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Newton slugger on way to BC

North senior chose local favorite despite a trip to Notre Dame

Notre Dame was battling another college. On the football field. And in the mind of Sam Shaughnessy.

Picture the scene on Oct. 15, as he visited the tradition-rich Notre Dame campus. The place is abuzz because of the USC game. Shaughnessy, a Newton North senior who is being recruited for the Irish baseball team, is in the crowd as part of his official campus visit.

In Shaughnessy's mind, there's a different contest going on: Notre Dame versus Boston College; which one should he attend?

''I sort of felt like I couldn't go wrong either way," he says. ''Part of the allure about Notre Dame is how serious they take athletics, the big stage. At BC, they're building a new stadium, and it's close to home."

Shaughnessy flew home that weekend with his parents and thoughts. He had just experienced a taste of big-time college athletics, attending pep rallies, receiving a reimbursement check for mileage from the airport, and hanging out with members of the Notre Dame baseball squad.

''I got back on a Monday and started talking to my friends and family, people who know me," he said. ''Monday and Tuesday, I was on the fence. There were times I really thought Notre Dame. I called BC one more time to talk, to make sure I knew the situation there."

Then Shaughnessy spoke with his sister Sarah, who is enrolled at Harvard. He also chatted with his other sister, Kate, who attends Boston University.

He liked what they told him, to make a decision but to keep it within for a few days. The idea was to let his choice sink in without being persuaded by others.

Then came decision day.

Shaughnessy was driving with his parents, Dan and Marilou, and they arrived at Boston College. At that point, the question was what Shaughnessy would be telling coach Peter Hughes. Was he in? Or headed to Notre Dame?

''I was wearing an old painter's hat that I had from painting over the summer," Shaughnessy said. ''When I saw Coach Hughes, he made a wisecrack about the hat. That's when I told him I was off to the bookstore to get a BC hat."

Shaughnessy, a first baseman and corner outfielder, was scheduled to sign his official letter of intent this past Thursday. BC is giving him a partial scholarship, and the news is no surprise to Newton North coach Joe Siciliano and Newton American Legion coach Manny Connerney.

''It's a credit to all of his hard work; he's really committed to becoming a better hitter every day," said Siciliano, who calls Shaughnessy one of the finest hitters he has had in 19 years as Newton North's coach. ''Even in the off-season, he's thinking about swinging a bat."

Connerney has been coaching 32 years, and 2006 will be his 14th summer as Newton's Legion coach. He has had the left-handed-hitting Shaughnessy on the Legion team the last three seasons and said he is ''right up there" among the best hitters he has coached.

''He's a great hitter and will become a better hitter," he said. ''He's so strong, always capable of hitting the ball out of the park, and has all the tools. He loves the game, -- eats, sleeps, and drinks it. I wish more people had his attitude toward the game."

BC's interest in Shaughnessy heightened after he hit three home runs against Malden Catholic in a state tournament game. During the high school season this year, the 18-year-old Shaughnessy hit .380, with seven home runs, 16 runs batted in, and a .785 slugging percentage.

Connerney said that Shaughnessy is also an underrated fielder and has an unusual ability to throw with either hand. In a Babe Ruth baseball game years ago, Shaughnessy pitched lefty and righty in one contest, just as Greg Harris once did for the Red Sox. In most games, he throws left-handed because he fields better with his right hand.

Playing Division 1 college baseball has been his longtime goal, but he didn't realize it was a possibility until his freshman year of high school.

Shaughnessy had a solid season for Connerney's Legion team that summer, before taking another positive step at a summer showcase at Bentley College. He attended another showcase at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington this summer with some of the best players on the East Coast. That's where Notre Dame spotted him.

When it comes to hitting, Shaughnessy, who is Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy's son, enjoys watching the best, like Red Sox sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, as well as Albert Pujols (Cardinals), Alfonso Soriano (Rangers), and Vladimir Guerrero (Angels).

''I'm on all the time watching home run videos," he said. ''Someone once told me a good thing to do is to watch hitters like that, to see how Pujols hits the other way, how Manny keeps his hands inside the ball, and all those type of things."

Sometimes Siciliano steps back and admires Shaughnessy when the bat is in the youngster's hands.

''You have to bring something to the table as a hitter, and he has incredibly strong hands," Siciliano said.

''He has great bat speed. It starts with that, but then there's all that work he puts into it. If you tell a kid to swing the bat 100 times a day in the off-season, he'll be the type of kid to do that."

Next year, he will be swinging it for Boston College.

''It might take a year," said Connerney, ''but he'll be a kid to be reckoned with."

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