By Paul Silverfarb
A few years ago, it was a common picture.
Whether it was at Greenwich High School or with the Greenwich American Legion baseball team, Mike Genaro and Alex Loparco were celebrating a hard-fought victory on the baseball field. It could have been Genaro hurling another one of his gems, Loparco finishing the contest with a clutch hit or making stellar defensive play to preserve the victory.
While the names and school colors have changed for both baseball standouts, the level of success they are bringing to their collegiate teams is still as high as ever.
“It’s been a lot of fun this year,” said Loparco. “There was a lot of success, both individually and as a team. We won our conference and we haven’t done that in like six years. It was a rewarding season, especially that we beat the two-time defending champions.”
After a solid past two years, both Loparco and Genaro had a standout season, with Genaro pacing the Babson College pitching staff and Loparco dominating with his bat for Western New England University.
“It’s been an unbelievable season,” said Genaro. “I can’t even describe it. It was a crazy year and a ton of fun.”
And, to say that Loparco hasn’t had a season to remember is an understatement. In this season’s 46 games with the Golden Bears, Loparco saw his batting average finish at .382, an on-base percentage of .525 and a slugging percentage of .497.
In addition, he took home 63 hits, 37 RBIs, 55 runs scored and 12 doubles. He stole 19 bases and walked 40 times and, amazingly, didn’t hit into a double play this season. Loparco also wasn’t afraid to take one for the team, as he was hit by a pitch 12 times. No one on Western New England came close to Loparco’s batting average this year, and his on base percentage was also tops on WNE. Throw into the mix that he was also the team’s most reliable hitter and scored the most runs for the squad.
For Loparco, it was all about focusing on the task at hand and not the failures that always come throughout the season.
“I had to trust my teammates and trust the work that I put in,” Loparco said. “I knew there would be struggles this season, but in the end I knew they would work out. I felt like I was more selective at the plate this year. I think my walks went up like four times from the past year, and that’s crazy. I was looking for my pitch and trying to do damage on every pitch. Last year I got myself out way too much and swung at pitches I had no business swinging at. This year I understood what pitches I could handle and do damage with.”
With Loparco’s success, the Golden Bears also found success as well. They finished the season 32-15 overall and only lost four home games this season. In the conference they were 11-5.
“This team was really close, and I think that’s why we were so successful,” Loparco said. “We did everything together, both on and off the field. We had each others’ backs, and that’s what carried us as far as we did.”
The Golden Bears entered the CCC tourney as the No. 3 seed and blasted No. 6 seed Gordon 10-2. Later in the day, WNE unloaded on No. 2 seed Roger Williams 18-8. After a day off, the Golden Bears finished off Gordon again, 17-2, which set up a contest against top-seeded Salve Regina for the title.
In the first game of a best of three, WNE won 11-3 and took the championship over the Seahawks with a wild 7-6 victory and a walk-off in the 12th inning.
After two short playoff runs during his first two years at WNE, Loparco couldn’t have been happier to strike gold this time around.
“Winning this year was special, and it was the goal we set out to accomplish,” Loparco said.
After winning the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship for the first time since the 2012 season and the school’s sixth conference title overall, WNE was selected to the Harwich Regional bracket of the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament.
In the NCAA tournament, WNE lost its first game of the double-elimination tournament against Ramapo 19-15, but came back the next day to beat Penn State-Berkshire, 4-1. However against Keystone, Loparco saw his season come to an end with a 6-4 loss.
During the postseason, Loparco had only two games where he was hitless. Against Ramapo he finished with three hits, two of which were doubles, and had two hits against Roger Williams, Gordon and Keystone. In that game against Roger Williams, Loparco also added three RBIs.
“Playing in the Regionals was an amazing experience,” Loparco said. “Our main goal was to win the conference and anything after that was going to be a plus. Next year our goal is to go further down the line after winning the conference. This year we were just happy to be playing in Regionals.”
And then there’s Genaro, who was feared on the mound throughout his junior year.
