Boston High School: Rhode Island

La Salle (R.I.) hoops looking to 'Open' things up

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
La Salle Academy boys’ basketball coach Eric Simonelli has a rather simplistic formula for his team that arguably could be found in a textbook labeled “Basketball 101.”

“It’s a very simple formula in my eyes,” said Simonelli. “New faces, new team, same approach, same expectations – win the (state) Open Championship and win Division 1. “That’s why we’re focused on peaking in March and not February.”

Through games of Jan. 13, the Rams are 5-1 in Division 1 and 9-1 overall. Their only loss came to Hendricken, who’s annexed 8 of the last 11 state championships and who beat the Rams on Jan. 6. In addition, the Hawks beat La Salle in the semifinals of the Open Tournament last season after the Rams beat Hendricken in the Division 1 semifinals en route to the Division 1 title.

Arguably the last thing Simonelli wants to do is place an inordinate amount of emphasis on any regular-season game against Hendricken.

“The general public views Hendricken-La Salle games much bigger than they are,” said Simonelli. “The game against Hendricken was as big as the games against Coventry (January 9) and Classical (January 12). Our objective is to play our game, win as many games as we can and get enough points to qualify for the Open Tournament.

“We would love to play any team in the state in a one-and-done tournament and show what we have in a pressure situation.”

In retrospect the over-emphasis placed on Hendricken-La Salle games – regardless of which team wins – doesn’t cause Simonelli to reach for an ulcer medication.

“We did exactly what other teams that have won the (Open) state championship did,” he said. “Last year we were the best Division 1 team in the state. We’ve changed our approach regarding how we’re going to play out the rest of the season and the Division 1 Tournament.

“Our goal is not just to win the championship but to focus on our 16 regular-season Division 1 games, get enough points to get into the Open Tournament and win four more games.”

One aspect of the playoff format that makes it difficult for any Division 1 team to win the Open Tournament is that it could play an opponent as many as three times before the final buzzer sounds to end the season.

“Any time you’re playing a good team that’s well-coached, it’s hard to beat a team three times,” said Simonelli. “In my eyes, it’s the law of averages. After winning the Division 1 Tournament (last season), we lost our edge against the same teams. In my eyes, it’s the law of averages.”

Simonelli also sees something else in his “eyes:” An experienced team that boasts a balanced scoring attack (through 10 games, La Salle is averaging 70.4 points per game while allowing an average of only 49.5 points per game).

This season’s team consists of four seniors and 10 juniors. And the top four scorers are juniors: Lawrence Sabir (18.0), Mike McCourt (13.0), C.J. Waite (12.0) and Jim Pare (11.0) while the highest-scoring senior on the team is Brendan Nigro (8.0).

“The junior class has been with me since I started at La Salle three years ago,” said Simonelli. “They understand the expectations we have in the off-season and in the weight room plus our approach every day during the season. Our juniors must continue to progress and get better. The more contributions we have, the better we’ll be come playoff time.

“The seniors have been with me for two years so we have a really tight-knit team. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last three years. But we have our eyes on bigger things this season.”

Good point.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.
Starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 16 teams will square off on the mystical parquet floor of the TD Garden, in the second annual Good Sports TD Garden Invitational.

A number of teams ranked in ESPN Boston's statewide basketball polls will be represented, incuding Andover, Catholic Memorial, St. John's Prep, Newton North, and Masconomet's girls team. Storied Rhode Island power Bishop Hendricken, the defending RIIL state champions, will also be playing, as well as last year's MIAA Division 1 runner up Central Catholic.

For the complete schedule, CLICK HERE.

Here are my picks for the day's eight matchups:

9:30 a.m. – No. 17 Masconomet (6-1) vs. Central Catholic (3-5) – GIRLS
The Raiders have encountered some struggles early in their season, the latest a loss Thursday night to Andover. That, coupled with Masco’s hot start, has me thinking the Chieftains avenge last year’s D1 North tournament loss. Pick: Masco

11 a.m. – Masconomet (5-2) vs. Arlington Catholic (4-1)
This could be one of the more underrated matchups of the day, but the Chieftains will squeak out a victory to here for the first boys-girls sweep at the Garden. Pick: Masco

12:30 p.m. – Belmont (5-2) vs. Somerville (0-6)
It’s been a long time since Somerville last appeared at the Garden – and, given the cold weather, we likely won’t see fans making the walk all the way to the Garden like in the old days. Even with the recent hand injury to guard Matt Kerans, Belmont has enough to overcome the Highlanders, who have a terrific star forward in Fru Che but a lot of youth around him. Pick: Belmont

2 p.m. – Malden Catholic (6-0) vs. Bishop Hendricken (R.I.) (5-2)
For the first time in what seems a while, Malden Catholic feels like a true contender in D2 North. This might be the upset of the day, but there’s a lot of weapons to take down in the defending Rhode Island state champs, including some promising scholarship talent. Pick: Hendricken

3:30 p.m. – No. 4 Newton North (8-0) vs. Newton South (6-2)
It’s going to be hard for Tommy Mobley to top last year’s performance in this matchup at the Garden, going off for 35 points in a blowout victory over their cross-town rivals, but he’ll be the leading scorer here once again. South, off to a surprising start, may have run into a superior talent here. Pick: Newton North

5 p.m. – No. 15 Mansfield (6-0) vs. No. 25 Franklin (6-2)
Both of these heated rivals are off to hot starts, and should once again bring a huge fan contingent. I picked a Franklin upset last year in this event, and it nearly happened. Is twice as nice? Pick: Franklin

6:30 p.m. – No. 2 Andover (8-0) vs. No. 5 Catholic Memorial (6-1)
With respect to the other matchups, this is the marquee battle of the day. Between Andover’s duo of David Giribaldi and E.J. Perry IV, and CM’s trio of Guilien Smith, Kellan Grady and Brandon Twitty, there’s no shortage of guards who can let it fly from deep. But the difference here is Connor Merinder, a nightly double-double machine manning the post for the Golden Warriors. Pick: Andover

8 p.m. – No. 7 St. John’s Prep (4-2) vs. Central Catholic (3-6)
When this matchup was first booked, many of us had flashbacks to the epic 2010 D1 North battle between these two teams, with ESPN 100 recruits Pat Connaughton and Carson Desrosiers squaring off before a huge crowd that sprinkled into the upper deck. Few of us expected Central to be fighting for its playoff life right now. One team needs this one badly, but there’s simply too much height to account for on the Prep side. Pick: St. John’s Prep

Ciolfi takes on new challenge at Woonsocket (R.I.)

December, 19, 2014
What T.J. Ciolfi may accomplish would be the basketball equivalent of a hat trick in hockey.

During the 2008-09 season, his only one as the Johnson & Wales University women’s basketball team’s head coach, he guided the Wildcats to a rare winning record (i.e. 17 victories). From 2011-14 he was the head coach of the North Smithfield High boys’ basketball team. During this span, he guided the Northmen to a pair of Division III-North championships, three berths in the Division III Tournament, one Division III Tournament championship, one spot in the state open tournament’s Final Four and an impressive 26-game winning streak.

Now, Ciolfi hopes to work his magic as the newly-appointed head coach of the Woonsocket High boys’ basketball team.

During the previous four seasons in Division I-North, the Villa Novans posted a combined record of 7-65 including three consecutive seasons during which they only won a single game.

Arguably the obvious question is why did Ciolfi leave North Smithfield after turning around a lackluster program for the opportunity to coach a team that competes against most of the state powers?

