By KEN HAMWEY
Staff Sports Writer
Brian Nichols and Mike Govoni know what it’s like to take on leadership roles.
The Millis High seniors, who’ll be the baseball team’s captains, already have experience in handling responsibilities that leaders often face. Nichols was a captain in football and Govoni was a two-time captain in ice hockey.
Both National Honor Society students, their thoughtful perspective and mature outlook will no doubt be major assets as they help coach Mike Carter get the Mohawks ready to re-start a baseball program that’s been dormant for a year because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Both players were disappointed their junior seasons were lost after the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled all spring sports last year when the coronavirus flexed its muscles. But, the duo is delighted to get the opportunity to play baseball one final time before graduation.
“I was angry and hurt when baseball was canceled last year,’’ Nichols said. “Junior year is important because that’s when colleges recruit players. Now, I’m really grateful to get this last chance. I’ll be competing with guys I’ve been with since Little League. And, though there’ll be modifications, like wearing masks and distancing on the bench, there should be no complaints. We’ve been wearing masks since last spring.’’
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Nichols, who pitches and plays the infield, is acutely aware that the health and safety of everyone remains the No. 1 priority.
“Sports and gatherings shouldn’t be prioritized over the health and safety of others,’’ Nichols emphasized.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Govoni, who handles the catching chores, was in denial when baseball was shelved last year. “I was mad and sad and didn’t think it was reality,’’ he said. “Now that we’ve got the chance to play again, I’m pleased and I’ll do what it takes to play. I’ll even drive to games if I have to.’’
Govoni, however, knows that everyone’s health and safety is crucial. But, he sees a downside in what the country has endured. “Covid-19 is dangerous but in the early months the lockdowns were very damaging to peoples’ mental health,’’ Govoni noted. “The good news is we’re handling it better now. We’re more cautious and gatherings are smaller in numbers.’’
The 18-year-old Nichols and the 17-year-old Govoni already know how they’ll deal with the leadership reins they’ve been given.
“I’ll lead by example on the field and will strive to be supportive,’’ Nichols said. “If I get vocal, there’ll be no discouragement. We’ve got a young team and I know Mike and I will work to develop our younger players.’’
Govoni will also lead by example and by providing support. “I wasn’t the best hockey player on our team but I led by listening and by relying on a strong work ethic,’’ he said. “My goals for our team are to win and to qualify for whatever playoffs we might have, but we also must enjoy the journey. We’ve got to appreciate the chance to compete again.’’
Both captains are natives of Millis and both have played baseball for over a decade in youth leagues, for club teams and for the Mohawk varsity.
As sophomores both had dynamic stretches. Nichols, a right-handed hurler who relies on a curve, fastball, slider and change-up, was called on for relief duty in the team’s tourney opener against Bourne. Govoni dominated in a key, come-from-behind win over Dover-Sherborn.
“Brian came in during the fifth inning with two outs and two runners on with us leading, 5-4,’’ recalled Carter. “He got us out of the inning with a big strikeout. He eventually pitched six innings (into the 11th) giving up six hits and only two runs. Unfortunately, we weren›t able to score any runs for him.’’
Nichols labels that outing as “exciting, definitely my best pitching performance.’’
Govoni, who hit .317 and caught 121 innings, had an offensive explosion at Dover. “I went 4-for-5, had two doubles, two singles, two RBIs, and scored twice,’’ he said. “We rallied for a 14-11 victory by getting 11 runs in the sixth inning. That was my best game.’’
A contact hitter, Nichols is aggressive at the plate and relies on a quick swing. His overall baseball strengths include athleticism, good technical skills and a high baseball IQ. “The key to pitching is maintaining control and keeping the hitter guessing,’’ Nichols said.
Carter has high praise for his pitcher, who’ll likely be a starter this season. “We leaned on Brian to pitch in many pressure situations,’’ he said. “He’s a great leader by example. I teach him in Honors English this year and he’s always prepared, engaged, and participating in class discussions. He’s intelligent, very even keeled and has a mature, thoughtful perspective on and off the field.’’
Govoni is passionate about his catching role, relying on assets like a strong arm, mental and physical toughness, an instinctive nature and a high baseball IQ. “I like catching because it gives me control of the game,’’ he offered. “And, it allows me to be a leader.’’
Carter is extremely bullish on Govoni’s ability and his devotion to handle the catching chores.
“Mike stepped up as a sophomore and learned the position because he knew our team was desperate for a catcher,’’ Carter emphasized. “He caught 126.1 innings for us that season (every single inning except one). He threw out four runners stealing, but what really impressed me was the way he worked with our pitching staff. As a young player catching mostly upperclassmen, he was a terrific battery mate.
“Mike is competitive and works hard every minute of practice. As our only catcher, he had to put in so much extra work during offseason workouts, extra bullpen sessions after practice, and so on. We’re really lucky to have such a solid player and leader.’’
Both players are quality athletes in their other sports endeavors. A tailback, Nichols gained 400 yards rushing in only half a season as a junior and had four interceptions at cornerback. His first game this season got underway after Local Town Pages deadline. Govoni, a defenseman in hockey, had 2 goals and 7 assists skating for the Hopedale co-op team that went undefeated in 11 games. In golf, he was Millis’ No. 4 player, averaging 43 for nine holes.
Both players’ baseball objectives are to win as many games as possible and qualify for any league or sectional tourney. Both give high marks to their coach and the younger players aiming to nail down roster spots. “Coach Carter is a great motivator, he’s energetic and competitive and he knows the game,’’ they said. “Our new players want to learn, will work hard and we’ll help them adjust.’’
Nichols expects to enroll at either Wentworth, WPI or the University of Vermont and major in civil engineering. He hopes to continue playing baseball in college. Govoni has been accepted at Babson College where he’ll major in management. He plans to be a walk-on candidate in baseball.
While both players share a similar competitive philosophy, they make winning a high priority. Nichols says “it’s important to do the little things right, like fielding a ground ball smoothly and making an accurate throw for the out.’’ Govoni focuses on giving 100 percent and having fun.
As their final season at Millis is about to begin, both view the conclusion to their athletic careers as “bittersweet.’’
“Just getting this final chance to compete means I’ll give my all and aim for a strong finish,’’ Nichols said. “I’ve played baseball in Millis for 11 years and there’s good memories. But there’s a new chapter of my life to unfold in college.’’
Govoni said: “I’ll miss my teammates. I want to leave a legacy and be remembered as a hard-worker and a leader.’’
Brian Nichols and Mike Govoni are outstanding ambassadors — not only for Millis High, but also the Millis community.