Gazette Baseball Player of the Year: Liam Flynn, Hopkins Academy

Hopkins Academy’s Liam Flynn pitches against Pittsfield during action earlier this season in Hadley.

Hopkins Academy’s Liam Flynn pitches against Pittsfield during action earlier this season in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 07-07-2024 2:01 PM

HADLEY — Hopkins Academy baseball head coach Dan Vreeland was torn between whether or not he would keep a freshman with potential on varsity to be a plug-and-play guy, or stick him on junior varsity where he would play every inning of every game.

But Vreeland saw something in this kid, and had a feeling he would come in handy with his good bat and flashy glove at first base. And when Hopkins’ starting first baseman went down with a broken hand early in the year, Vreeland was forced to throw the freshman right into the fire.

Enter Liam Flynn.

He stepped into the role and played it flawlessly, hitting .330 at the plate and fielding the position better than most, according to Vreeland.

Hopkins went on to win the 2021 state championship, with Flynn starting and excelling in the majority of those games.

“All the way back when he was a freshman, I kept him on the varsity knowing he’d be an extra bat off the bench,” Vreeland said of Flynn. “Then our first baseman got hurt, which pretty much made Liam a full-time first baseman as a freshman. He went from a guy who I was like, ‘oh, he’ll be nice to have around and he’ll mature throughout the season,’ to a guy who didn’t even need to mature. Because he was already there.”

That early experience quickly became invaluable for Flynn. Two years later as a junior, which was last season for Hopkins, he hit a whopping .446 and tallied 32 RBIs while also posting an undefeated regular season record as a starting pitcher. Flynn pitched lights out against every western Mass. team who stepped to the plate, and he earned the win against Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 state quarterfinals to send the Golden Hawks to a Final Four.

This year, as a senior, Flynn shined again.

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He struck out only seven times all season, and his .377 batting average – which included two home runs, 25 RBIs and 25 runs scored – posed as a steady bat atop Hopkins’ lineup. Once again, he was one of the most consistent pitchers in the area, and his shutout win over Drury in the Div. 5 Round of 16 backed that up – where he struck out six and gave up five hits and no walks. He also cracked a go-ahead home run against No. 1 Georgetown in this year’s quarterfinal, a game Hopkins ultimately lost.

Flynn’s illustrious career includes a Western Mass. championship, a Division 4 state championship, a Division 5 state runner-up trophy and several individual accolades to go along with it. And this year, he is the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Baseball Player of the Year.

He becomes the second consecutive Hopkins player to win, with James Fitzgibbons earning the award in 2023.

“It means a lot to get something like this,” Flynn said. “I’ve been playing for Hopkins since I was a freshman, and I’ve seen guys win this award before me. It’s pretty cool that two Hopkins guys won in a row, and Cooper [Beckwith] won it for hockey and he’s also a Hopkins guy. It’s awesome to see Hopkins winning these.”

On paper, Flynn had a better record on the mound last year. That makes sense considering he didn’t lose a game until the state final. But Hopkins played a much tougher schedule this spring, and Flynn got to pitch against some of the best teams in the region. He tossed a complete game against Pioneer, striking out nine and giving up only four hits in seven innings. The Golden Hawks lost 2-0, but both runs Flynn surrendered were unearned.

The senior southpaw painted corners consistently all season, and the growth of his off-speed arsenal made him even harder to hit than before.

“My record may have been better last year, but I feel like my command and other pitches I developed improved greatly,” Flynn said. “Our league also improved a lot this year, so it was very stacked. But I’m happy with my command and how I developed other pitches this year.”

All of Flynn’s success over the past two seasons as an upperclassman he credited to his freshman year. Having to play on a team with state-title aspirations is a heavy burden for a 14 or 15 year-old kid, but Flynn handled it like a pro.

When he started on the mound in Hopkins’ state championship game in 2023, and when he blasted a two-run shot in the 2024 quarterfinals, he felt no pressure whatsoever.

That young freshman helped him wash those nerves away early, and he’s taken off to new heights since.

“I gained experience playing in big games right away, and that definitely helped me a lot,” Flynn said. “Obviously I was nervous, but that helped me for later years when we played in more big games. When I pitched in the state championship, I was ready for it even though we still lost. I feel like I was a big-game player because I was ready for it from freshman year.”

Next year, Flynn is attending Division III Houghton University in New York to continue his academic and baseball career.

The Goshen native who school-choiced to Hopkins is sure glad he did. It’s given him the opportunity to live out his dream.

“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Flynn said of his decision to school choice. “It brought me some of my best friends, it brought me success on the field, and I think it really helped me progress as a player and a person.”