“What made me decide to apply at Woonsocket was it’s the biggest public school in the state,” said Ciolfi. “I know I’ll have better players every year and you’re playing against Hendricken, La Salle, etc. That’s who you want to compete against. I like coaching because I like to compete.

“Some of the teams in Division III, we knew we were going to win going into some games. To move into Division I, you know you have to show up. I like that challenge.”

Understandably, Ciolfi hopes the experience he gained at Johnson & Wales and North Smithfield will take a bit of the edge off the challenge he’ll face at Woonsocket.

“This will be my third time going through a rebuilding process,” he said. “I think I know what it takes to build a program.

“The first thing you do is change the attitude. I was able to do that with the Johnson and Wales women’s team and at North Smithfield. The first thing is it starts with attitude.”

At the risk of using a political metaphor, if the early returns are any indication Ciolfi already has made progress improving the Villa Novans’ attitude.

Woonsocket got the 2014-15 season off to a flying start by capturing the annual Dennis M. Lynch Memorial Tournament. The Villa Novans beat seven-time Division I state champion St. Raphael Academy, 82-58, in the semifinals and topped a very good prep school, Providence Country Day, 78-68, in the finals.

Then, on Tuesday night, Woonsocket belted former Division III rival Ponaganset, 84-51, in a non-league game.

Despite what’s a small sampling, Ciolfi was able to get a pretty good handle on the talent at his disposal.

“I have one of the top shooters in the state in Elijah Vasquez,” he said. “He can shoot it with a hand in his face or step back and shoot.

“I have a 6-5 guy, Gary Lyles, who can play. He was Second Team All Division I-North as a sophomore. But it all starts with the point guard who controls the tempo between the three-point lines.

“That guy is Jack Wisniarski,” continued Ciolfi. “Everything we do has to do with him taking care of the ball. He’s a tough-minded kid who takes coaching well. He missed his first seven shots against PCD but that didn’t stop him from taking an eighth one which was a big three that came in the second half when they were making a run. He was playing with confidence. If you have a nervous point guard, you have nervous coach.”

Understandably one of Ciolfi’s goals is to make opposing coaches nervous. That may be accomplished by what he’s inclined to do when Woonsocket has the ball and when it’s on defense.

“I’m not a super X and O guy,” he said. “I give guys a lot of freedom on offense. If you want to shoot, then shoot. I don’t believe in making seven passes. We want to get out and run and attack the basket.

“On defense, I want guys to play with confidence and aggressiveness. At the high school level, a confident team wins a lot of the time. Our style is (be) aggressive on offense and defense. We want to score 80 points a game.”

That’s exactly what Woonsocket did in two of its first three games. But before the Villa Novans commence league play, they relished capturing the prestigious Lynch Tournament.

“At North Smithfield, we felt we could win a pre-season tournament,” said Ciolfi. “These guys were so happy to have something tangible.

“I let them enjoy it as much as they wanted. They used to win a game here and there and now they score 160 points in two nights. They were more enthusiastic than a great La Salle team might be.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Scituate (R.I.) takes long road to summit

December, 5, 2014

Scituate High made history on Nov. 21, when it defeated Smithfield, 21-14, in the Division IV semifinals – the first football playoff victory in school history.

Now the Spartans have a chance to do something that until this season wasn’t on the proverbial radar screen: win the first Super Bowl in school history. Third-seeded Scituate faces top-seeded Burrillville on Dec. 7 in the Division IV Super Bowl.

But there’s much more in order to understand how a sport that was eliminated from the school’s athletics program virtually came out of nowhere to become a Super Bowl participant.

Scituate didn’t add football until 1972 - decades after most Rhode Island schools already had played the sport. Then, after 13 years, football was dropped before it was reinstated and joined the Interscholastic League in 2006. Not surprisingly, the Spartans were 0-7 that season which was the first Mark Reed was the head coach. But it wasn’t like Reed waved a magic wand that helped turn the Spartans into a Super Bowl team.

“It’s been a challenge,” Reed said in an understatement. “But it’s a mentality the staff has had with these players when they were freshmen. We started to do our program from the bottom up and the youngest kids were the most important part of our program.

“We had a three-year drought with one win in three years. We started to foster the older kids bringing up the younger kids. When they were freshmen they had some talent and ability.”

But part of what went into transforming Scituate into a winning team occurred off the field instead of between the white lines.

“One of my assistants, (defensive coordinator) Matt Vieira, started having family dinners where the whole team would come over to his house,” said Reed. “He would cook stew and pasta the night before a game.

“This year our team grew so the fire department gave us a place where there was more room. Matt still had us over to his house (to watch) films on Friday night. It was a matter of coaches giving of themselves.”

Besides a dearth of victories (the Spartans were 0-8 in 2011 and 2012) Scituate (9-2) also lacked something else: tradition unlike schools such as Hendricken, La Salle, East Providence, etc.

“We started traditions,” said Reed. “Craig Feeney, who helped bring the program back, died two years ago from cancer. We have a scoreboard with a stone at the base that has his name on it and the kids touch it before every game.

“We also have each senior talk about his regrets and hopes for the program. We’ve had seniors come back and talk to the team about what they did and how they were successful after college.”

The late coach Feeney also did something else: he talked up the rivalry between Scituate and Ponaganset.

“Coach Feeney would talk about the big rivalry between Ponaganset and Scituate,” said Reed. “We beat them this year. He told us how we were at one time winning in the standings. We try to bring back some of the old traditions that some of those old teams had.

“We talk about what do you want to bring back? We talked about we’re not going to fail. This team is going to leave a legacy of winning and bringing up the young players.”

Reed was quick to point out that winning games wasn’t all about Xs and Os.

“This was the first class that took to heart the importance of working out,” he said. “It’s about you get out what you put in.

“We put up a white board and they put down things like hard work, determination, lifting and various things they would have to do to be a champion. That was their goal. Last year our goal was to start winning games.”

That’s exactly what the Spartans did since they went 4-4, their best record since 2009.

“Last year I graduated three years and the year before I graduated four,” said Reed. We saw a lot of seniors who had been starting for four years.

“We told them if you stick together and play together you’ll be a winner.”

Other than the playoff victory over Smithfield, arguably the Spartans’ biggest win came on September 13 when they rallied for a 26-10 victory over Ponaganset.

“We were down 10-0 at the half in our Challenge Cup game against Ponaganset and we came back and scored 26 points,” said Reed. “The kids saw they could play better. Ponaganset is a Division III team and we hadn’t beaten them since we resumed playing football.

“That was a defining moment when we came back and scored 26 points. That was a statement for us.”

Several Spartans have made statements of their own.

For example:

* Senior quarterback Mike Winfield has amassed 1,790 yards of total offense and has passed for 23 touchdowns.

* Senior linebacker/fullback Brandon Cucino has 72 tackles and has rushed for 400 yards plus five touchdowns (Reed: “He gets those tough yards and is important on both sides of the ball. He’s probably the strongest player I’ve ever had.”)

* Senior running back Mike D’Allesandro has gained 1,047 yards.

* Senior tight end Wyatt Laprade and senior wide receiver Tyler Farias each have caught eight touchdown passes and have in excess of 500 yards receiving.

But men who shouldn’t be forgotten are Scituate’s coaches, only two of whom are paid (Reed and Vieira) while the rest are volunteers.

The volunteers include several former Spartans: Ted Capece (whose father also was one of the people who helped re-start the program); Matt Winfield; Nick Youngdahl; and Dan Pugliese in addition to Bryan Gordon.

“Those coaches are playing a huge part in practice and are a reason for our success,” said Reed.

