Boston High School: John Toppa

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

May, 10, 2014
May 10
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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.

Rhode Island football preview

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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Invariably any pre-season football preview at least starts – but doesn’t necessarily end – with perennial Division I power Hendricken.

Rhode IslandCoach Keith Croft’s Hawks are coming off their third consecutive Division I Super Bowl championship (and ninth in school history) but enter the 2013 season with a dearth of seniors.

Only 13 are listed on the roster which means Croft has his work cut out for him looking to replace First Team All-State selections like tight end/defensive lineman Mario McClain, two-way lineman Nick DeCiantis, linebacker Jarrid Witherspoon and linebacker Marco Delvecchio.

Fortunately, for the Hawks, they could be solid on offense since they feature easily one of the state’s top running backs in junior Remington Blue, plus junior quarterback Patrick Gill. Gill seemingly came out of nowhere last season to earn the No. 1 signal-caller position and in the end was a major factor in the Super Bowl as Hendricken upset heavily-favored La Salle.

The key for Gill will be to remain healthy since the only other experienced quarterback on the Hendricken roster, John Toppa, opted not to play football this season.

Without question La Salle coach Geoff Marcone faces a major challenge in his attempt to replace two of the most productive offensive players in school history – First Team All-State running back Josh Morris (the 2011 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year) and First Team All-State quarterback Anthony Francis (the 2012 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year).

Marcone does have 18 seniors on his roster and will choose his starting quarterback from a group that includes sophomores Jace Pena and John Farley.

Keon Wilson again will be the primary target for whoever lines up under center while the defense will be led by linebacker Brendan Lippe.

The two Cranston teams, Cranston East and Cranston West, also could figure in the playoff picture.

East returns First Team All-State running back/defensive back Marquem Monroe who last season scored a total of 14 touchdowns and also intercepted four passes.

First Team All-Stater Marven Beauvais complements Monroe on offense while Alex Corvese is an experienced quarterback.

Cranston West will be a force if the Falcons received production that’s expected from running back Isaiah Alvarez and linebacker Jack Hammond.

***

Division II invariably is the most wide-open division in the state – one reason being the format.

Eight teams are in II-A, eight in II-B and top four in each division qualify for the playoffs.

Cumberland qualified for the Super Bowl for the first time since 2005 and waxed Woonsocket, 49-0, for all the marbles led by a pair of graduated All-State picks – wide receive Mitch Baxter and tight end Trent Vasey.

But the Clippers still have talent, especially in the appropriately-named running back Joe Fine plus linebacker Chris Hayes who led Cumberland in tackles last season.

The Villa Novans, who’ve undergone a resurrection in recent years, will be out to avenge that lop-sided loss to Cumberland in the Super Bowl.

Leading the way will be speedster Will Andino who can run and catch the ball plus junior lineman Shawn Ingram, a potential First Team All-State selection.

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: Rhode Island

May, 31, 2013
5/31/13
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What do the boys’ lacrosse teams from La Salle Academy, East Greenwich and Smithfield have in common?

Rhode IslandEach team is undefeated and is in first place in its respective division and, not surprisingly, is the odds-on favorite to capture a state championship.

The Rams (10-0 in Division I and 12-0), who are coached by Colonel Steven McConnell, the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, boast an offense that’s off the charts.

Through matches of May 21, the Rams have out-scored their opponents by a margin of 202-65.

The story within the story is that La Salle attacks Brady O’Donnell and Joe Manown are the top two scorers in the state regardless of division.

O’Donnell, who’s a senior, has whipped home 56 goals and assisted on 33 while sophomore Manown has scored 49 goals and assisted on 38. What makes Manown’s proficiency all the more noteworthy is the fact he missed most of the 2012 season due to injury.

East Greenwich (13-0 in Division II and 13-2 overall), is riding the backs of 15 seniors who have played an integral role in the Avengers’ offense and defense.

Coach Brian Trapani’s team leads the division with 163 goals and has allowed a stingy total of 43.

