By HAROLD RIVERA
SALEM — During his days with the Lynn Tech baseball team, Al Donovan was a standout pitcher.
A 1984 graduate, Donovan, compiled a 21-3 record on the mound in his three seasons as a Tiger.
Now Donovan’s tackling a big role just five miles north of his hometown. Last August, Donovan was named head coach of the baseball team at Salem State University after two seasons as pitching coach.
With Donovan at the helm, the Vikings are off and running this season. Salem State started the season with a spring trip to Arizona, where the Vikings matched up against a slate of top competition from around the country.
The games in Arizona gave the new head coach an early indication of what his team will look like this year. That indication, Donovan said, was one that he liked.
“Things are pretty good (this season),” Donovan said. “We had a successful trip to Arizona. We went 7-4 and played some great competition. It was tough for our pitching staff to stay intact during that stretch but they did well. Our bats left with five home runs, so we hit the ball well. It was a successful trip.”
Since returning from Arizona, the Vikings have gone 8-8, placing them at 15-13 on the season.
They earned a big 5-3 win over Endicott earlier this week, after losing to the Gulls, 4-0, in the Vikings’ first game of the season.
“I’m happy with the way we’re playing ball,” Donovan said. “We just need to be a little more consistent in what we do from hitting, to pitching and fielding. If we’re a little more consistent, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Vikings won the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) in each of Donovan’s two seasons as pitching coach. Donovan foresees a competitive set of conference games ahead.
“It’s going to be a tough conference this year,” Donovan said. “Everyone’s improved this year: Worcester State University, Mass Maritime, Framingham State. It’s going to be a battle. Everyone comes to play. It’s going to be a tough road. Every year it comes down to pitching and defense. We need to go out and battle every single week.”
In adjusting to his new role as head coach, Donovan has noticed that leading the program comes with new responsibilities. Time management has been key as he tackles those responsibilities.
“There’s a lot that goes into being the head coach from trying to raise money to support your spring trip, to making sure you have everything in compliance, to scheduling,”
Donovan said. “You have to be able to manage your time. Time management is important.”
Luckily Donovan has had two full seasons with the Vikings to lean on, meaning he didn’t come into the role without familiarity with his players.
“It’s a good part of it, being here the past two years with the pitching staff,” Donovan said. “I’m able to know the individual players and their strengths and weaknesses.”
Joining Donovan on the coaching staff are former Vikings catcher Mike Lamothe, Angelo Salustri and John Sheehan.
Among the many conversations that the coaches have had together is one about the handful of local players on the team. Salem State carries 11 players from the North Shore area on its roster, including Lynners Nick Day, Joe Kasper and Matt Stanley. Also among the locals is a trio of pitchers from Peabody in Tyler Fitzgerald, Steve Leavitt and Andrew McLaughlin, as well as co-captain Teghan Malionek from Salem.
Donovan credited the pack of local talent on his team to the high school coaches in the area who have developed successful programs.
“I’ve talked to my assistant coaches about this, I’m a big believer that the North Shore is rich in high school baseball,” Donovan said. “That’s to the credit of the coaches in the area. A number of these coaches are outstanding coaches and do a great job developing players. If we can keep these guys at home, we’ll have a great program. It’s a great aspect.”
As the Vikings move into conference play, Donovan’s goal is for his team to improve on a daily basis. If the team finds the right combination of pitching, hitting and defense, Salem State should be right back in the thick of things in MASCAC.
“We’re trying to improve every single day to be the best possible team we can be,” Donovan said. “The kids are working very hard. Progression is starting to take its place. As we’re progressing, we need to get to a point to where we’re doing it consistently. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids that are working hard.”