Good point.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

La Salle (R.I.) football still hungry for postseason

November, 19, 2014
When La Salle Academy beat defending four-time Division I state champion Hendricken, 15-9, on Nov. 7 the Rams:

Rhode Island* Handed the Hawks their first loss of the season.

* Clinched the regular-season championship with an 8-0 record.

* Locked up the number one seed in the Division I state tournament.

Yet Rams coach Geoff Marcone, wasn’t inclined to find space in the school’s trophy case for another championship plaque.

“It was a great win for our program,” said Marcone who’s in his 11th season as La Salle’s head coach. “But we’ve always had great matchups with them. To say it was the best thing that’s happened to our program, I would disagree. It was a game against our rival and one we wanted to win.

“It was a great victory but it wasn’t going to make or break our season.”

Arguably the reason Marcone was pragmatic when discussing the win over Hendricken is that the Rams and the Hawks could meet in the Division I Super Bowl for the third time in the last four seasons. The top-seeded Rams host fourth-seeded Cranston East on Friday night while the second-seeded Hawks host third-seeded Portsmouth in the Division I semifinals.

The Super Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 6.

“You want to win the division and get to the playoffs,” said Marcone. “As you get to one goal, you cross it off. We have to beat Cranston East to get to the (Super Bowl).

“If we do, we cross that one off.”

Obviously, the Rams aren’t able to “cross off” their 17-14 loss to Hendricken in the 2011 Super Bowl and their 26-20 loss to the Hawks in the 2012 Super Bowl.

“It was hard for the coaching staff and harder for the kids,” said Marcone of those championship game losses. “But you can’t dwell on that and think about what did or did not happen. If you do, you’re not going to fare well the next time. But that’s a credit to Hendricken. To beat a team of that caliber twice in one year is very difficult. Both games came down to the last play.

“If one play goes either way, maybe it’s us winning the title. You dust yourself off and get ready for next season. But this year the team has its own identity.”

To say it took time for the Rams to develop an identity would be an understatement because a young 2013 team finished 4-4 and missed qualifying for the playoffs.

“We had eight sophomores start last year and 13 sophomores who lettered,” said Marcone. “Last year going in we knew we were going to be young and were going to have some growing pains.

“Going into this year, we knew those kids were battle-tested. But were they going to buy into the system? They have. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them.

“Their attitude is, ‘Let’s get onto the next game.’ They’ve bought into that and trust themselves.”

Nevertheless the Rams’ early-season play was “interesting” to say the least.

“Against Cranston West and East Providence, we were down at halftime,” said Marcone. “Against Cranston East, we were tied at halftime. Against Portsmouth we were down at halftime. For the staff, to see the team being down at halftime and not seeing any panic was great.

“We would come out and do very well in the second half and win it in a decisive fashion. Our kids don’t waver. We have some pretty tough kids, mentally, and there isn’t any finger-pointing.

“They don’t care who gets the touchdowns or sacks,” continued Marcone. “They don’t care about individual stats. They just care about who wins the game and they give each other positive feedback.”

That being said, several Rams have impressive stats.

For example, junior quarterback Jace Pena has completed 89-of-165 passes for 941 yards and six touchdowns and also has gained 389 yards on 60 carries. Junior running back Kyron Lopes has carried the ball 111 times for 701 yards and 14 touchdowns while senior Don Odufundae has gained 563 yards and scored six times on 97 carries. Junior Cornelius Waite has been Pena’s “go-to” receiver since he’s caught 35 passes for 378 yards and one score.

“Jace is a two-year starter,” said Marcone. “He didn’t have to be great but he’s been very good. Another big part of our offense is Cornelius Waite. He can play slot and wide receiver.”

But, as the cliché’ goes, it’s what’s up front that counts as Marcone was quick to note.

“The credit goes to our offensive line,” said Marcone. “That was our biggest question going into this season because we graduated four out of five starters (the lone returnee is right guard John Norton).”

Filling the holes created by the graduation of the other starters have been John Riccio and Eric Harpootian who’ve split time at left tackle; left guard Kyle Batty; center Mike Valelli and Conor Regan, who was moved from tight end to right tackle.

“They’ve gotten better every week,” said Marcone.

Without question the key to La Salle’s defense has been senior linebacker Nick Varrichione who leads the team with 87 tackles – 51 of which have been unassisted.

“He’s a three-year starter,” said Marcone. “He makes all of our calls. Having Nick on the field is like having another coach. He’s very cerebral.

“He can come off the field and talk to us about the defense unlike other kids. He’s a very important part of our defense.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

North Kingstown (R.I.) charting a new course

November, 5, 2014

Rhode IslandThat’s something North Kingstown High has a chance to achieve for the first time since the school began playing football in 1946. Or to put it another way, the Skippers never have finished a season undefeated – let alone win a Super Bowl championship since the Rhode Island Interscholastic League established the Super Bowl format in 1972.

North Kingstown already has clinched the Division II-B championship (6-0) along with a high seed in the upcoming Division II State Tournament. “All” the Skippers have to do in order to finish the regular season with a perfect record is beat Chariho on Nov. 8, in the teams’ last league game and then polish off South Kingstown in their annual Thanksgiving Day game.

Considering North Kingstown was 0-24 from 2009-11 in Division I and 1-6 in II-B in 2012, coach Joe Gilmartin’s first season as the team’s head coach, the improvement the Skippers have made is like football’s equivalent of the distance between the Earth and the moon.

In his wildest dreams did Gilmartin ever envision his team would be in this position so late in the season?

“No, not really,” said Gilmartin. “During the course of the winter a lot of kids slacked off in terms of weight training. But I knew we had some pretty good pieces. Yet I didn’t anticipate things would come together as well as they have.

“We have a good sophomore class. But it’s all come together better than I might have anticipated.”

One thing that makes North Kingstown’s improvement even more impressive is that last season it finished 5-2 in II-B but missed out on qualifying for the state tournament as the result of a five-way tiebreaker for the four tournament berths. Ergo, North Kingstown was the odd team out.

“Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought at all,” said Gilmartin. “We controlled our destiny and didn’t play well. We had control over the whole deal including an outright division championship.

“Even though we took a big step forward, it showed we weren’t really ready to play a big game yet.”

In order to prepare the Skippers to play games –big or otherwise – this season, Gilmartin and his staff utilized some psychology.

“We’ve tried to stress the importance of every game,” he said. “In games where our kids might have looked past somebody, we explained every contest is equally important.

“You must play every game with the same intensity and desire.”

Perhaps no game this season was more intense than the one against Tolman on Oct. 24. The Skippers won, 24-22, when Dave Poirier kicked a 20-yard field goal with2:39 left in the game which clinched the division title.

“They’ve been very businesslike in their attitude,” Gilmartin said while explaining one reason for the Skippers’ success. “There hasn’t been a time when they’ve been really high or really low. They’ve even won a game on a late field goal.

“If you’re going to have a season when you’re going to get over the hump you have to win a bunch of different games. You explain to the kids you’re going to have to do this – play against the (poor weather) conditions plus the other team. The kids have met those challenges.

“It’s been a tribute to the way they approach their job every day,” continued Gilmartin. “We say if you want to do it you’ve got to get ready for the next guy.”

One aspect of North Kingstown’s game plan that makes its opponent have a difficult time “getting ready” is the Skippers’ offense.

“Quarterback Matt Madoian is a senior who’s done an excellent job,” said Gilmartin. “His command of the offense is incredible. We run a no-huddle offense so he has to make decisions at a high rate of speed. He’s a big reason why we’ve been so successful.”

