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BASEBALL PREVIEW: Tolman looks to repeat as division champs

April 2, 2014

Tolman’s Steven Otis connects for a base hit against Mount St. Charles last spring. A junior, Otis will slide over to shortstop this season after starting at second base in 2013. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

At this point of the high school baseball season, the main topic of discussion doesn’t pertain to the depth of the pitching staff or whether there’s enough offense to carry the day.

After the brutal winter and wet early spring Rhode Islanders have endured, the burning question pertains to the status of the local diamonds. Are they ready to come to life following a deep slumber?

In a word, no. The season got underway earlier this week and the postponements are already rolling in, a headache for coaches and athletic directors alike. Tuesday might have been a pleasant day weather-wise, but three area games – Tolman at Burrillville, Smithfield at Shea and Scituate at Mount St. Charles – were given the axe for, you guessed it, unplayable grounds.

The dilemma extends further thanks to last weekend’s substantial rainstorm. Thursday’s Burrillville at MSC contest has already been postponed. Another game on the docket Thursday, North Smithfield at Ponaganset, has been shifted to the Northmen’s home base.

The fields are either besieged with so much moisture or still in the process of thawing out that they’re commonly being referred to as moats and quagmires. Teams can probably get on the fields – to practice for a slip n’ slide tournament. Other than that, the conditions are so unfavorable that coaches have had no choice but to conduct practices in gyms, where they are handicapped in terms of what drills can be utilized.

Let’s face it: you can’t judge a fly ball adequately or properly work on cutoff throws with a roof draped overhead. All intended parties are no doubt thankful to be dry, but they are also well aware there’s only so much simulation that can take place on a basketball court, where cleats aren’t permitted. Nothing can substitute for the real thing – that is, being outdoors.

“As far as getting a good look at what the kids can give me, I really don’t know yet,” expressed Tolman mentor Theo Murray, his pain no doubt shared by his coaching brethren around the state.

And that has created nothing but havoc for local squads that want nothing more than a little warmth and sunshine in their lives. Hopefully, it will come sooner rather than later.

Let’s shift gears away from the world of meteorology and extended forecasts and focus on our local boys of springtime. Below is a synopsis of who to keep an eye on as the race to reach the finals at McCoy Stadium amps up, albeit under less than desirable conditions:

Division I

Change is in the air at Woonsocket as former Lincoln High head coach Ed Hunt takes over the Novans. Hunt joined the program last year as an assistant to John Marsella. (As an aside, Hunt is in the market for an assistant coach).

Another sign that things are different for Woonsocket is that all varsity, junior varsity and middle school games have been shifted from Barry Field to Renaud Field. As far as the hopes of improving upon a 5-13 finish in 2013, that will hinge upon several factors.

The health of Woonsocket ace pitcher and senior Jonathan Flynn remains up in the air due to shoulder issues. Hunt has his fingers crossed that Flynn can come back late in the season, but that doesn’t help the Villa Novans in the short term.

With Flynn sidelined, junior Miguel Raymond slides into the top spot. The coach’s son, senior Victor Hunt, is also a candidate to see time on the mound when he’s not patrolling left field.

“He throws a lot of strikes,” noted Ed Hunt about Raymond. “He’s got good mound presence … nothing seems to rattle him.”

Two of Woonsocket’s better athletes in the Class of 2014 are in the fold as Will Andino will play shortstop and Randy Reyes likewise in center field. Andino has expressed interest in pitching. Catcher Kyle Beaulieu hopes to build off an encouraging freshman season.

Like Woonsocket, St. Raphael did not qualify for the 2013 postseason. A return to the second season and an improvement from last year’s 8-10 finish will hinge upon senior ace Bob Bracken, who went 4-2 as a junior.

Bracken is the lone Saint who owns true pitching experience. Three guys in the mix to eat innings are juniors Jacob Roy and Jarrett Knox along with senior Ben Johnston. Roy was the Saints’ top hitter last year and will patrol center field. Sophomore catcher Dylan Boisclair is another player head coach Tom “Saar” Sorrentine will lean upon.

