Ed Hunt knows that all three subdivisions in this yearâ€™s Division I circuit are going to be tough, but not as difficult as the battles awaiting his Lincoln team in the Division I-North ranks.
â€śThere are no weak sisters in our division,â€ť the veteran coach said before his Lionsâ€™ workout on Monday afternoon. â€śI think we have the toughest division from top to bottom, whereas most of the other divisions, theyâ€™re balanced this year, but they still probably have four good teams.â€ť
Huntâ€™s team went 11-7 a season ago and were one of five teams in the league to nail down 10 or more victories, joining state finalist North Providence (17-1), Cumberland (12-6), La Salle (10-8), and Smithfield (10-8).
Those teams are back this year, along with an always-competitive St. Raphael team, Moses Brown (12-6) from the old Division I-East circuit, and two-time Division II champion Mount St. Charles.
â€śWe now have four private schools in our division,â€ť added Hunt. â€śSay what you want about Mount because theyâ€™re coming from Division II, but I think theyâ€™re as strong as any team in this division. Moses Brown is going to be very good, they have everyone coming back, and then we have our nemesis over at St. Rayâ€™s and La Salle.â€ť
Hunt heads into this season with eight returning seniors from last season and just one regular lost to graduation, and the big name back for the Lions is senior standout Ryan Oâ€™Dell, a Second Team All-State pick last year who is headed for the University of Rhode Island on a baseball scholarship.
Oâ€™Dell, who batted .431 a season ago, is the teamâ€™s ace pitcher and shortstop. He is also the teamâ€™s backup catcher until the Lions get back their other No. 2 backstop, Cody Phillips, who hopes to be back in action in three weeks as he recovers from a torn meniscus.
Following Oâ€™Dell on the hill are seniors Matt Mennucci, Steve Marcello, and Zack Perry, and senior catcher Joe Hamilton is also reliable arm.
Perry and sophomore Nick Zammarelli will also see time in the middle infield and at third base, senior Matt Sorkin is very steady in center field, and juniors Kyle Jackson and Joe Yankee also add to the attack.
â€śWeâ€™re strong both defensively and offensively, but weâ€™re very thin in terms of depth,â€ť said Hunt. â€śWe have to stay healthy, and as long as we stay healthy and get better every game, I think weâ€™ll be mixing it up with the better teams in our league.â€ť
The Mounties, who were 42-5 during their back-to-back championship drive, bring back the bulk of their ballclub, including ace southpaw pitcher Garrett Hayward (10-0 last year), who along with shortstop Mike Magerman, center fielder Tim Doyle, and catcher Derek Deschene, are the senior tri-captains.
Also keying the attack are a pair of juniors, cleanup batter and third baseman Tyler Geffert and leadoff batter and second baseman Brian Campbell.
The Saints, who are pursuing their first double-digit win season since 2007, have seniors Alex Collette and Ty Karalis and sophomore Zack Mitsmenn at the top of their roster, while the Clippers are led by their senior tri-captains, shortstop Kevin Dicomitis, center fielder Matt Lazaras, and corner infielder Mike Lucena. Junior Justin Patrick is expected to anchor the starting rotation for Cumberland.
â€śTheyâ€™re going to be good teams again,â€ť Hunt said of SRA and Cumberland. â€śSmithfieldâ€™s also going to be good, and North Providence may have lost a bit last year, but they still have two All-Staters back in (Mike) Corin and (Tyler) Proulx.â€ť
The Blackstone Valleyâ€™s other Division I team, East Providence, is aiming for a solid showing in the Division I-Central ranks after going 7-29 over the past two seasons. A big spring is expected from senior standout Joe Carnevale.
The Central also contains three-time Division I champion Bishop Hendricken, one of a number of teams Hunt expects to make plenty of noise this spring.
â€śI donâ€™t think they lost anyone,â€ť he noted. â€śI think most of their kids last year were sophomores, so they have a couple of good years ahead of them.
â€śCranston West is supposed to be very tough and they have the catcher, (Jeff) Diehl, a good hitter, a pro prospect. I always have a lot of respect for North Kingstown, and Portsmouth is also good. Itâ€™s going to be an interesting year.â€ť
While Division I promises to be a very competitive league, so does Division II, according to longtime Shea coach Dino Campopiano, who hopes his team can be in the mix in what has the makings to be a strong Division II-Central race.
â€śI think you have to give Tolman the nod in our league,â€ť added Campopiano, whose team was 9-9 last season, but 4-2 during a memorable playoff run. â€śI know (coach) Theo (Murray) has some guys coming back, so I know theyâ€™re going to be pretty strong. And Centralâ€™s always tough. They will do well.
â€śAnd I think weâ€™ll be OK. We have some guys back and we looked decent in our scrimmages, so weâ€™ll see what happens. Hopefully, weâ€™ll be in the mix.â€ť
The Tigers, who have won 34 games over the last three years, appear to have another outstanding team. Seniors Troy Sawyer and Chris Messier and juniors Brandon Gagne and Zach Taber are among the teamâ€™s top players.
The Raiders bring back a group of senior standouts, starting with catcher and four-year starter Kevin Allenson, pitcher Eric Geisman, and second baseman Shane Larose. Junior Walter Vanterpool is also coming off a big season.
The Blackstone Valley is well represented in the Division II-North ranks, with six squads (Woonsocket, Central Falls, Burrillville, North Smithfield, Davies, and Ponaganset) among its eight participants.
The Novans are the newcomers to the league, dropping down after going 10-26 over the past two springs, but they have a talented battle-tested team thatâ€™s looking to be a competitive force.
Right fielder Kevin Reyes, center field Luis Chala, catcher Jose Rivera, and pitcher/third baseman Joshua Houle are the senior captains.
The Warriors, who were 9-9, their best mark in nearly two decades, have the ingredients to what they hope finally leads them to a winning season. Seniors Wil Soto, Luis Lubo, Tyler Pineda, and Julian Santa and junior Anthony Rivera are their key players.
North Smithfield has been one of the divisionâ€™s finest teams over the past few seasons (a combined 37-17 record and the Division II title in 2008) and they should again be in the hunt for the division crown. Peter Mancini and Connor Naradowy are among the Northmenâ€™s top returnees.
The Broncos have senior catcher Scott Hingley and junior pitchers/infielders Chris Charpentier and Kevin Deschamps leading the way, and the Chieftains sport a young team with veteran players like senior Joe Crino on their club.
The Patriots have won just six times over their last three years, but with eight freshmen and three sophomores on their 18-man roster, the future looks bright for the Patriots and new head coach Dave â€śDocâ€ť Hanson.
â€śI think Division II overall is going to be a very competitive league,â€ť added Campopiano. â€śYou have to figure that in Division II-North, Johnstonâ€™s going to be good, and Woonsocketâ€™s coming down from Division I, so you would think they would be good.
â€śIn the South, you have some tough teams there, so thatâ€™s going to be very strong. Westerly and West Warwick came down, and Proutâ€™s in that league and they went to the finals.â€ť