Rhode IslandThe Skippers have been so successful on offense that, through their first eight games, they’re averaging 42.1 points.

“We been in a huddle once this year,” said Gilmartin. “If I told them to go into a huddle they wouldn’t know what to do.

“Running a no-huddle offense is part of a team’s personality. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are. You have to be that way. That’s what we’ve been preaching for a couple of years.”

Conversely, the Skippers also have improved on defense which had been their Achilles’ heel in the past.

“Safety Dave Poirier is on the career record board with 13 career interceptions,” said Gilmartin. “He has six this season. Cornerback Jake Porter has four interceptions.

“Glenn Vallee’s done a great job at middle linebacker. He’s done a great job understanding what we want to do defensively. One of the reasons we’ve improved our record is because we’ve improved our defense,” continued Gilmartin. “We’ve spent a lot of time working on defense.”

Time that could pay off in a big way come the end of the season.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Burrillville (R.I.) returning to its previous form

October, 24, 2014
During the early years of the current century, Burrillville High dominated Division III football in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. The Broncos annexed Super Bowl championships in 2000, 2003 and 2005. Moreover, during those three seasons Burrillville posted a combined 26-2 record.

Rhode IslandBut commencing in 2007, Burrillville went seven consecutive seasons minus a winning record in league games. During this drought, the Broncos posted a combined 14-38 record in Division II-A and III.

Prior to this season, Burrillville was relegated to Division IV when the Interscholastic League implemented a realignment based on school enrollment and previous records.

In retrospect, that realignment was the best thing that could have happened to the Broncos who, through games of Oct. 18, led Division IV with a 5-0 record (7-0 overall) and led all division rivals in scoring with 260 points. Despite the realignment the obvious question is “Why?” as in why have the Broncos turned around a program that for a long time was mired below .500?

“These seniors are committed to their class, the program and to each other,” said coach Gennaro Ferraro. “I knew with these seniors it wasn’t going to be that difficult to win. It was a matter of how we were going to shape up.

“The goal always is to win. A lot of kids play for different reasons. Some play to wear the jerseys or to have the experience. These kids play to win.”

The 11 seniors that Ferraro referred to are Isaiah DeSilva, Dillon Amaral, David Gariepy, Samuel Astilerro, Jack Collins, Jacob Wall, Justin Deschamps, Trever Duquette, Jacob Ferreira, Bill Pollard, and Jake Wilson.

“That’s the main reason why we’re having a great season,” said Ferraro. “The senior leadership has been the best since I became the head coach (i.e. Ferraro is in his sixth season in this position).

“They have great leadership among each other and for the rest of the classes.”

If there’s been one game that underscored how Burrillville has turned around its season it was a 41-6 rout of defending Division IV Super Bowl champion North Providence.

“North Providence is a very good football team and is well-coached,” said Ferraro. “They’ve been the leader in this division for some time. To play them and beat them, we knew going in that we wanted what they have. We want to win the Super Bowl. They had a 15-game winning streak coming in.”

It was a winning streak that obviously went up in smoke.

“Our kids were ready for the challenge in terms of beating them,” said Ferraro. “It was a league game and we wanted to beat them to give ourselves great position for the post-season.”

Burrillville’s offense is a coach’s dream in that it’s balanced with an equal emphasis on passing and running.

For example:

*DeSilva, the quarterback, has completed 56 of 89 passes for 1,007 yards and 15 touchdowns with a mere one interception.

* Junior running backs Zack Hayes (22-272-7) and Antwan Dearden (30-225-2) lead the ground game.

* Junior wide receiver Riley Tupper has snared 25 passes for 556 yards and nine touchdowns. In addition, Tupper has returned a punt for a score and returned four interceptions for touchdowns.

“He’s more important for us on defense,” Ferraro said of Tupper. “But our offense goes through Isaiah. He’s my first three-year starter we’ve ever had. It speaks volumes to be able to have a three-year player at quarterback in our offense.”

To say the Broncos will have to emulate their performance against North Providence in the coming weeks would be a massive understatement. Burrillville plays division title contenders Scituate on Saturday, Smithfield on Nov. 1 and North Smithfield on Nov. 8.

“The meat of our schedule is the last three games,” said Ferraro. “Each of those teams only has one loss. That will determine what the post-season picture will look like.

“Having the meat of our schedule at the end of the season is good because now we’ve had experience. These kids haven’t won more than three league games ever. Having the meat of the schedule at the end is important in terms of seeing how that post-season schedule is going to be.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Bouley wearing bigger shoes at Woonsocket (R.I.)

September, 30, 2014
At the risk of using a football metaphor, what Brian Bouley experienced in mid-August was the equivalent of a blind-side hit.

Rhode IslandBouley, an assistant principal at Woonsocket High, also had been an assistant football coach since 2001 and became the defensive coordinator last season. But on Aug. 13, the Villa Novans’ eminently successful head coach, Carnell Henderson, resigned that position after the city’s School Committee appointed him the principal at his high school alma mater.

A mere 24 hours later, pre-season practice began with Bouley running the show as the interim head coach.

There’s more. Henderson also had served as the director athletics after the passing in February of the extremely popular A.D. George Nasuti. Bouley was given that “hat” to wear as well as the others he already had in his possession.

Overcoming disappointment: “The players were disappointed,” Bouley said of Henderson moving from the gridiron to the principal’s office. “Carnell did a great job with those kids. He respected those players and they respected him along with his philosophy, especially the seniors. They’ve been through the previous three years and wanted to finish out their senior season with him.

“He told them what happened and that he would be around in a different capacity.”

That left Bouley with the unenviable task of maintaining the same level of success enjoyed by Henderson who revived a sagging program.

In Henderson’s six years as head coach, the Villa Novans captured the Division II Super Bowl championship in 2009 and 2010; lost to Cumberland in the 2012 bowl; and last season annexed the Division II-A regular-season title before they were eliminated by St. Raphael in the tournament quarterfinals.

“Carnell developed a great program,” said Bouley. “I’m lucky in a sense that when you step into a situation that’s been run well, things fall into place. I saw how things were run and was familiar with the program. But when you’re the person in charge, it’s a different element.

“I won’t say it’s been difficult but it’s been challenging as is the case with any first-year head coach. The tough part is trying to keep up with that pace.”

Under Bouley the Villa Novans have split their first two games – losing, 38-7, to a Division I team, Cranston East in a non-league contest, and edging II-A rival Mount Hope, 22-21, last Saturday in the league opener for each team.

Bouley learned quickly one difference between being an assistant coach as opposed to the head honcho.

“I feel a little bit of a difference,” he said. “As a position coach, your athletes will talk to you. It’s different when it’s the head coach instead of an assistant.

“As an assistant you can give them a pep talk and pat them on the back. But if there’s an issue, they know they’ll have to deal with me.”

Not surprisingly there’s something else with which Bouley has to deal: the level of success Woonsocket achieved under Henderson.

Clearing a high bar: “There are certain expectations that I have and that coach Henderson would have as well,” he said. “There’s always that pressure to do well. I can’t prepare myself to do what he did but I only can do what I do well.

“There’s an underlying type bar that’s set. I’ll be more difficult on myself than any parent and player would be.”

At least the victory over Mount Hope may enable Bouley to relax a bit. But the triumph meant more than otherwise might have been the case because of the Nasuti’s absence.

“It was a big win for us on an emotional day,” said Bouley. “The kids and parents were emotional. This was the first year Mr. Nasuti wasn’t at Barry Field in 30-plus years. His wife and sister were there to cheer on the team.

