Warwick Vets (R.I.) baseball looking for slice of history

The only time Warwick Veterans Memorial High won a state baseball championship was well before the boys on the current team were born; it was 1956, when the Hurricanes captured the Division I state

Even though the Hurricanes are now playing in Division II, there’s a chance they may end a drought that’s extended for 58 years. Entering the third weekend in May, Warwick Vets led Division II with a 12-0 record – two games ahead of second place Mount St. Charles.

“When I took over (in 2011) the past record came back to bite us,” said fifth-year head coach Nolan Landy. “I wanted to stay up but the team really struggled prior to that. Since I’ve taken over the team, over the past four years we’ve made the playoffs (two years in Division I and two in Division II).

“I think we’re a Division I team. The last realignment took into consideration the victories and losses we had in the past seven years. It didn’t add up for us to stay put. But I think we’re able to move back up to Division I.”

Arguably the two games that convinced the Hurricanes they were a force to be reckoned with were played in the first week in May.

“We were down four runs at Tiverton (on May 1) in the top of the seventh,” said Landy. “We scored four and won it (6-5) in the eighth.

“The Tiverton game was a wakeup point. Some teams get complacent. I harp on no matter what your record is nobody cares. Good teams are the ones that come back from four runs. Good teams show that mental toughness.”

Four days later the Hurricanes edged Mount St. Charles, 2-1, which was important because that was the only game the teams will play against each other and earned Warwick Vets the first tie breaker (i.e. record in head-to-head competition). In that game, Shane Kittlia, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, tossed a two-hitter.

“Shane’s been the anchor of the staff,” said Landy. “We were both undefeated and we felt it would be a huge test for us. The entire week before the game we practiced hard. We focused. We were excellent in all three phases of the game.”

Landy, admittedly, had an inclination that this might be a good season right from the start.

“I’ve had these kids for four years,” he said. “I knew I had a good group. They’re close-knit kids and good friends. I knew we could pitch well and the bats really have come on.

“Two things we emphasize are pitching and defense. When the bats slowed down a little bit, the games we’ve won, pitching and defense enabled us to win them.”

One stat that underscores the Hurricanes’ ability to excel in three phases of the game is the one that shows they’ve outscored opponents by a combined margin of 81-22.

“I’ve been working with these kids so they know our game plan, like pitching inside for example,” said Landy. “We play exceptional defense. They make plays they should make. They make double plays and they make smart players seniors should make.

“I preach all the time not to give extra outs. Give any team extra opportunities and they’re going to score extra runs.”

The Hurricanes’ ability to score runs is indicated with a perusal of their hitting leaders: catcher Tyler Depetrillo (.469), center fielder/pitcher David DeFusco (.405), third baseman/pitcher Austin Lamire (.405) and left fielder Jerry Batista (.390).

“David is a sophomore,” said Landy. “His bat and arm have been outstanding. He plays like he’s a senior. He’s as mature as any player on the team.”

In fact, DeFusco belted a three-run homer during a 4-1 victory at Narragansett on May 11.

As for the pitching staff, some ERAs are almost microscopic: Kittlia (5-0, 0.50), David Simmons (2-0, 0.39), DeFusco (3-0, 0.50) and Lamire (3-0, 2.50 ERA).

“David Simmons had been our go-to reliever but he’s now a starter and is the go-to guy,” said Landy. “I have all the faith in the world for him to come in and throw strikes. Tyler is a senior catcher. His consistency at the plate has been a bright spot. He’s battling all the time and is swinging a good bat.

“We’ve been tested,” added Landy. “We’ve had to work guys in terms of situational baseball. We’re not rolling teams. We’re playing good, sound fundamental baseball.”

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.