Senior Colin Watikun and senior Colin Bernier lead the Avengers with 50 points apiece, Waitkun having scored 39 goals and assisted on 11 with Bernier having fired home 40 goals and assisted on 10.

Smithfield (12-0 in Division III and 12-2 overall) hasn’t lost a division game since the 2010 season.

Coach Joe Renzi’s Sentinels weren’t expected to be a contender since the team graduated 16 players from the 2012 squad. But attacks Brendan Benoit, Nick Gerlach and Matt Walker have led an offense that’s tied with Coventry in goals scored with 139.

MOUND KING
Team sport notwithstanding, the baseball program at Hendricken is heavily reliant on arguably the state’s best pitcher, senior Mike King who’s signed a letter of intent to play at Boston College.

King is a major reason why the Hawks lead Division I-North with a 16-0 record since he’s recorded an 8-1 record replete with 46 strikeouts and a mere six walks in 33 innings.

A right-hander, King didn’t allow his first earned run of the season until May 18 when Hendricken beat La Salle, 4-1. King spaced out six hits while going the distance – again.

King also helps himself at the plate with a batting average that’s hovered around .500 all season.

In a recent 5-1victory over Cranston West, King’s RBI single helped key a five-run first inning.

Another Hawk who’s been wielding a potent bat is John Toppa, grandson of the late Rogers High football coaching legend of the same name.

In a 4-3 victory over St. Raphael, Toppa’s fourth-inning double drove home the game-winning run. And in a 6-1 win over Cumberland, Toppa contributed a single, triple and two RBI.

Elsewhere:

* Central Falls pulled off the upset of the season regardless of division when the Warriors won their first game of the season – 5-2 over Division II-North leader Tolman (12-2). Emmanuel Antigua smacked a two-run single during a four-run fourth inning while Brandon Canuto went the distance for the victory. The loss sliced Tolman’s lead over second-place Scituate (13-3) to one game.

* North Kingstown’s Billy Young improved his record to 4-0 by blanking Toll Gate, 7-0, in a Division II-South game. Young allowed only two hits and fanned 10.

* East Providence’s Colin Costa collected two doubles, a single and five RBI as the Townies (14-1) held onto first place in Division II-Central by beating Mount Pleasant, 9-4. Teammate Colin Grant struck out 17 Kilties en route to the complete-game victory.

CLOSE SHAVE
Never let it be said that East Providence softball coach Rob Traverse isn’t true to his word.

A year ago, the Townies won only three of their first 12 games. Traverse made a “bet” with his players that if they won at least seven games this season he’d shave his head. They did and he did.

East Providence currently is in fifth place in the Division I with a 10-5 record – the Townies’ most impressive victory being a 2-0 blanking of North Kingstown (i.e. it was the Skippers’ first loss).

In that win over the Skippers, EP broke a scoreless tie in the eighth inning on Amy DeCastro’s single and Casey Traverse’s subsequent sacrifice fly.

In other games of note:

* Lincoln High to nobody’s surprise clinched the Division I title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming state tournament by beating La Salle, 4-1. Lindsay Mayer allowed only one run on two hits for the 14-0 Lions.

* Division II-East leader Moses Brown (10-5) blanked Central, 6-0, in a crossover game as Emma Rantanen tossed a one-hitter – losing her bid for a no-hitter when Dianna Torres singled with two outs in the sixth.

ENTERING THE HALL
Even though Central Falls is the smallest city in the state, its high school has produced a host of outstanding athletes.

Nine will be inducted into the Central Falls Athletic Hall of Fame on October 11: former boys’ basketball coach Ed McVeigh plus athletes Albert Cardosa, Jeff Desautel, James Dougan, Brian Goodhart, Kevin Guindon, Carmen Pizarro, Russell Standring, Ken Vaudreuil and Kinga Dobrzychi-Zuromski.

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.

