Over the last two months, New England Baseball Journal has highlighted some of the top prep baseball teams in New England history. The features have been laden with players who went on to big league rosters and careers in professional baseball.
It has also shared stories of teams that came together to seemingly to become greater than the sum of its parts — groups that caught lightning in a bottle and went on historic runs.
Today, the series concludes with perhaps the greatest prep school baseball team in New England history — the 2014 Salisbury School squad.
That squad went 31-1 playing against some of the top teams across the country, including 21-0 against New England competition.
Here is the list of programs featured in the prep series.
THE PREP BASEBALL SERIES
Prep baseball history: 2018 Phillips Andover had team ERA below 1.00
Prep baseball history: 2010 Cushing Academy squad overcame struggles
Prep baseball history: Belmont Hill’s 2014 team was best of three-peat era
Prep baseball history: 1999 Phillips Exeter team was ‘special’
Prep baseball history: 2019 Suffield Academy squad went undefeated
Prep baseball history: 2011 Lawrence Academy squad had MLB Draft buzz
When Will Toffey reflects back on his final season at Salisbury School, it is not so much the number of victories that come to mind first, but more about the respect each player had for one another which led to unparalleled success. In 2014, Toffey and Co. were part of something truly magical, making them arguably the greatest prep school team in New England history.
Six years ago, the Crimson Knights put forth a season for the ages, running their record to an unprecedented 31-1, including a 21-0 mark versus programs in New England. The odds of seeing such a campaign of this magnitude ever happening again are slim to none.
“We were a tight-knit group that ate dinner together, lived together and did everything together,” said Toffey, who was the starting shortstop. “We had unbelievably talented players, but what made that year so special was just how each piece connected, did their job and had fun doing it. The environment was definitely intense. We always wanted to win, but we always did it with such passion. Everybody cared about the game of baseball and wanted to get better.”
Toffey, a Barnstable, Mass., native, after leaving Salisbury went on to play three seasons at Vanderbilt. He wasted no time making a name for himself there, named an All-American his first season and helping lead the Commodores to the College World Series. In his final year at Vanderbilt, Toffey batted a robust .354. He was drafted three times over his career. In 2014, Toffey was selected by the New York Yankees. In 2016, the Baltimore Orioles drafted him, but he opted to return to Vanderbilt. In 2017, the Oakland Athletics chose him in fourth round. One year into the A’s organization, Toffey was dealt to the New York Mets for reliever Jeurys Familia. Albeit there is no minor league baseball being played this season, he is currently a member of Mets’ Double A affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. In addition, Toffey was also a standout with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
After winning back-to-back WNEPBL championships in 2012 and 2013, in which the Crimson Knights went 46-1, there was little doubt that Salisbury could make it a three-peat. A majority of the talent from the previous season was back in the fold to go along with the addition of two front-line post-graduate pitchers. In essence, the rich kept getting richer.
Behind the tutelage of head coach John Toffey, who is the older brother of Will by 12 years, Salisbury was a monster program. Toffey, himself, was a superb baseball and hockey player at UMass-Amherst and at St. Sebastian’s School prior. He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Lightning, opting to play in the Lightning organization for three years with Johnstown and Trenton.
After leaving hockey, Toffey came to Salisbury in the mid-2000s, serving as an assistant under Mark Leavitt, who in 2010 left to accept an associate head coaching position at Stetson. In his seven seasons at the helm, Toffey led the Crimson Knights to six league titles, the final one coming in 2015. He moved on to Cheshire Academy, spending three years there before taking over the reins at Winchendon School in 2019, where he guided the Wapitis to a New England Small school tournament championship.
“Going 33-1, it was just a very unique team that was incredibly talented,” the elder Toffey said. “The depth was unique as well. It was a bunch of great kids who loved to play and compete. I view it as a once-in-a-lifetime team. I know there have been some really good individual players on other teams, but when you think about all of the depth we had that year, in which five players are now playing professionally and having more than 10 players who played college baseball, I’d say that’s pretty unique.
“Former Salisbury coach Dan Donato (now hockey and baseball coach at Dexter Southfield) built that program from scratch in the early 2000s. It wasn’t a real successful program until Dan got there. He is someone I look up to and consider a mentor. Mark came in and I consider him a mentor too. I was still relatively young when I became the head coach there, but I am certainly thankful to them for giving me that opportunity.”
The Crimson Knights were stockpiled with pitching depth. Foxboro native and former Xaverian Brothers star right-hander Austin DeCarr came to Salisbury for a PG year, as did former Malden Catholic premier righty Paul Campbell. Along with Wills Montgomerie, Jacob Lamb and Scott Hovey, Salisbury had an awe-inspiring staff that dominated the opposition with relative ease. DeCarr, Campbell and Montgomerie were regularly clocked in the low to mid-90s.
“Like anything in baseball, it starts on the mound,” said Toffey. “If you are on top and want to continue to stay on top, it starts on the mound.”
Both DeCarr and Campbell were Clemson commits. Montgomerie was a UConn commit, Lamb would go on to play at Richmond, and Hovey committed to UMass-Amherst. DeCarr, who went 7-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 2014, was a third-round selection of the Yankees after the season, and played in their farm system up until this year. DeCarr has been plagued by injuries throughout his pro career, needing Tommy John surgery and two thoracic outlet surgeries. He is presently pitching in the Michigan-based United Shores Professional Baseball League.
