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.
“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.