Traditions run deep on the Hilltop, the unofficial name for the breath-taking Salisbury Preparatory School campus in Salisbury, Conn.
A New England prep school first established in 1901, the traditions include everything from the all-male student body wearing jackets and ties to both class and the communal sit-down meals to the revered school motto Esse Quam Videri, the Roman for “To be rather than to seem to be” – an affirmation of personal honor.
The traditions also carry over to athletics and there is no shortage of options for the 300 boys on campus to pursue. One option predates the others, however: Salisbury Prep's baseball program can be traced back to its origins in 1904, and as the Crimson Knight get ready to begin their 111th season of play they will look only to continue the honored traditions of excellence and sportsmanship.
The 2014 Salisbury Prep School Crimson Knight baseball team will begin play this month ranked No. 34 in the most recent Perfect Game National High School Top 50 Rankings, the highest ranking of any school from the PG Northeast Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont).
The Crimson Knight finished 23-1 in 2013 (23-0 in 2012) and won their second straight Western New England Prep Baseball League (WNEPBL) championship and third in John Toffey’s four seasons as head coach. The 10-team WNEPBL operates under the umbrella of the New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), a governing body that counts 64 New England prep schools among its members.
“We do have similar goals coming into each year,” Toffey told PG in a telephone conversation last week. “We try not to think too much about the end of the season and what might happen in the future; we just try to work on the process and the day-by-day stuff over the end result. But I think our boys are really looking forward to this season.”
SALISBURY PREPARATORY SCHOOL GRADUATED SEVEN PLAYERS from last year’s team that are playing college baseball this spring. That includes right-hander Ryley MacEachern, an alumnus of both the 2011 and 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase who is at Stony Brook University this spring after being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 37th round of the 2013 MLB June amateur draft.
There are eight seniors on this year’s Crimson Knight roster that have signed letters of intent to play collegiately next season, seven at NCAA Division I schools. That includes a pair of prospects headed to Clemson in the fall, and one each to Vanderbilt, Richmond, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Four of those prospects will comprise the Crimson Knight starting pitching rotation, a staff unequaled in the Northeast Region.
It starts with senior right-handers Austin DeCarr and Paul Campbell, both of whom are new to Salisbury School this school year and both of whom have signed with Clemson. DeCarr (6-foot-3, 215-pounds) is from Foxboro, Mass., and is ranked No. 248 nationally (class of 2014) and No. 3 in Massachusetts. He is a veteran of 15 PG events, including the 2013 National Showcase, and also attended the East Coast Pro Showcase and played in the Area Code Games.
Campbell (6-1, 170) is from Revere, Mass., and is ranked in the top-500 nationally and No. 10 in Massachusetts. The other projected starters are 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior right-hander Wills Montgomerie, a Connecticut signee from Lakeville, Conn., and 6-foot-3, 215-pound righty Scott Hovey, a Massachusetts-Amherst recruit from Danvers, Mass. Junior left-hander Jacob Lamb (6-5, 225) from Salisbury, Conn., gives Toffey another proven arm.
“Each year we try to build our team around pitching and defense, and being real sound defensively,” he said. “Our pitching staff this year potentially could be the best staff that we’ve had in my six years at the school. We have a great group of senior leaders this year. It’s a really, really strong core of guys who are going to be fantastic to work with."
The Crimson Knight aren’t hurting for talented position players to back up those strong arms. Senior catcher/first baseman Kyle Adams from White Plaines, N.Y., has signed with the University of Richmond and senior outfielder Andrew Murname from Wayzata, Minn., is headed to Pennsylvania and the Ivy League.
And then there is senior shortstop Will Toffey, a top-500 national prospect from Barnstable, Mass., who has signed with Vanderbilt. Will Toffey is John Toffey’s younger brother – John is the oldest of five Toffey siblings and Will is the youngest.
“It’s been so much fun; it’s been a blast,” John said of coaching his brother. “It’s been a lot of fun coaching him and having him here. He’s committed to Vanderbilt and he’s really excited about that and the opportunity to play baseball down there.”
SALISBURY PREPARATORY SCHOOL IS A BOARDING SCHOOL, which means the 300 boys who attend live in dormitories, and gather daily for sit-down meals and frequently for chapel services. It offers 33 interscholastic sports programs, including the customary baseball, football and basketball while also providing offerings like hockey, lacrosse, skiing, squash, crew and sailing.
“There is a real strong sense of brotherhood at this school,” Toffey said. “The boys are really good friends with each other. There are 300 boys that go to this school and most of them live right on campus, so there are some really strong bonds and friendships that are made. There’s that sense of brotherhood and there’s a really strong sense of school spirit here, as well.”
The school has produced many professional athletes in the numerous pursuits, and the programs seem to feed off one another. Forty Salisbury graduates have moved on to play baseball either collegiately or professionally just since 2007.
“When you get them all together in one small place and they’re going to school together , they’re eating together, they’re working out together, you really notice that competitive spirit and that competitive drive,” Toffey said. “They push each other to be the best and they accomplish their goals that way.”
Among the school’s most notable baseball alumni is left-hander Chris Dwyer, a 2008 Salisbury Prep graduate who was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft by the Kansas City Royals. Dwyer made his major league debut with the Royals last September. Anthony Hewitt was a first round pick (24th) of the Philadelphia Phillies right out of Salisbury Prep in the 2008 draft and completed his sixth minor league season in 2013.
2011 graduate James Lynch was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 45th round of the 2011 draft but elected to attend Glendale (Ariz.) Community College. The Dodgers drafted him again in 2013, this time in the 36th round, and he is now a Dodgers' farmhand.
“We’ve had some strong success with some great baseball players here and we’ve had a lot of success with some teams that have done really well with league championships and even some undefeated seasons, “Toffey said. “One of the things that we try to focus on is the work ethic – our guys come prepared to work every day and they really are tireless workers. ... The thing that sets them apart is their drive to win and be the best that they can be.”
SALISBURY PREP WILL BE ONE OF 12 TEAMS COMPETING IN THE 2nd annual Perfect Game High School Showdown April 3-5 in Fort Myers, Fla. It is the only school from the PG Northeast Region that will be in the expanded field, joining high school teams from Florida, Georgia, Texas and Mississippi.
“It’s terrific exposure for our guys,” Toffey said. “They always want to play with and against the best and we’re really looking forward to heading to Florida in about a month. It will be a great experience for our guys and it will be a tremendous challenge playing against some really strong teams from other parts of the country.
“It will be great for our kids to get out of New England and play baseball in Florida. We’re really, really looking forward to it and thankful for the opportunity to be invited by Perfect Game (to the event) … and go to Florida and compete against some of the best high school teams in the country.”
Toffey knows his guys will represent the Northeast well at the event. He knows it because he sees that competitiveness up close every day throughout the spring and into the summer.
“We have some talented kids who love to play baseball, and I think it’s that pursuit of excellence – they’re always striving to be the best that they can in everything that they do," he said. "When you surround yourself with lots of kids that have similar goals and are trying to accomplish the same types of things, you push each other to kind of be the best.
“We have a group of kids that are over-achievers, kids who work hard at everything that they do,” Toffey concluded. “As a team we have a goal for everyone to be an honor roll student, and that pursuit of excellence and just being the best that you can be in everything that you’re going to do – in the classroom, socially with your relationships around campus, being respectful – those things carry over into the baseball and having that strong work ethic.”
Traditions do, indeed, run deep on the Hilltop.