“During that 2014 season, it was a very competitive group of players, and the majority of them were going to play at the next level,” DeCarr said. “Everyone was very focused on improving every day and that made for a great environment to be around. There were a lot of very confident guys on the team, and I think we all believed we could beat a lot of high end Division 1 college programs at the time.”
Following a three-year stint at Clemson, Campbell, a 21st-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017, is a player on the rise within that organization. Montgomerie, from Lakeville, Conn., pitched three seasons at UConn and is currently playing in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system after being selected in the sixth round of the 2017 draft. Other members from that group who are playing professionally include Swampscott, Mass., native Ryan January, who is playing in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
“Salisbury opened the door for my career, not just because of on-field work, but what happened off the field,” Toffey said. “I was living away from home and learning how to handle being relatively on my own. It helped me grow and learn how to take care of my body and mind. It was a great stepping stone before entering college in a different city with different players and a completely different competitive environment. Salisbury had players who worked hard every day and pushed me to do the same. So, when I showed up (at Vanderbilt) life didn’t skip a beat. I knew how to handle myself in the classroom and off the field which made playing easy. The same is still apparent now in professional baseball as each day you need to have a routine that will get you ready to perform at the highest level you possibly can that day.”
Said DeCarr, “I had a bone spur taken out of my elbow during my junior year at Xaverian and didn’t reclaim much velocity until after I graduated from Xaverian. I just thought that putting together a fully healthy year and showing myself that my stuff was back to where it needed to be was paramount. I improved a lot during that 2014 year, both physically and mentally. It helped me transition to the pro game that first season. I also lived on my own for the first time which made the transition to pro ball much easier as well. I had a pretty good idea leading up to the draft that I was going to be picked relatively high, so I knew it was going to be a tough decision on whether or not to go to Clemson.”
Toffey was also an exceptional hockey player at Salisbury, and was part of two New England titles there. Also highly recruited in that sport as well, there were moments when he wondered if playing hockey instead of baseball at the college level might be in his best interest.
“I still think about the reasons why from time to time,” he said. “But for me, it came down to I preferred showing up to the field every day over the rink. It was kind of as simple as that. I knew I had a lot more to learn in baseball than hockey and I was more excited to see where baseball could take me than playing hockey. The opportunity to go play at the highest level in the SEC was a welcoming challenge that I was ready for. It really just came down to which sport did I have more passion for.”
The differential in runs scored to runs against that season is still considered mesmerizing to this day. Salisbury scored 271 runs and allowed only 33. The overall team batting average was an uncanny .395. Throughout their campaign, the Crimson Knights abolished teams both near and far. Their only loss came against Faith Baptist Christian School (Brandon, Fla.) during the Perfect Game National High School Championship Tournament held in Florida. Perfect Game ranked Salisbury the No. 8 team in the country in its final poll.
The decision to play so many games in one season was made by John Toffey. With the amount of depth on board, he felt it was important to get each player as much playing time as possible so to catch the eye of the many pro scouts and college coaches in attendance on a regular basis.
“The dominance of that team was completely different and something I have never experienced before and will probably never experience again,” Toffey said. “It was common for us to have 25 to 30 scouts at our games. We essentially had to change our entire schedule that year because we wanted to allow pro scouts and college coaches to come and see these kids play against good competition. For kids to reach their full potential, I thought it was important for them to play as competitive a schedule as we possibly could.”
Other key contributors from that team included Mason Koppens (Northeastern), Kyle Adams (Richmond), Nick Kurty, David Cahn (Richmond), Andrew Guanci, George Hewitt (Michigan), Stephen White (Tufts), Sammy Brioso (College of St. Rose), Cody Goggins, Dante Letessa, Matt Muzyka (Skidmore hockey), Mike Wroth (AIC and Carson-Newman), Chris Colao (Colby), Jhonny Perez and Zack Neary.
To a player, all believed they could run rampant with nothing holding them back once the season got underway. The team spent a large amount of time throughout the the fall and winter months working out while building upon their chemistry.
“It is an honor to show that level of respect towards a school, my brother and a special group of kids,” the younger Toffey said. “Each person on that team from top to bottom had a desire to get better every day from the start of the school year to the end. That desire produced a phenomenal year against some of the best teams in the Northeast. It just goes to show if you want to make a name for yourself, your school, or wherever you’re at, it takes a collective group pushing one another to make something special happen. The past two seasons were arguably just as good of teams with different pieces. But what helped the 2014 team the most was the culture of winning and how it gets done.”
And what was it like to be coached by his brother for three seasons?
“John is awesome,” he said. “His drive to make kids better players is second to none. There is no one in my life that has helped me more throughout my career than him. He has helped so many kids, not only get better at baseball, but has helped players learn what it takes to be successful in life.”
Likewise, Toffey, the coach, says coaching his younger brother will forever remain a moment to cherish in his lifetime.
“When he was little, he would come to some of my St. Sebs games, and we would play catch afterwards,” he said. “As Will got older, you could see just how talented he was. He loves the game and he loves to compete. Since he graduated from Salisbury, you don’t realize how good kids like him and others are until you don’t have them on a day to day basis anymore. It was a lot of fun to coach him and there were a lot of great memories for our entire family.”