me down and told me that I had to coach because coaching was what I did.”
Sigsbury did follow her father’s advice, though she admitted it was very difficult heading to the softball field and not seeing her father there. Adding to the pain was the fact that she was dealing with an extremely young team, many of them she hadn’t coached before.
“It was really tough,” Sigsbury said. “But I fell head over heels in love with this group of kids, they’ve been great. All the kids have cleats with my dad’s name on them and before the first game, they came up to me and gave me flowers. Julia Taylor told me that they knew how difficult it was going to be without dad and that they would be there for me. I was blown away.”
Woburn has had its highs and lows, not surprising given the tough schedule. While the Tanners managed to get out of the first half with a 6-4 mark, Sigsbury has never judged her teams by wins and losses, something she learned from her father.
“Dad would always tell me that the wins and losses would take care of themselves,” Sigsbury said. “What I have always tried to do was treat the players like dad did. He treated every kid the same and developed so many great relationships with them and that’s something I’ve tried to emulate.”
Depth pays dividends
Dedham softball coach Mike Nosky would love to pencil in the same nine starters on a daily basis, but he has the luxury of dipping into reserves when needed. That approach has played a large part in his team’s 8-2 start to the season.
“This is the deepest team I’ve ever coached,” said Nosky, who has coached for the past nine seasons at Mount Alvernia and Dedham. “You’re going to have injuries and other things, so I have no issues about using anyone and there really isn’t much of a dropoff.”
That approach has worked well on the mound as senior Molly Egan and sophomore Kassidy Hickey have shared the pitching duties. The duo have played a key part in the team’s current six-game winning streak.
“We’ve basically rotated them by feel,” Nosky said. “We’ll look at how they pitched against a certain team last year, how they’ve pitched in practice and things like that. I think the competition has made both of them better.”
When Hickey doesn’t pitch, she plays first base and has been one of the team’s top hitters, batting .571 in the third spot in the lineup. Leadoff batter Gianna Sciarappa is hitting .517 with a pair of home runs, while Julia Salemy has rotated between the five and six spot in the lineup and crushed the ball at a .542 clip.
While Nosky is happy with his team’s progress, he knows that there is a lot of softball remaining. He points to the ever-competitive Tri-Valley League as a reason why his team can’t afford to be complacent.
“This is a really good league,” said Nosky, who came over to Dedham three years ago. “You look at this league and 10 of teams are solid, so it’s a very deep and solid league. Every game is a dogfight.”
Odds and ends
The annual High School Softball Rivalry Saturday will be contested next Saturday at UMass-Dartmouth. The doubleheader features four teams currently ranked in the Boston Herald Top 25.
The opener at 11 a.m. pits South Coast Conference rivals Fairhaven and Greater New Bedford. The second game features nonleague rivals Bridgewater-Raynham and Silver Lake, and first pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Norwood baseball coach Kevin Igoe earned his 100th career win last Monday as the Mustangs defeated Medway, 4-3. Igoe, a former standout at Xaverian, has coached at Norwood since 2012 and led them to a Division 1 state title in 2015.