La Salle senior catcher and Lincoln native Alex Howard. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
PROVIDENCE â€“ Thereâ€™s a hearty dose of local talent on this yearâ€™s baseball team at La Salle Academy. More precisely, there are five players whose contributions to date represent a key reason why head coach Geoff Marconeâ€™s ball club is positioned near the top of Division I-North.
What makes this particular quintet so distinctive is that each of them brings something different to the field. In Cumberlandâ€™s Caleb Gardner and North Smithfieldâ€™s C.J. Dandeneau, the Rams are buoyed by a rock-solid 1-2 punch at the front-end of the rotation.
Marcone also has peace-of-mind when it comes to who is running the show behind the plate in catcher Alex Howard via Lincoln. Another Lincoln native, Doug Harrison, makes noise mainly with the bat, yet he also provides pitching depth. The final link to the Blackstone-Valley-to-La-Salle Express is Lincolnâ€™s Broderick Santilli, a promising youngster who figures quite prominently in the Ramsâ€™ plans moving forward.
Five players do not make up a varsity baseball squad â€“ hardly groundbreaking news. Marcone, however, didnâ€™t spare the effusive praise when discussing the merits of the aforementioned players before later packaging them all nice and neat for the sake of T-E-A-M.
The skipper knows that the pitching of Gardner and Dandeneau along with the steady hand of Howard represent three reasons why La Salle stands at 11-1 heading into Mondayâ€™s showdown at 12-0 Bishop Hendricken. (As a side note, Gardner, Dandeneau and Howard were selected for the Division I All-Star Game.)
â€śTo get all the guys who come from different parts of the state on the same page and pulling in the same direction can sometimes be difficult,â€ť noted Marcone, â€śbut theyâ€™ve done a tremendous job. Chemistry is a huge thing. Talent will get you so far, but teamwork, hard work and intelligence will get you over the top. I think we have that this year.â€ť
Gardner figures to get the starting nod on the mound against Hendricken, where he will look to increase his season win total (three) while lower his ERA (1.64 in four starts). One of the victories came against Cumberland last Tuesday when the senior tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a 4-1 victory for La Salle.
A contributor to Upper Deck Post 86/14 Legion squad, Gardner plans to head to the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) located in Newport come the fall with an eye toward enrolling in the U.S. Naval Academy the following year. He says that the allure of playing baseball for a NCAA Division I member is one of the reasons why he selected the route he did.
While Gardner is viewed as the de facto ace, he expressed gratitude for having Dandeneau serving as the next La Salle pitcher in the rotation. The junior Dandeneau tops the Rams in appearances (six), ERA (0.47), innings pitched (30) and strikeouts (49). Like Gardner, he also has three wins.
â€śIt definitely takes some pressure off knowing that C.J. is behind me, but it also gives me motivation because weâ€™re competing for the No. 1 spot,â€ť Gardner explained. â€śIf Iâ€™m not on top of my game, I know that C.J.â€™s going to step up and help me out.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™ll go as far as how well Caleb and C.J. pitch,â€ť Marcone made perfectly clear. â€śThey are both super competitive and feed off each other. If one guy has a great start, the next guy wants to go out and do the same thing. â€ś
Dandeneau isnâ€™t just a one-dimensional contributor. After tossing five innings against Lincoln High last Thursday, he went out to patrol center field. There he recorded a nice running grab to his left to thwart an extra-bases bid by Lincolnâ€™s Nick Zammarelli, a web gem that ended the six inning.
Dandeneau also played a hand in the Ramsâ€™ 5-4 walk-off win over the Lions as he singled with one down in the seventh before scoring on a game-ending double by Tyler Schemick. For the year, Dandeneau is batting .343 with five extra-base hits and 11 RBI.
â€śThe biggest thing about C.J. is that heâ€™s an athlete,â€ť praised Marcone. â€śYou put him in any position out there and chances are heâ€™ll be good at it.â€ť
An alumnus of Lincoln Little League, Howard says that heâ€™s relishing his first real stab at established playing time at the high-school level. Besides overseeing and serving as a caretaker for the pitching staff, Howard has also made his mark as a steady contributor with the aluminum, hitting .276 with four extra-base hits.
Howard plans to attend Connecticutâ€™s Quinnipiac University, though he remains unsure as to whether heâ€™ll tryout for the baseball team.
â€śIâ€™m just trying to take advantage of the situation and help the team,â€ť said Howard, who last summer played with Gardner on the New England Prospects, a travel baseball program.
â€śAlex is a quiet leader. The guys respect him because when heâ€™s out there, he takes control of the diamond,â€ť said Marcone. â€śHeâ€™s waited his turn to be out there and has made the most of the opportunity.â€ť
A junior, Harrison swings one of La Salleâ€™s most potent bats. He ranks second on the squad in RBI (11) to go along with a .343 average. Mainly an outfielder, Harrison has tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings spanning two appearances.
â€śDoug brings an intensity and an edge to our team and that helps us,â€ť notes Marcone. â€śHe gets our guys going â€¦ heâ€™s a motivator.â€ť
While he figures to have better days ahead, Santilli has found a niche as a late-game defensive replacement in the outfield as well as a pinch-running option. Howard mentioned that heâ€™s helped Santilli deal with the waiting-for-your-turn syndrome that confronted him while he was an underclassman at La Salle.
â€śHeâ€™s going to be a valuable player next year and the year after that,â€ť stated Howard about Santilli, a sophomore. â€śWe have a good group of seniors, so itâ€™s important to take it all in and learn that when your time comes, youâ€™re ready.â€ť
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