Last year, six Hendricken seniors graduated and moved on to play college baseball. One of them was chosen in the Major League Baseball Entry Draft.
That Hendricken team went 16-2 in the regular season.
In the seven years prior to that, Hendricken had been home to such stars as Jeff Roy, Evan Marzilli, Dan Gamache, Gary Gillheeney Tom Verdi, Chris Costantino, and Ethan Ferreira and that’s really only scratching the surface.
Roy, Marzilli, Gamache, Gillheeney and Costantino have all been drafted at various times.
Not one of those Hendricken teams went undefeated.
But in 2013, the Hawks rolled out one of their least star-studded teams in a long time. Sure, they had some great players, including Gatorade Player of the Year Mike King, a Boston College commit, and center fielder Rob Henry, who will play at Brown. The rest of the guys, though, as solid as they are, aren’t playing Division I, and barring significant growth in the college ranks, won’t be getting drafted either.
This year’s Hendricken team did go undefeated.
Talk about a team effort – the Hawks were the very definition of a collective unit. While they’ve had the state’s best team 12 of the last 17 years, this team was not like the other champions. The sum of all the parts created something that the pieces could not have made on their own. Doc Rivers used to stress “ubuntu”, a Southern African concept, to his Celtics players, which means “I am because we are.”
Different players contributed every day, and a star program almost devoid of superstar players did what many of its star-studded predecessors couldn’t do. They played 18 regular season games, and they won every one of them. Even when they eventually lost a tough playoff game to Johnston, they rebounded to win three straight and claim another championship.
“I think it’s just being humble and working hard every day,” said shortstop Lou Umberto, who turned himself into perhaps the best defensive player in the state this season. “We worked harder than any team, I bet. It was crazy how hard we worked. It was having a humble nature and trying to produce every day.”
The last time Hendricken went undefeated in a season was 2004. That team featured Jay Rainville at the top of the rotation, and he was later drafted in the first round. Jeff Beliveau was also in the mix, and he made his Major League debut last year for the Cubs. Jimmy Gillheeney was another member of the team, and he’s in Triple-A with the Seattle Mariners organization. Shortstop Matt Bouchard was in the Mets organization before retiring last year.
That team won all of its games with pure talent. This team won because of something else.
“I love going to practice every single day because they work so hard,” longtime Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway said. “Great character and chemistry on the team.”
It started with the pitching staff. While King was returning after a solid junior season, the rest of the pitchers were completely unproven. Sophomore Mike McCaffrey was pushed into the No. 2 starter role, and senior Dillon Manfredi took on the challenge in the No. 3 spot.
Those pitchers not only got the job done – they emerged as reliable, tough starters. With essentially just King, McCaffrey and Manfredi, the Hawks allowed a league-low 26 runs in 18 games.
“Teamwork,” McCaffrey said. “Trusting in defense and trusting each other. Different people contributed – it was never the same person over and over.”
To back up that pitching, the defense became a strength as well. With Umberto leading the way, Hendricken established itself as the best defensive team in the state. Over the course of the year, it won six one-run games, one two-run game and two three-run games. That’s nine games that Hendricken could have lost if it had made just one more defensive miscue or one bad pitch. But it won every one.
“The team chemistry we had this year was unbelievable,” Holloway said.
Maybe, in a nutshell, that was the difference this season. The players got along, they bought in to the team concept, they enjoyed playing with each other and they were pretty talented to boot.
After all, last year’s team was so good that King, the best player in the state this year, wasn’t even in the rotation for the state finals.
But this year’s team, not last year’s team, went 18-0, and raised another trophy.
“I feel like our team this year, we had a lot more chemistry,” said third baseman Ed Markowski, the state finals MVP. “No one was an individual player. We didn’t really have any sluggers, we just put together runs all year. We did what we had to do.”
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.