The only word to describe the Warwick Vets baseball team’s season in 2012 is resurgent. The ’Canes made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and just the fourth time this millennium, riding high-end starting pitching to a berth in the Division I tournament.
Vets lost its first two games in the playoffs – including a one-run loss to eventual state runner-up South Kingstown – but couldn’t complain. The ’Canes had turned a corner, and planned on being mainstays in the postseason.
And they still can be – it’ll just be in a different spot.
Despite the solid year and playoff berth, Vets was moved down to D-II this season as part of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s realignment. The ’Canes, along with East Providence, Mount St. Charles, Smithfield, Chariho and Tiverton, dropped a division, while Johnston and Woonsocket joined D-I.
It wasn’t necessarily what the ’Canes wanted, or expected, but they’re planning on adapting to the new landscape. Which division they’re playing in isn’t something they can control.
“We’re not going to change anything,” second-year Vets head coach Nolan Landy said. “Nothing will change with us. We’ll play every day as though we are playing in Division I. No matter who we’re playing – Division I, Division II – we’re going to keep doing what we do.”
Vets wasn’t hit overly hard with graduation in terms of numbers, but the quality it lost will be difficult to replace. The ’Canes made a habit of winning close, low-scoring games on the strength of their top two pitchers, Kevin Hickey and Shane Johnson, both of whom were all-division. They’re both gone – along with contributors Bryan O’Mara and Tyler Rice – meaning Vets will have to find ways to adjust if it wants to keep trending in the right direction.
Landy is confident that his team has the horses to do it. Armed with a talented sophomore class that reached the state semifinals last year on the freshman team, and junior returner Danny Greaves, Vets’ pitching staff is poised to be its biggest strength once again.
“Greaves will certainly step up,” Landy said. “He didn’t get many of the innings last year, but he got important innings. He pitched against the tough teams and learned a lot. This year he’s bigger, stronger, he understands more about what we’re trying to accomplish. He’s going to show those younger guys how we do things.”
The ’Canes are also expecting big things on the mound from senior Pat DelSanto. Junior Jarred Cipriano will get some innings as well. Then, there are the sophomores.
Heading the pack are Austin Lamaire and Shane Kittila, who will not only pitch but should see plenty of playing time in other spots as well. In all, there are 10 sophomores on the roster.
“Austin Lamaire and Shane Kittila are definitely going to be big contributors,” Landy said. “The sophomore class coming up is a strong class, and we’re trying to figure out who’s going to play where right now.”
Another positive for Vets is the return of second-team All-State shortstop T.J. Boyajian. A starter since his freshman year, Boyajian was also the MVP of Division I-Central last season, and will reprise his role as the team’s leadoff hitter and overall top player.
“He’ll be our big, strong leadoff guy,” Landy said.
Vets has a lot of others back in the fold as well. Senior Tony Lonczak started in the outfield last year and will handle the center field duties this year.
Junior catcher Steven Denis returns, although he may play some other positions as well. DelSanto is slotted for third base, while Greaves will play first when not pitching. Senior Kyle Waters is also back.
There are some new faces as well. Hendricken transfer Tyler DePetrillo is in the running for the catcher spot, while Lamaire may play some infield and Kittila will likely play some outfield.
Others, like juniors Mike Riccitelli and Tyler Oliveira, will also be in the outfield mix.
“Pretty similar to last year,” Landy said. “Not much is set in stone. We’ll get a long look at some of these younger guys, and some of the guys who are juniors.”
Offensively, Boyajian will be the catalyst, but players like Greaves and Kittila – who has been swinging well in the preseason – should make a big impact as well.
“We’re young, but I’m confident that this group will be able to handle what we throw at them,” Landy said.
The youth should be a positive, as Landy tries to continue the upward direction of the program that began last year, regardless of what division his team is competing in.
“We want to build off of last year,” Landy said. “These guys are excited about what we’ve got going on here, and we’re going to continue doing that.”
And with a D-I pedigree and some real talent, Vets plans to be in the title hunt in its new home.
“In the end, we should be sniffing around,” Landy said. “I think we have the group to do that. It’s all going to depend on the young guys pitching. We should make a pretty good run this year.”
Vets will take on perennial D-II power Prout in an Injury Fund game this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mickey Stevens before opening the season on Tuesday against fellow D-II newcomer East Providence at 3:45 p.m. at home.