The last few years have been a struggle for the Pilgrim basketball team. The Pats haven’t had a winning season since 2004-05, and a strong Division II landscape has limited them to a 6-30 league record the past two seasons.
That could all change this year, though, as Pilgrim will compete in Division III, where wins should be more frequent than in D-II. The Pats also didn’t graduate a single player off last year’s team, giving them reason to hope for a much-improved season.
With head coach Mike Batalon now in his second year at the helm, everything is progressing nicely.
“I think the kids are improving,” Batalon said. “They know what to expect from me. And they’re used to the system.”
The move down in divisions was a welcome change for the Pats, and not only because they’ll be on a more level playing field. They’ll also re-kindle their rivalries with Toll Gate and Warwick Vets, both of whom moved down to D-III before the 2010-11 season.
With all three teams back in the same division now for the first time in three years, they’ll each play twice during the course of the year. Pilgrim will end its regular season with back-to-back games against Toll Gate and Vets.
“We’re excited about it, because we have our rivalries back, with Toll Gate and Warwick Vets,” Batalon said. “We have a little bit of a new lease on life. I think we’ll be much more competitive.”
Early in the preseason, Batalon has already seen a lot to like from his team, which has nine players who saw significant varsity action last year.
While the perimeter play should be able to hold its own, the Pats are going to rely a lot on their post players.
Junior Ryan Morris is back for his third year with the varsity team, and he’s coming off an all-division season despite playing hurt most of the year. He’s poised for another solid campaign.
“He did play hurt with a bad shoulder, and this year that’s improved,” Batalon said. “He looks more confident, more athletic and he’s going to have a big year.”
Joining him down low is senior Dan Colabella, who emerged late last season as an offensive threat in the paint.
After a solid volleyball season last spring, Colabella should be an integral piece on the basketball court, too.
“Danny is one of the hardest working kids,” Batalon said. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes on the floor. Offensively he’s improved also.”
Providing some depth for the big men is junior Brendan Rix, who was the first man off the bench last season.
In the backcourt, senior Luis Pimental returns to handle the starting point guard duties.
Behind him will likely be senior Seth Lawson. Lawson played his sophomore year but then didn’t play last year. He’s back now, giving the Pats another quality ball handler.
“He can shoot it a little bit and he’s a good ball handler,” Batalon said. “He’s probably going to be our back-up point guard.”
On the wing, Pilgrim’s second-leading scorer from last year, senior Cole Furney is back in the fold. He should provide a valuable offensive presence.
“Cole Furney, he can score,” Batalon said. “He was our second-leading scorer last year. He can score in a lot of different ways.”
Senior Charles Johnson also returns, and he is one of the team’s top shooters from the perimeter.
Pilgrim will also get contributions from senior Matt Christy and junior Letrelle Johnson.
“Everyone’s attitude is good,” Batalon said. “The kids have been working hard. And since this is my second year, there’s also familiarity with everyone.”
Division III is split into four sub-divisions, and each sub-division has four teams. Pilgrim is joined by Toll Gate, Vets and Juanita Sanchez in D-III-Central, making the games it plays against its city rivals all the more important.
And if the Pats can win those, they’ll likely put themselves in position for a much-needed bounce back year. They think they have the pieces to get it done.
“Ten out of the 16 teams make the playoffs,” Batalon said. “Our goal is definitely to make the playoffs.”