“After that, we pretty much have all new guys,” Sorrentine said. “We have a whole new infield and outfield.”

Cumberland and Lincoln are two additional Division I-North squads that each finished with 9-9 league marks last year.

The Lions are transitioning from a squad that last season featured two players who are currently playing Division I baseball in Nick Zammarelli (Elon) and Andrew Veiga (Albany). Fortunately for head coach Andy Hallam, he has two proven high school pitchers in juniors Justin Conti and Matt Kynch. Senior Jeff Sheehan is another pitching option.

The most intriguing Lincoln player is junior Mason Palmieri, who stands 6-foot-4. He figures to be the squad’s top pitcher and offensive threat.

For the Clippers, Joe Fine is back for his senior year; he was a second team all-division pick a year ago.

Division II

Talk to coaches and it’s clear: Mount St. Charles is not only a contender in Division II-North, but also the state when you take into account the entire 27-team division. Head coach Tom Seaver returns several known faces from last year’s 11-5 squad. A good place to start is senior Nolan Hayward, who at this time next year will be suiting up for Bryant University.

Hayward will be in left field – he batted .421 as a junior – and will see time on the mound. His fellow co-captain is shortstop Riley Young, who also posted a robust average as a junior (.438). Kevin Valentine is a junior pitcher who went 4-1 in 2013. Another mound option for Seaver is sophomore Alex Lataille.

Both Valentine and Lataille will be throwing to junior catcher Justin D’Abrosca.

“Once the weather gets warm, I expect to be a good hitting team and hope the pitching staff comes through,” said Seaver.

Without question, sophomore Adam Ghazal will be a standout for Tolman, which captured II-North last year with a 14-2 mark. Junior Steven Otis makes the transition from second base to shortstop, a move made after senior Corey Hughes suffered a leg injury a few weeks ago.

Richie Marshall assumes the ace mantle that used to belong to Carlos Sanabria. As a junior, Marshall only absorbed one loss during the regular season.

“We expect that he’ll carry the load,” said Murray about Marshall.

Senior lefthander Anthony DiBiasio is Tolman’s No. 2 pitcher with junior Alex Lopez in center field.

A strong senior class headlines North Smithfield’s prospects. Dylan Naradowy, a shortstop, earned all-division honors as a junior. He’ll be asked to anchor the Northmen’s offensive attack and step on the mound more than in years past.

Senior Chris Forbes has been a rotation mainstay for North Smithfield the last few years. When he’s not pitching, he’ll be at first base and hitting in the middle of the order. Classmate Mike Cicerone is back behind the plate with fellow 12th grader Conor Dispirito expected to see time at several positions.

“He’s a line drive hitter,” noted North Smithfield mentor Jon Leddy about Dispirito.

Sophomore David Mejia is a promising talent for Shea. As a first-year varsity player, Mejia settled in as the Raiders’ primary shortstop and never looked back. He will also be a key pitcher for coach Dino Campopiano’s contingent.

Jared Pacheco is the Raiders’ top pitcher. “Every game he pitched last year, he kept us in games,” noted Campopiano about the senior. “We’re hoping for the same if not better this year.”

Bladimir Helena, a senior, will see time in the outfield and on the mound for Shea, which went 7-9 in league play a year ago. Classmate Patrick Cervoni provides infield depth with Kevin Moore in center field.

Second-year Burrillville head coach Peter Berthelette believes the strength of this year’s team is pitching depth. The Broncos don’t have an ace per say, but there’s a plethora of options in senior Andrew Carlson, junior Colin Murphy and senior James Stead. Justin Deschamps, a junior, figures to serve as a late-game option as well as sophomores Greg Carlson and Mark Stead.

The Broncos were starved for runs last year, batting .213 as a team. Andrew Carlson, Chad Stone and Deschamps are the top returning hitters.

The hope is that Central Falls and Davies Tech can improve from the last-place finishes each posted in 2013. The Warriors are grouped in the same division as Tolman, MSC, North Smithfield, Burrillville and Shea while the Patriots compete within II-Central.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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