“It was an emotional time. I was glad the kids were able to be focused, get a win and start off on the right foot.”

Fortunately for Bouley he has a host of seniors who’re accustomed to winning and who, obviously, are familiar with their new head coach.

“We have a good returning senior group included some who played regularly as 10th graders,” he said. “I’m looking at my seniors to lead the way and I expect big years from them.”

That list of seniors starts with quarterback Miguel Raymond who, against Mount Hope, completed 9-of-15 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’m looking for him to be more comfortable with the offense and be a leader,” said Bouley.

Also included in this senior group are linebacker Nick Fernandes, two-way lineman Shawn Ingram, tight end/outside linebacker Austin Wolter (he caught four passes for 82 yards and two TDs against Mount Hope), two-way lineman Abdoule Ceesay and defensive end Jorge Pomales (he sacked Mount Hope’s quarterback four times for 23 yards in losses).

“We have some senior leadership in our line,” said Bouley. “But we’re young at the skill positions so I’m looking for these kids to step up quickly.”

One “young” player who definitely “stepped up” against the Huskies was freshman tailback Malik Okojie, who ran 29 times for 119 yards and a touchdown.

“I have expectations for all of these players,” said Bouley. “Right now, you have to lean on the seniors to have success. As the younger players get more experience, we’ll do well.

“Football is the ultimate team game so you need all 11 to be on the same page.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Lima takes the reins at Cumberland (R.I.)

September, 11, 2014
During Chris Skurka’s last three years as Cumberland High’s head football coach, the Clippers were a combined 17-4 in Division II regular-season games; they captured the 2012 Division II Super Bowl I(49-0 over Woonsocket); and lost the 2013 Division II Super Bowl (48-13 to West Warwick).

Rhode IslandThen, Skurka resigned his position to accept one as the linebackers coach at Dean Junior College. His successor is 27-year-old Josh Lima, a native of Cranston and an alumnus of La Salle Academy (’04) and Sacred Heart. But there will be one noticeable difference when the Clippers commence the 2014 season: Given the formula the Rhode Island Interscholastic League uses to determine two-year alignments, and given the success the Clippers have enjoyed in recent years, they’ve been moved up from Division II to Division I.

“Some of our obstacles will be the mindset of our athletes,” said Lima. “Division I is very even across the board. You’re playing the best of the best every week. With Division II being a 16-team Division (i.e. D-II is split into two eight-team sub-divisions), sometimes you play lower teams. Your season has ups and downs.

“In Division I, we tell them it’s a mountain you have to climb. The team with the worst record in Division I is still a very good football team. You must have a Division I mindset. There aren’t any days off. You have to play at your best in order to compete successfully.”

As a result of this realignment, Cumberland will match up with traditional state powers Hendricken, La Salle and Barrington plus Cranston East, Cranston West, Portsmouth, East Providence and South Kingstown. But Lima isn’t exactly a stranger when it comes to playing Division I teams.

Putting in his time: After graduating from Sacred Heart, Llma served as a volunteer assistant under his high school coach, Tim Coen, at Portsmouth where he coached defensive backs and wide receivers.

When Coen retired, Lima moved to Cranston East where he again coached the defensive backs and wide receivers while also being the defensive coordinator for the Thunderbolts’ freshman team.

After one season with the ‘Bolts, La Salle coach Geoff Marcone asked him in 2009 to become the Rams’ offensive coordinator.

During Lima’s time at La Salle, the Rams twice were undefeated during the regular season and developed consecutive Rhode Island Gatorade Players of the Year Award winners (running back Josh Morris in 2011 and quarterback Alex Francis in 2012).

“I think with the tradition of (Cumberland), the enrollment and the facilities, all are reasons why we should be able to compete in Division I,” said Lima. “The overall enrollment is one of the highest in the state.

"With that, being such a large school, the tradition the school has had in the past along with the type of kid you get – a hard-nosed kind that wants to play physical football – that plays into our hands in the Division I landscape.”

Two other factors entered into Lima’s decision to apply for the head coach’s position:

* Artificial turf was installed at Tucker Field.

* Lima, who was a long-term substitute teach in the Warwick School System, was appointed to a full-time position (computer drafting) at Cumberland.

“(The artificial turf) was a big factor,” said Lima. “After the upgrade the town made in the school, the wellness center and Tucker field, it really made this opening something I really wanted to go after.

“It excited me to be able to play our Friday night games on such a great field.”

All under one roof: The benefits of teaching in the same school where a person coaches are obvious.

“It’s great to be in the school where the guys see me on a daily basis,” said Lima. “They know if I hear about something, I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Conversely, for the Clippers, at least 34 who played for Skurka, the challenge will be to adapt to new systems.

“It’s been a change as far as the system goes,” said Lima. “We have new offensive and defensive systems plus new special teams.

“From the first day, I opened my door right away to my players. And I started helping out with the strength and conditioning program.”

Lima, meanwhile, had the benefit of playing under Coen, who developed top-flight programs at La Salle and Portsmouth and then built Salve Regina University into a strong Division III program.

“Coach Coen is a role model for me,” said Lima. “Playing for him really turned me onto football. He taught us life skills. When he offered me the position to coach with him, I got to learn Xs and Os but also how to be a leader.

“We’re still close. I share my films with him. He’s like our senior consultant. He’s an asset you can’t put a price on.”

Fortunately for Lima, Cumberland wasn’t devastated by graduation because it returns 20 seniors – although the Clippers did graduate First Team All-State tight end/linebacker Chris Hayes.

“There have been guys who’ve stood out and we’ll have to rely on to be successful,” said Lima who then noted players who will be counted on to play key roles:

* Running back/wide receiver/defensive back Jared Talbert (Lima: “He’s an offensive athlete.”)

*Running back/strong safety Mike Stock.

*Running back/inside linebacker Nick Georgio.

* Offensive/defensive lineman Andre Bibeault.

* Senior quarterback Tyler Calabro, who earned Second Team All-State honors as a junior.

“Tyler carries himself with great confidence and composure,” said Lima. “He’s the starting QB, one of the starting guards on the basketball team and the starting shortstop on the baseball team.

“He buys into our motto this year. Our motto is ‘100 percent effort and to compete on every play.’ Tyler gives all of his effort on every play and he competes.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Rhode Island: Monteiro takes reins at EP

August, 14, 2014
Even though the East Providence High football team didn’t begin preseason practice until August 14, new head coach Jay Monteiro already had a motto to present to his players: CAD.

Rhode IslandThat’s an acronym which stands for “Character, Academics and Discipline.”

While CAD may be a good starting point, Monteiro knows he faces a big challenge not only because he’s replacing arguably one of the best coaches in the history of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, Sandy Gorham, but also because he’s inheriting a program that’s fallen on hard times.

Gorham, who retired earlier this summer, was the Townies head coach for 20 years.

During his tenure, East Providence:

* Captured five Division I Super Bowl championships (the last was in 2006).

* Was the old Class A runner-up in 1995 and the Division I runner-up in 2001.

* Qualified for the Division I playoffs from 2009-11 (when the league implemented a new post-season format).

* Recorded undefeated seasons in 1997, 1999 and 2003.

But the Townies won only three of 18 regular-season Division I games during the last two years. In addition, they lost nine of their last 10 Thanksgiving Day games against arch-rival La Salle Academy.

Monteiro, an EP alumnus (Class of ’84), was a Townie assistant coach from 1989-2003, including the last eight seasons under Gorham. He then joined the staff of Bryant University head coach Marty Fine as a part-time assistant while also maintaining his teaching position.