New England Roundup: Rhode Island

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
2:59
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Different year. Same story.

Rhode IslandOr to put it another way, Hendricken is giving every indication that it’s zeroing in on a state-record 18th Division I baseball championship.

Through games of May 7, the Hawks led Division I-North with an 11-0 record – one game ahead of arch-rival La Salle (10-1) whom Hendricken edged, 3-2, on April 17.

Going into the season, veteran coach Ed Holloway knew he would have his ace on the mound in the person of First Team All-State selection Mike King (who’s already signed a letter of intent to play for Boston College).

But the Hawks’ pitching staff has developed into something more than a one-trick pony.

Senior Dillon Manfredi and sophomore Mike McCaffrey have developed into reliable starting pitchers who’ve given Hendricken valuable depth.

Most importantly, the Hawks have shown an uncanny ability to win close games (games decided by one run).

Following is a list of Hendricken victories that underscore the above point:

* McCaffrey went the distance on a two-hitter as Hendricken edged Cranston East, 1-0. The game was tied 1-1 entering the last of the sixth when John Toppa singled with two outs to plate the go-ahead run.

* Manfredi tossed a complete-game four-hitter as Hendricken nipped Johnston, 2-1.

* King hurled a two-hit, 13-strikeout shutout as Hendricken blanked Woonsocket, 2-0. King also helped himself at the plate as he lofted a first-inning sacrifice fly and doubled home a fifth-inning run. King pulled off a major escape act in the top of the seventh when the Villa Novans loaded the bases with none out only to have the Hendricken ace fan three consecutive batters.

* Eddie Markowski’s single in the bottom of the ninth broke a 1-1 tie and gave Hendricken a 2-1 victory over Lincoln.

* King struck out nine and allowed only five hits as the Hawks clipped Cranston West, 2-1. Hendricken utilized the long ball to win this game when Nick Boland belted a solo homer in the top of the seventh inning.

TOWNIE TIME
While Hendricken long has been the dominant baseball team in the state, the same can’t be said of East Providence.

But this year may be different for a school that’s never won a state baseball title.

The Townies moved into sole possession of first place in Division II-Central with a 10-0 record thanks to 3-2, come-from-behind victory over second-place Central (8-2). Jerry Espinal and Keith Grant combined on a six-hitter as the Townies swept the season series from the Knights.

Prior to that game, the Townies outlasted Warwick Vets, 8-4, with Nick Karalekas collecting two hits, two RBI and four stolen bases.

Led by Karalekas plus Alex Hurley, Jasiah Hatch, Mike Allienello and Marc LaValley, the Townies have been pounding the opposition into submission.

Want proof? East Providence out-scored its first 10 opponents by a combined margin of 99-20.

AROUND THE DIAMOND
In two other games of note, North Kingstown beat South County rival South Kingstown, 3-1, and moved into a tie for first place in I-South with each team having a 9-2 record.

The Skippers’ Dom Grillo went the route on a two-hitter – allowing an RBI double in the first and not surrendering another hit until the sixth. In addition, he fanned eight Rebels.

Brian Cox accounted for North Kingstown’s runs, with an RBI single in the fourth and an RBI double in the sixth.

Exeter-West Greenwich (2-8), which has been struggling in Division II-South, rallied from a 6-1 deficit and upset West Warwick, 10-6.

The Scarlet Knights trailed 6-1 entering the fourth when Matt Grenier came on in relief. Grenier blanked the Wizards (4-5) on zero hits over the last 3 1/3 innings which enabled him to notch the victory.

DEFENSE MISSING
Defense was left on each team’s respective bus when the girls’ lacrosse teams from Moses Brown and East Greenwich met in a Division I crossover game.

The Quakers’ Meghan Buonanno scored eight goals and assisted on one while teammate Alexandra Pinsky recorded an unbelievable total of seven goals plus six assists during a 25-19 victory.

Ironically, the Avengers’ Marielle Kraft out-did Buonnano and Pinsky by scoring nine games.

