When most teams lose a group of 12 seniors, it takes a serious toll on the next season.
Bishop Hendricken is not most teams.
The perennially contending Hawks lost a huge portion of their state championship team from last year, but expect to be right in the mix again thanks to a few key returners and a bevy of players who have been waiting in the wings and are ready to leave their mark on the program.
Hendricken has won the last two state titles and five of the last six, and its sights are set on another trip to the top.
“It’s just a cycle, however it works out,” said head coach Ed Holloway. “We’ve had that before where we’ve lost a ton of guys and other guys step up either in their senior year or really good young players step in and play right away.”
Few teams in the state were hit harder by graduation than the Hawks. They lost first-team All-Staters Mike King – who was the Gatorade Player of the Year last season – Lou Umberto and Ed Markowski, who was the MVP of the state championship series sweep of North Kingstown. Hendricken also graduated second-team All-Stater Rob Henry, who is currently playing at Brown University, All-Division pitcher Dillon Manfredi and regulars Matt Murphy, Nick Boland and Jarek Krajewski.
That’s a lot of production to make up. Yet, the Hawks intend to do it.
“I’m optimistic,” Holloway said. “I think we’re going to have a good team, and we just have to keep getting better.”
Heading the list of the few returning players Hendricken does have are three juniors who all played crucial roles in the Hawks’ title run last year as sophomores. John Toppa, Gian Martellini and Mike McCaffrey burst onto the varsity scene, with Toppa becoming the team’s No. 3 hitter and earning first-team All-State honors in the process, Martellini earning second-team All-State for his work behind the plate and McCaffrey earning second-team All-Division honors as the team’s No. 2 starting pitcher.
“They should continue their improvement from last year,” Holloway said. “They were key players for us, obviously. I think they’re just going to get better. They should all have big years as juniors.”
Another key returner is senior captain Brady Chant, an outfielder who saw plenty of time last year. He’ll be expected to take a big leap forward this season.
Other than that, there are a lot of new faces.
On the mound, besides McCaffrey, senior Anthony Graziano figures to be a solid member of the rotation after an impressive summer pitching for Hendricken’s American Legion team, Senerchia Post 74.
Hendricken also has a group of juniors poised to contribute. Anthony Cofone, Mike Webb and Kyle Barbato all pitched over the summer, and Cranston West transfer Andrew Ciacciarelli will factor in once he is eligible after the season’s first nine games.
Three other seniors are in the hunt for innings, too. Christian Travers, Brandon Kenyon and Gus Culpo are first-year varsity players looking to make their mark. Culpo is a transfer from Moses Brown and is coming off Tommy John surgery, so his timetable to return to the mound is still up in the air.
The Hawks also have a sophomore, Matt Kennedy, who had a strong freshman campaign last year and could break out with the varsity.
“He’s got a ton of potential,” Holloway said. “He could be a key for us. He just has to mature as the year goes on. He could be a big contributor for us before the season is over.”
Senior Sam Boulanger is another pitcher, though he’ll likely be used in relief.
Behind the plate, Martellini – a Vanderbilt commit – returns as the starter. He’ll be backed up by Boulanger and seniors Rob Fredette and Josh Rego.
Junior Billy Keegan and senior Dan Miller are competing at first base, with Ciacciarelli factoring in once he’s eligible. At second, senior Ryan Rotondo played some last year and should step right in, with junior Christian Aybar vying for time.
Sophomore John Willette is slated to play shortstop after handling those duties last spring for the freshman team and all summer long for the legion team. Culpo could also see some at that position.
Toppa – a University of Connecticut commit – will probably play third base after playing left field last season, although he could still see some time in the outfield. Miller is also competing at third base, along with senior Jake Sendley.
In the outfield, Chant leads the way, with Aybar expected to get playing time too. Boulanger can play outfield, along with junior Kevin Sutyla and sophomore Dante Baldelli, the brother of former Hawks star Rocco Baldelli.
“It’s just a matter of figuring it out as the year goes on and finding the right spots for the players,” Holloway said.
So far, the results have been good. Hendricken has scrimmaged Massachusetts teams Bishop Feehan and St. John’s, and performed well each time.
The Hawks are looking to keep that up right through the season. They had a scrimmage with Barrington on Wednesday and will open the season on Friday at home against Lincoln at 4 p.m.
New cast or not, Hendricken’s goal is to be the best
“We want to make the playoffs and then play our best ball at the end of the year, playoff time,” Holloway said.