Hopedale Baseball Players Moving On To The Next Level
By Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports Writer
For the past three years, Jacob Smith and Tyler Wilke have been teammates for the Hopedale baseball team. Together the duo, along with the rest of the Blue Raiders, have been successful over the three years.
As sophomores, they lost to Tahanto in the Division 4 Central Tournament Finals; the following year they were the number one seed entering the Division 5 State Tournament and made it all the way to the Championship game only to lose to Mount Greylock.
This year the Blue Raiders once again qualified for the Division 5 State Tournament, being named the number four seed after a 15-5 regular season, unfortunately they lost to Pioneer Valley Regional in the Round of 8. Prior to the tournament this year, the Blue Raiders won the Central Mass Class D Championship and were co-champions of the Dual Valley Conference before falling in the State Tournament.
Although their high school career is over, the two will still be playing together this summer on the Milford American Legion Baseball team, but once the season comes to an end in July, they will be going their separate ways to college, but both will still be playing baseball.
Wilke will be headed to Stephens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, a Division 3 school that plays in the Mid Atlantic Conference. Smith will be taking his skills to Saint Michaels College in Colchester, VT, playing in the NE10 Northeast Division.
Neither athlete was really interested in their final destination at the beginning until the Coaches approached them to play for their perspective teams.
“My major focus was academics when I was looking at schools. Stephens was not really on my radar, although I was interested in similar types of schools,” Wilke said. “I wasn’t considering it until the coach called me. It was great that someone had interest in me and my potential.”
Smith’s situation was somewhat comparable to his teammates.
“I really wasn’t looking at St Michaels, but things got serious when the coach called me the summer before my senior year began,” Smith said. “I was playing in a tournament in Connecticut, and they happened to be there scouting one of my teammates; I guess they liked what they saw in my play.”
One of Smith’s goals was to play for a Division 2 or higher college next season, and he’ll get the chance in Vermont, although the Purple Knights will not be coming off a good year (5-19).
“They may not have had a great team last year, but it’s college baseball and I was lucky enough to get a scholarship in which I can continue to play baseball,” he said.
Although he too received a scholarship to to play baseball on the next level, it is not Wilke’s overall top priority as he enters college this upcoming fall.
“At this point, I’m looking for experience and the ability to play another four years of baseball,” Wilke said. “I’ll see where it takes me, but my main focus is definitely on my academics.”
Growing up both athletes began their baseball careers within the Hopedale Little League system and then joined a club team before eventually earning a spot on the high school team as sophomores. (Their freshmen season was cancelled due to Covid).
Smith was introduced to the game of baseball at a very young age and believes that he had a bat in his hand as soon as he could pick something up. In addition to baseball, he also played hockey growing up, but after his sophomore season in high school he decided to step away from the game on ice so he could focus more on his baseball career.
“I knew that I had an opportunity, but I’d have to work to get where I needed to be,” Smith said. “I’d go to the gym as much as a I could and took lessons to help me became who I am today.”
Before he got his chance of playing on the varsity diamond at Hopedale Smith first had to endure the consequences that his freshman season would not be.
“I was sitting in the media center when I found out that the season was cancelled. I was heartbroken as I was so excited to see what I could do on this level,” he said. “Thankfully, my club team at the time (Northeast Longhorns) were able to put together an extended season later that year; so, I didn’t miss out on too much baseball.”
Wilke, like Smith, also played other sports (basketball and soccer) in addition to baseball as he grew up, but much like his counterpart he too realized that he needed to place more attention on his baseball skills.
“Initially I didn’t really have that much interest in playing baseball, but eventually I naturally found that I had a knack of seeing the ball well and could hit,” he said. “When I got to play varsity baseball for the first time I was put into the outfield and during my junior year split time between third base and the outfield. This past year I was primarily a third baseman.”
During their senior campaign at Hopedale, both athletes not only played their infield position (Wilke at third and Smith at first) the duo also spent some time on the mound for the Blue Raiders. However, neither will use their pitching skills once they arrive on their respective college campuses.
“Both individuals are three-year starters for us and basically did it all for Hopedale this past season,” Blue Raiders Head Coach Kevin Bresciani said. “They were extremely important to our success; each pitched about 20 innings for us with ERAs in the high ones/ low twos.”
On the mound Smith pitched in 8 games going 1-1 while pitching 22.1 innings. He allowed 17 hits, 5 earned runs, had 27 strikeouts to 10 walks and posted a 1.57 ERA. Wilke went 2-0 pitching 16 innings over 7 games allowing 12 hits and 2 earned runs, while striking out 20 and giving up 7 walks; he had a 0.86 ERA for Hopedale.
At the plate Wilke batted .390, scored 18 runs on 26 hits while adding 1 homerun and 21 RBI. Smith batted .405, scored 19 runs on 30 hits, had 19 RBI, and added 6 stolen bases.