Moses Brown improved to 7-1 in I-North.

AROUND THE RIM
Division I champion La Salle landed two players on the All-State Girls’ Basketball First Team – sophomore Davida Dale and senior Priscilla Dunphy.

Dale led the Rams in scoring with a 17.7 average and was voted MVP honors in the Division I Tournament.

Dunphy, who’ll play her college basketball at UMass-Lowell, averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and two assists for a La Salle team that finished 21-4 overall and won its third consecutive state title.

Rounding out the top five are Exeter-West Greenwich sophomore Taylor Buckley, the Gatorade Rhode Island Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year; Westerly senior Hannah Dobson who finished her career as the second-leading scorer in school history with 1,589 points; and Barrington senior Caitlyn Nolan who averaged 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

HEADING NORTH AND SOUTH
Elizabeth Scala, who played hockey at Bay View Academy before transferring to the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, has signed a letter of intent to play for Syracuse University.

Central senior Carlos Mangum, who earned All-American and All-State honors in the weight throw, has accepted a full ride from the University of Miami. Most recently, Mangum was ranked fourth in the nation in the hammer throw with a heave of 212-feet, 9-inches.

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.

New England Roundup: Rhode Island

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
6:50
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It didn’t require the second coming of Bill Belichick to foresee that two best teams in Division I would meet in the Super Bowl.

Rhode IslandAfter all, La Salle was the only team in the state to finish with an undefeated league record. And Hendricken’s only loss was to the Rams by a 39-14 score way back on Sept. 16.

This dream – and unique – matchup was determined when La Salle routed East Providence, 41-14 and Hendricken emulated the Rams by hanging a 42-14 loss on South Kingstown in the semifinals.

Ironically, in the 39 years that the Rhode Island Interscholastic League has held Super Bowls, the Rams and Hawks have yet to meet in the championship game.

The Hawks will be making their third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl and will get a chance to defend their title due in large part to the play of their defense against the Rebels and the play of quarterback Ryan Brannigan.

After spotting the Rebels a 7-0 lead, on Garrett O’Dowd’s 72-yard punt return, Hendricken slammed the door and held South Kingstown to a paltry four years in total offense in the team’s first four possessions.

Brannigan, meanwhile, scored on a pair of one-yard runs and threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Webb.

The Rams hardly broke a sweat while dispatching the Townies for the second time in six days.

After romping to a 34-13 victory in their annual Thanksgiving Day clash, the Rams bolted to a 34-0 halftime lead which rendered the remaining 24 minutes as football’s equivalent of garbage time.

Josh Morris, who may be the best back in the state, accounted for 117 yards and one touchdown on eight carries, and also caught five passes for 92 yards and three more scores.

Now, check this out.

Since dropping a non-league game to Bridgewater-Raynham, the Rams have reeled off five consecutive victories during which they’ve outscored their opponents by combined margin of 181-61.

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: Rhode Island

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
1:59
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Instead of calling it the Rhode Island interscholastic League Boys’ State Swimming Championships, perhaps the event should be re-named “The Hendricken Invitational.”

Rhode IslandCoach Dave Hansen’s Hawks splashed their way to a mind-boggling 21st consecutive state title on February 20 – and it wasn’t even close. The Hawks amassed 314 points as compared with second-place Barrington who swam home with 194 at the University of Rhode Island.

What made this latest championship even more noteworthy was the fact Hendricken failed to win a single individual event. Hansen needed points from only eight swimmers to cop the school’s latest title. And the Hawks did their most damage by winning two relays. Ian Dinwoodie and Andrew Robinson swam in the meet’s final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, while Mike Fedorenko, Alex Powers, Dave Evans and Jack Kilpatrick each were on one championship relay (the other was the 200-yard medley).

Hendricken earned 40 points by winning the 200 medley relay and recorded 54 points in the first individual event, the 200-yard freestyle. By the time the latter ended, the Hawks had a commanding lead.

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