The New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 American Legion team has turned in its share of strong seasons in the recent past, including a 19-win campaign a year ago.
While the faces are a little bit different this season, the expectations aren’t, as NEFL plans to be somewhere in the mix near the top of the league once again this summer.
Jim Dawber takes over as head coach of the program this summer for Dave McGuirl, after serving as an assistant coach last season and a head coach of several legion teams around the state prior to that, including the former Shields Post 43 team.
And Dawber’s team is plenty talented enough to keep up the program’s long tradition of contention.
“I think this is going to be a fun group, and certainly I think we’re going to have more successes than failures,” Dawber said.
Thus far, the results have been positive. NEFL has played six games out of state and gone 4-2, including a 3-1 mark at a tournament over the weekend in Newburgh, N.Y., in which it reached the championship game.
League play was scheduled to begin Monday with a game against R&R Construction Post 18. The results were unavailable at press time.
The high hopes begin with a deep pitching staff comprised of hurlers from all three public high schools in Warwick, plus a few post-grads returning to the squad to provide a boost.
From Toll Gate, senior James Meizoso is back after a big summer last year. His former Titan teammate Ryan Charette is also back for a post-grad year.
Three pitchers from Pilgrim are on the team as well – rising senior Elijah Dressel, and the just graduated Stephen Noti and Ryan Morris. Dressel had a sub-2.00 ERA for the Pats during the spring, while Noti has been a steady presence in the rotation for two seasons. Morris is now over a year removed from labrum surgery and was able to get more work for Pilgrim as the season progressed.
Warwick Vets’ trio of the recently graduated Danny Greaves and rising seniors Shane Kittila and Austin Lamaire are all with NEFL and should be key pieces on the hill, and Warwick native and St. Ray’s pitcher Andrew Bracken is also in the fold. Hendricken’s Rob Montagano is another player who should factor into the pitching group.
“We’re excited and really, in the games that we’ve played, we were a little short-handed with our position guys, but what we felt about the team in terms of our prowess on the mound absolutely manifested itself in these six games,” Dawber said.
Around the infield, Greaves will likely handle the duties at first when he’s not pitching, with Toll Gate’s Zach Bacon and Alex Lefebvre playing in the middle. Hendricken senior Ryan Rotondo will also play the middle infield once he joins the team, as he’s currently with the Hawks in the Interscholastic League state championship series.
Moses Brown rising junior Elijah Brown, from Warwick, is also on the team and will play in the middle infield. At third base, Lamaire will see time when not pitching.
“Another strength is our team speed and athleticism, and our ability to play aggressive defense,” Dawber said.
Behind the plate, Ben Mann – a former Toll Gate star – returns after a strong summer last year for a post-grad year, and he’ll be joined by Vets catcher Tyler DePetrillo, making his legion debut.
In the outfield, Meizoso and Kittila should see some time, along with Toll Gate’s Elvis Pimental and former Vets star and current CCRI outfielder T.J. Boyajian, back for his third year with NEFL.
“I’m very, very excited and honored to be their coach,” Dawber said. “They are impressing me with their conscientiousness, their open-mindedness and their willingness to learn. As an instructor and a teacher, how can you not be happy with that kind of first impression from a group of student-athletes?”
The season really gets going in earnest this week. Following Monday’s game, NEFL will play two-time defending state champion Navigant Credit Union/Fairmount Post 85 today at Woonsocket’s Renaud Field at 5:30 p.m. Tomorrow, it will play the same team at Vets at 5:30 p.m.
“They’re excited to be on the team,” Dawber said. “They’re optimistic and they’re certainly eager to begin play.”
NEFL has actually had the best record in the state the last two years, only to see its luck run out in the playoffs, where early defeats in the double-elimination portion of the bracket have led to quick exits.
The postseason is still a long way away for this group. But with the season up and running, it’s only natural to be excited for what NEFL hopes is a special summer.
“We’re pretty happy with our team,” Dawber said. “I’m sure you can hear in my voice the tone of optimism and excitement, because I’m not hiding it.”