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.
But 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.