After a brief hiatus, he served as an assistant coach last season on the staff of Dean Junior College coach Todd Vasey.

“When Sandy became the coach, I always had the aspiration to become the head coach at EP,” said Monteiro. “When I went onto coaching at Bryant, Sandy was talking about retiring for two or three years.

“A couple of people talked to me about applying for the job, plus I always wanted to give back to the community. That’s why I applied for the job and was fortunate to get it.”

Because Monteiro had coached at the high school and college levels, he brings a wealth of experience.

“You learn from a lot of different coaches,” said Monteiro. “The type of coaches I’ve been around possessed the experience I can bring back (to high school). The experience of being around guys at the highest level, including Josh Boyer, who’s with the Patriots, is invaluable.

“I feel like I can bring a lot of that knowledge plus the passion which will help me turn around the program. When I was at Bryant, Marty helped turn around that program along with making the transition from Division II to Division I.”

He continued, “I believe I can change it because I was part of that turn-around program when Sandy got the job (in 1994).I know from a high school aspect how to turn around a program. I learned how to run it in a college atmosphere. From Marty Fine, I learned organization.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, Monteiro couldn’t help but learn a lot during his years on Gorham’s staff.

“Passion,” Monteiro said in reply to a question. “Sandy Gorham had a lot of passion and knowledge of the game. Sandy gave one of the best half-time speeches I ever heard and it would get you going so you would want to play.”

Monteiro already has carved in cement one aspect of his program that he wants to implement.

“I want to teach them how to practice hard and fast,” he said. “I want to practice really fast and throw it at them fast. I’ve learned more about how to organize practice and do it fast.

“I want to try to get 20 plays done in 10 minutes. When you practice fast, come game time when the kids practice like that they’ll play fast.”

Monteiro helped implement a weight program when he was a Townie assistant. Again, that’s going to be a major component of his program.

“When I got the job, the kids weren’t utilizing the weight room,” he said. “I demanded that they work out in the weight room. This summer I had 50 to 60 kids in the weight room.”

There’s more.

“I want to teach them to work together as a team and to teach them passion and how to practice,” said Monteiro. “I want to teach them to have good character and that they’re young gentlemen.

“And it’s the school first for academics and then self-discipline – to work hard on the field and in the classroom.”

Besides what Monteiro hopes to accomplish on the field, he may also have to handle the pressure that comes from a city that is passionate about the school’s football team.

“There’s always pressure,” he said. “My whole thing is I’m going to work hard. I want the parents and fans to know we’re going to work hard. I want them to graduate from high school and have great discipline. I’m a great believer in discipline as a recipe for success.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. But my passion to give back is first and foremost. People know I am who I am. I’m going to work hard every day.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

East Providence (R.I.) takes first baseball title

June, 25, 2014
In the illustrious history of East Providence High sports, the Townies had won a total of 14 state championships prior to this academic year. State championship banners in sports like football, hockey and volleyball adorned the walls in the school’s gym.

Rhode IslandBut what was lacking was a state championship banner in baseball.

The Townies under third-year head coach Bobby Rodericks (EP Class of ’98) rectified that situation last week when it beat North Smithfield 5-2 and 3-1 in the best-of-three finals for the Division II state championship.

“Coaching is my life and it was my goal to win a state title,” said Rodericks who played baseball for the Townies in the 1990s. “I was a captain. I wanted to win a state title for us. Knowing we never had a banner in the school, when I got hired my assistant coach (Chris Kennedy) and I said in three years we’re going to turn around this program and win a state title.

“It wasn’t easy. It was frustrating knowing we didn’t have (a state baseball championship) but it was a relief when I got hired. Two years ago in Barrington I took over the wrestling team and went from worst to first so I know what it takes.

“I stick to my routines,” continued Rodericks, “and I’m hard in terms of the physical and mental aspects.”

Not only did the Townies win the first state baseball championship in school history but, in the process, they also set a school record for victories in the sport by posting a 22-3 overall record. And their 14-2 regular-season record tied for the best overall mark among the state’s 27 Division 2 teams.

“This season it was McCoy Stadium or bust,” Rodericks said while referring to the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, which also serves as the venue for the baseball finals. “We set goals and last year I told the team ‘Life isn’t fair.’ If you want to win you have to work.

“We worked hard and we we’re hungry. This didn’t happen by accident.”

In retrospect, the Townies had a good chance to annex the 2013 Division 2 state title since they compiled a 15-1 regular-season record only to be eliminated during a qualifying round.

“Last year we had the best player in the state, Nick Karalekas, who got a full ride to Merrimack College and was the first All-Stater we’ve had since I don’t know when,” said Rodericks. “We also had Alex Hurley who went to Worcester Academy and is now at Stonehill. They carried us. Last year it was a combination of battling and getting the short end of the stick.

“This year it was more even keel and our team was more mature by one year. This was more of a team effort even though we didn’t have a Karalekas and a Hurley by far. But we came together and played good baseball.”

That was especially true of EP’s pitching duo of seniors Keith Grant and C.J. Woods. Grant finished 10-0 with a microscopic 0.71 ERA replete with 57 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings while Woods was 8-2 with a 1.05 ERA and an impressive 114 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.

“We had C.J. and we knew he was going to win,” said Rodericks. “We also had Grant and we knew we were going to win.”

But the Townies weren’t a one-dimensional team that solely relied on pitching. In fact, they produced three of the top hitters in Division 2. Outfielder Jasiah Hatch hit .417 with 30 runs and 30 stolen bases. First baseman Colin Costa led the team with a .435 clip and 20 RBI. Junior catcher Mike Allienello hit .380 with 28 RBI.

Hatch was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“I think Jasiah (was the tournament’s MVP) because he got things going and started the series hot for us,” said Rodericks. “But Costa had five hits (in the tournament) and three with two outs.’

“Our four seniors (Woods, Grant, Hatch and Costa) came through, moreso than the underclassmen. Everybody contributed but the seniors shined more than the others. When there was pressure, they rose to the occasion.”

Because East Providence only graduated the aforementioned seniors, the prospects for 2015 would appear to be bright.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Rodericks. “We have our defense back. And Kyle Marquis threw a one-hitter and a no-hitter against Hope.

“I’m fully confident next year because of Marquis. He also was my DH. He’ll be a hitting pitcher next year which I didn’t have this year.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

North Kingstown (R.I.) softball returns to top of hill

June, 18, 2014
North Kingstown High softball coach Adam Laliberte had a recent discussion with the school’s athletic director Howie Hague when Hague posed the following question: “How difficult is it for a team to play North Kingstown knowing it’s only going to score half a run?”

Rhode IslandThis difficult: En route to the Skippers’ first Division I championship since 2002 (and the second overall since the school added fast-pitch softball in 1993), North Kingstown pitchers Rachel Kantor and Kiara Oliver combined for a miniscule 0.46 ERA. And of the 24 runs this duo allowed, only 11 were earned.

Laliberte defied conventional wisdom by utilizing two pitchers in every game instead of deciding on one and asking her to hurl a complete game.

“I did something that most teams never do,” said Laliberte. “I threw both of them in every game. Rachel (a junior) pitched the first four innings and Kiara (a freshman) pitched the last three.

“We had two aces so we used them. Having that two-headed monster really paid off.”

The strategy paid off so well that the Skippers pitchers:

* Never allowed more than two runs in game after April 10.

* Combined for two no-hitters, three one-hitters, two three-hitters, and threw 15 shutouts while the Skippers recorded the first undefeated season in school history, 26-0, with the 26 victories obviously being a school record.