As a team, Babson finished 35-12 overall and were the top-seeds in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference. They started by beating No. 4 seed MIT 7-3 and came back to best third-seed Wheaton 6-3. On May 6, Babson took care of MIT 3-2 in the first game of the NEWMAC championship series and clinched the title with a 14-8 victory against MIT in the second game.
Taking the second seed in the NCAA Division III York, Pa. Region, the Beavers outlasted Catholic 12-11, Union 5-4 and Misericordia 7-5 before falling twice to familiar foe Misericordia in the regional championship round.
A key reason for the team’s success this season was Genaro. In 10 games started this season, Genaro was 9-1 overall. In nearly 73 innings pitched, the Babson hurler took home an ERA of 3.10 and struck out 58 batters.
“I chose Babson because it’s a great school and a great opportunity, but I knew I was coming into a winning program,” Genaro said. “That really meant a lot to me. I had the opportunity to sit here in a hotel room in Pennsylvania waiting to play in a Regional tournament.”
Amongst the Babson pitching staff, Genaro led the staff with the lowest ERA, the highest strikeout per nine innings (7.18). But throughout the season, one thing that stood out was the walks he gave up, as Genaro showed amazing control and only walked three batters in 72.2 innings of work.
“I definitely felt good this year,” Genaro said. “I think I had better command of my off-speed pitches, and that’s why my strikeout numbers have been a little higher. I have always had good control of my fastball, and I relied on that quite a bit. I had a lot of run support, and as a pitcher it’s great to know that the offense is so strong. They make my job out there pretty easy, as our offense has been crazy. I feel like every time I am out there, I am pitching with the lead, and that makes my job a lot easier.”
According to the Babson College athletic department, Genaro ranked second in Division II in both strikeout-to-walk ratio (19.33) and walks allowed per nine innings (0.37). He also holds the Babson record for the most wins in a single season.
He struck out a season-high 10 batters against Keene State College on April 22, nine batters against Springfield College on April 10 and fanned seven batters against WPI on April 5 and Springfield on April 17.
In both of his playoff appearances, the Babson junior came away with the victory. Against Wheaton on May 6, Genaro gave up 11 hits and five runs while striking out five. In a hard-fought victory against Misericordia, Genaro gave up five runs, struck out one and didn’t walk a batter in a 7-5 victory.
And the awards were plentiful for both athletes.
For his record-breaking performance at Babson, Genaro received All-Region honors from both D3baseball.com and the American Baseball Coaches Association. He also was named First-Team All-Conference from the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.
“Mike’s never phased by the big moment, and it was something very evident in high school,” said Loparco. “He always wanted the ball in a big game. He knows what he’s doing on the mound and has great control of all his pitches.”
Loparco finished the season as the Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Year and most recently took home All-Region honors from both D3baseball.com and the American Baseball Coaches Association.
“All the kid does is hit,” said Genaro. “Wherever he goes, he plays up to that level. It’s exciting to see him play so well, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
“That was awesome to get those awards,” Loparco said. “It was a huge honor for me, especially with all the talent in the league. There’s a lot of good players, and it’s just special to be recognized by all the coaches.”
And, as the both Loparco and Genaro together saw great success with both Greenwich High School and with the Greenwich American Legion baseball team, April 30 is a date that stands out to both of them.
It was the first time that the Babson starting pitcher was on the mound and staring back at him in the batter’s box was his friend from Western New England. It was Babson that got the 13-6 victory on the day, however, Loparco was able to gain bragging rights on his good friend.
“It was so weird to face him,” said Genaro. “It was a lot of fun. It was only one at bat, but I was smiling. Of course it was a bloop single over the shortstop’s head. I know how to get hits, and it was really cool to play him in a competitive game.”
“It was the first time we faced each other outside of Greenwich,” Loparco said. “It was definitely weird, and I was smiling in the on-deck circle. It was cool. There wasn’t any added pressure, but you knew that it was something special.”