* Kantor and Oliver combined on a four-hitter as the Skippers beat Smithfield, 8-2, in the championship game.

Laliberte had reason to be skeptical about his team’s chances entering the season since it graduated three key players from the 2013 squad that lost in the winners’ bracket finals to Coventry. Pitcher Taylor Butler, who earned First Team All-State and First Team All-Division honors, plus First-Team All-Division selections in center fielder Kristina Rodriguez and First Team All-Division second baseman Liz Finell were all gone.

In addition, All-Division third baseman Devan Neary missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing elbow surgery.

“I thought there was a better chance of our winning the state championship than going undefeated,” said Laliberte. “Fortunately, we got better and better as we went along.

“I broke the schedule into quadrants. Our first four league games were against top teams. I was thinking the best case scenario was we start off at 2-2. At the end, I thought we would be 11-5. The top 16 teams make the playoffs and I hoped to grab one of the top six seeds and go from there. I hoped the team would grow and, at the end of the season, we would be playing our best.”

In retrospect, the Skippers made Laliberte look like a prophet.

Another reason for the Skippers’ success was the fact they outscored opponents by a combined margin of 234-24 – including 74-5 in the fourth and fifth innings. And each of the team’s top nine players batted over .300 with five batting over .400.

Kantor was as much of a factor at the plate as she was on the mound.

“Last year Rachel batted eighth in our lineup and was the designated player so she didn’t play in the field,” said Laliberte. “This year she moved from eighth to second in the lineup and hit .490 and stole 20 bases.

“She’s a bulldog. She’s a kid who wants the ball in her hand and the bat in her hand when the game’s on the line.”

Laliberte also freely admitted something else figured in the Skippers’ run to the state championship: luck.

“When you go undefeated there’s no question you have some luck,” he said. “In our first game with La Salle, we were losing 5-0 in the sixth and we scored five runs in the sixth to tie it. Then, Heather Jackson hit a walk-off homer in the seventh to win it.

“On Mother’s Day, against Mount St. Charles, we were trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seven and with two outs we were down to our last strike. We scored nine runs and won 10-2.

“Believe me,” continued Laliberte. “You can’t make this up.”

But Laliberte already can start making plans for next season considering North Kingstown graduates only one player of note: Jackson, a catcher who was voted the Cox Communications Softball Player of the Year, receiving more votes than any other player who garnered First Team All-State honors.

“Losing Jackson is big,” Laliberte said in an understatement. “But we have very capable personnel returning. Obviously another undefeated season is beyond my wildest dreams.

“Next year we’ll have a senior-laden roster. I have to make them realize it will be harder the second time around. If they buy into it, we’re certainly capable of repeating.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Lincoln School, Wheeler take rivalry to next level

June, 6, 2014
One of the oldest clichés in baseball is “three strikes and you’re out.”

Rhode IslandThe Lincoln School girls’ lacrosse team already had its “three strikes” in games against Wheeler School. Twice the Warriors beat the Lynx for the championship when both schools were members of the SENE. Earlier this season, Wheeler’s first in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, the Warriors mauled the Lynx, 19-13, which enabled them to earn the top seed heading into the Division II State Tournament.

Realistically, the odds weren’t in Lincoln School’s favor when it played the Warriors for the state championship.

“The thing that kept up our spirits was we were missing our varsity goalie [Adelae Durand] that weekend when we played Wheeler because she was away on a recruiting trip,” said Lynx coach Martha Bennett. “We threw a sophomore [in goal].

“But we were very optimistic. We definitely were a team that worked its way into playing its best. We peaked at the right time.”

That was especially true in the championship game when the Lynx out-lasted the Warriors, 13-12, in triple overtime with Alice Bennett scoring the winning goal with a mere eight seconds left in the third extra session.

It also would have been realistic to expect that both the Lynx and the Warriors would have been playing on tired legs and found it difficult to maintain focus as the championship match wore on – and on and on.

“I would focus on something that my team really worked on during the second half of the season – controlling the timing of the game,” said coach Bennett. “They were very conscious of the clock the whole time. They had learned if we didn’t get a fast-break goal, and besides one or two players we’re not very fast, if we didn’t get a fast-break goal they had no problem taking their time setting up a goal.

“My team was very conscious of that. When you have seniors and juniors leading everybody their mindset was control the ball and control the game.”

In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened as the Lynx won their second consecutive Division II state title.

“I think this year was harder in a way because last year was our first in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League,” said coach Bennett. “You’re kind of taking it all in and saying ‘It was fun.’

“Wheeler had beaten us (this season) and we beat Portsmouth (16-15) in the finals last year. I would say staying at the top is harder.”
One of several reasons why the Lynx were able to stay “at the top” was because of the prolific scoring of senior Larson Bennett (89 goals and 40 assists) plus juniors Jen Schweccheimer (39 goals and 12 assists) and Ali Gaissl (29 goals and three assists).

But what made Lincoln School’s championship even more impression was the fact that only four seniors were on the roster.

“As much as you look at the seniors and say there only were four, we had high expectations because my junior class had been playing together since they were freshmen,” said coach Bennett. “One of the four seniors [Kate Ross] was a transplanted basketball player who had never played lacrosse until this year.

Bennett continued, “We get these great athletes who don’t decide to play a sport until the spring. Kate’s basketball sense was great for defense. She was a great help to our defense. Lacrosse isn’t an easy eye-hand sport but anybody who’s athletic can play good defensive lacrosse. There are a lot of similarities between basketball and lacrosse so those kids really understand defense when they get out on the lacrosse field.”

Good point considering the Lynx allowed a respectable total of 131 goals while posting a 13-1-1 overall record.

But while Lincoln School’s defenders did their part, so did Durand – and then some.

“I would my goalie (Durand) exceeded expectations,” said coach Bennett. “(The championship game) was the best game (11 saves) she had all year. She’s a kid who comes up big in the big game.

“Unlike some people who rise to the occasion in regular-season games and then crumble in championship games, she rose to new heights in this game.”

Given the fact Bennett will return the majority of her players for 2015, would it be reasonable to expect the Lynx to “three-peat?”

“In the Interscholastic League, if we stay in Division II, I would be optimistic about our chances of being a contender,” coach Bennett said quite matter-of-factly. “Losing our number one player (Larsen Bennett), who controls the draw, will be a big thing to redesign.

“I would be optimistic about our chances to contend if we remain in Division II. If we move up to Division I, it will be tough.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.
This morning, the Gatorade Player of the Year winners were announced for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Bridgewater-Raynham catcher Joe Freiday was named the winner for Massachusetts. Here are the winners for the other five New England states:


The 6-foot-5, 242-pound junior right-handed pitcher and first baseman has led the Bulldogs to a 16-4 record and a berth in the Class L state tournament. Entering the postseason, Rossomando owned a 5-1 record and a 1.65 ERA on the mound along with a .313 batting average and 17 RBI. He had 69 strikeouts in 42.1 innings pitched, surrendering just 22 hits and issuing 14 walks. Rossomando was a First Team All-Conference and First Team All-State selection as a sophomore.

Rossomando has maintained a B average in the classroom. He has volunteered locally on behalf of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and his school’s Unified Sports teams, for students with disabilities.

“Rossomando is a man amongst boys,” said Jeff Rago, head coach at Joel Barlow High. “He’s just at a different level than other high school pitchers.”

Rossomando will begin his senior year of high school this fall.


The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior catcher led the Hawks to a 17-1 record and a berth in the Division I state tournament, scheduled to begin May 28. A returning Second Team All-State selection as named by the Providence Journal, Martellini batted .467 with 14 extra-base hits, 25 runs scored and 41 RBI while committing just one error behind the plate through 18 games. A member of the All-Tournament Team at this past summer’s 2013 World Wood Bat Association Underclass World Championship, he started for Bishop Hendricken’s 2013 Division I state championship team as a sophomore.

Martellini has maintained a 3.14 GPA in the classroom. In addition to donating his time as a youth baseball instructor, he has volunteered on behalf of Habitat for Humanity and his school’s peer-mentoring program for students with educational and developmental disabilities.

“Gian Martellini is basically a college catcher playing high school baseball,” said Paul Murphy, head coach of rival Cumberland High. “He’s special. He’s a quiet leader and leads by example.”

Martellini has verbally committed to play baseball on an athletic scholarship at Vanderbilt University beginning in the fall of 2015.


The 6-foot, 185-pound senior left-handed pitcher and first baseman had led the Lancers to a 10-5 record at the time of his selection. Del Signore owned a 4-1 record and a 0.38 ERA through 15 games along with a .306 average and 17 RBI. He recorded 69 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched, surrendering just 16 hits and issuing 12 walks. Del Signore is a two-time First Team All-State honoree.

Del Signore has maintained a 3.53 GPA in the classroom. A student mentor in his school system, he has volunteered locally on behalf of the Special Olympics and youth baseball camps.

“He’s got an above-average fastball, good control and a devastating curveball,” said Dan Keleher, head coach at Salem High. “He’s also a good position player who can hit the ball, and he’s an outstanding kid.”

Del Signore has signed a National Letter of Intent to play baseball on scholarship at Southern New Hampshire University this fall.


The 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior right-handed pitcher and infielder owned a 3-1 record and a 1.17 ERA on the mound for the Red Storm (6-5) at the time of his selection. The state’s returning Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year, Greenberg also compiled a .519 batting average with six RBI and a .675 on-base percentage through 11 games. He was the Maine Sunday Telegram Player of the Year and the Southern Maine Athletic Association Most Valuable Player as a junior.

Greenberg has maintained an A-minus average in the classroom. He has volunteered locally on behalf of Ronald McDonald House Charities, youth baseball programs and community-cleanup initiatives. He has also raised funds to aid a school in Haiti.

“Greenberg is a great two-way player,” said Eric Fernandes, head coach at Marshwood High. “He swings a very good bat, and he’s a bulldog on the mound.”

Greenberg has signed a National Letter of Intent to play baseball on scholarship at Fordham University this fall.


The 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior right-handed pitcher and shortstop owned a 4-1 record and a 1.17 ERA for the Redhawks (10-2) at the time of his selection. Through 12 games, Supple fanned 36 batters in 24 innings pitched, surrendering just 10 hits. He also compiled a .343 batting average and drove in 17 runs. A Second Team All-Metro selection as a sophomore, he is a two-time Perfect Game Honorable Mention Underclass All-American.

Supple has maintained a 3.25 GPA in the classroom. He has volunteered locally on behalf of youth baseball programs.

“Supple is a very impressive player,” said Jim Carter, head coach at Mt. Mansfield Union. “He throws very hard, maybe in the low 90s, and he’s a good hitter. He’s got a lot of natural talent.”

Supple will begin his senior year of high school this fall.

Hendricken (R.I.) on track for another title run

May, 10, 2014
One day last spring after Bishop Hendricken won its 12th Division I state baseball championship under veteran coach Ed Holloway – the 18th in school history – Holloway was having lunch with five of his players.

Rhode Island“I asked the kids ‘Did you ever think about what it would be like if you lost,” said Holloway who’s been the Hawks’ head coach since 1995. “They looked at me and said ‘Coach. We never gave it a thought.’

“The kids go out and play hard and expect to win. If we win, they’re happy and if we lost and gave it our best shot, fine. They focus on playing hard and playing to win.”

Best shot notwithstanding, the Hawks (9-1 in Division I-North), suffered their first loss on Tuesday when they were defeated, 6-2, by La Salle Academy (8-4).

“I think the kids feel like everybody comes to play hard against us,” Holloway said in an understatement. “It’s not like the teams don’t give it a full effort. They know we’ve been successful and try to knock us off regardless if we’re coming off a state championship year or not.

“Our kids feel like they’re going to get the best from the other team when they step on the field.”

The 2013 season was a typical one for the Hawks in that they captured the division title with an 18-0 record and then annexed their second consecutive state championship.

Experiencing the type of success Hendricken has over the years doesn’t happen just by the players throwing their gloves on the field.

“It starts with we’re very lucky in that we have a lot of good players,” said Holloway. “You need good players to win in any team sport. Those players are very competitive. They work hard. A lot of them concentrate on one sport (i.e. baseball). They start in late fall and work really hard until we start (the regular season).

“The kids really work hard during the off season. Our guys, from winning, they expect to win. They don’t think about losing. We try to keep the kids together and play American Legion ball during the summer.”

Another reason for the Hawks’ run of success can be attributed to what Holloway refers to as “a good feeder system.”

“Our freshman and junior varsity coaches do a good job of getting them ready to play at the varsity level,” said Holloway while referring to head freshman coach Dan Rice plus assistants Chris McDonough, Richard Dubuc and Brian Leahy, who’s been with Holloway since 1996, and head JV coach John Manning plus assistants Rob Manning and Peter Thomas. “They do a good job with the kids. That’s important.”

The same could be said of Holloway’s varsity assistants: Bill Campbell (who works with the pitchers and has been with Holloway since 1995); third base coach Ian Smith; and first base/conditioning coach Chris Sheehan, who was an All-State pitcher in 2009.

“The success of the program is due in large part to all of the coaches preparing the players,” said Holloway.

Arguably more preparation was necessary going into this season than in prior years since Hendricken was hit hard by graduation and returned only three starters: junior third baseman John Toppa (who’s given a verbal commitment to Connecticut), junior catcher Gian Martellini (who’s given a verbal to Vanderbilt) and captain/right fielder Brady Chant.

“We lost Ed Markowski, who was the MVP of the state tournament, which necessitated moving Toppa from left field to third base,” said Holloway. “Dante Baldelli (younger brother of former Hendricken All-Stater and Tampa Bay first-round draft pick Rocco Baldelli) is playing center field and batting fourth or fifth. He’s hitting .556 with 15 RBI.

“John Willette is at shortstop. Ryan Rotundo, who played behind Matt Murphy (who’s at Assumption), is hitting around .480. And Bill Keegan replaced Jarek Krajewski (who’s at Plymouth State) at first base.”

While Hendricken may lack a true ace like Mike King, the 2013 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year who’s pitching for Boston College, Holloway has three starters who’re doing their best to fill that role. That's fallen to junior Mike McCaffrey, who last spring beat North Kingstown, 7-4, to clinch the state title, senior Anthony Graziano and sophomore Matt Kennedy.

Seniors Chris Travers and Sam Boulanger (who also is a DH) are the primary relievers.

If there’s one Hawk on whom the spotlight shines the brightest, it’s Martellini, who prior to the La Salle game was hitting .519 with 19 RBI.

“He’s a big, strong kid who right now looks like a college player,” said Holloway. “He’s got tremendous arm strength and is a very good batter. Last year was his first year as a catcher. He played third as a freshman. He knew we needed some help at catcher so he came in and caught as a sophomore. We were lucky to win the state championship with him.

“We talked with the Vanderbilt coach about how he has a lot of upside and yet there’s a lot of room for improvement,” continued Holloway. “He’s not a finished product but has a lot of potential.”

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.