The Bishop Hendricken baseball team doesn’t ever rebuild, as its 12 championships in 17 years can attest.
But on paper, despite loads of talent, an argument could have been made heading into this season that the Hawks were in the midst of a transition period, if nothing else.
After consecutive state championships earned on the backs of big, talented senior classes, Hendricken was left this season with a team light on seniors, and even lighter on seniors with legitimate varsity experience.
Yet, today, the Hawks will open up the state championship series at McCoy Stadium against La Salle in search of a third straight title.
It’s been a unique run, with the typical Hendricken model for success being thrown out the window in favor of youth.
The seniors, though, have still maintained their roles, both as key contributors and as the leaders their class designation calls for.
“At the beginning we didn’t have much experience, but the seniors did pretty well to try to guide them,” said second baseman Ryan Rotondo, one of just three seniors in the everyday lineup for the Hawks.
Rotondo is joined in the lineup by right fielder Brady Chant and designated hitter Sam Boulanger. Outside of those three, the team regularly plays four juniors and two sophomores. Even the team’s ace pitcher, Mike McCaffrey, is a junior.
Gatorade Player of the Year and Vanderbilt commit Gian Martellini is a junior at catcher. University of Connecticut commit John Toppa, the third baseman, is also a junior. Sophomore John Willette plays arguably the most important position on the field at shortstop, while sophomore Dante Baldelli – the brother of former Major Leaguer Rocco Baldelli – mans center field. Junior Andrew Ciacciarelli plays first, with junior Kevin Sutyla playing in left field.
And sometimes lost in the shuffle are the seniors, who aren’t the flashiest players on the team, but have tried to lead their youthful teammates and also capitalize on their chance to leave the program with a championship, just like the seniors of the past two seasons.
They’re all first-year starters, with Rotondo getting into some games last year as a middle infield replacement, Chant seeing a little time in the outfield and Boulanger occasionally getting a spot start. That was the extent of their experience before becoming the team’s most senior members this year.
“Us three, we’re really just trying to embrace the moment now,” Boulanger said. “We made it to McCoy and hopefully we can win in our last year here.”
Last year’s team graduated an entire infield of senior standouts, plus a few more. Ed Markowski played third base and was named the MVP of the championship series, Lou Umberto was arguably the best defensive player in the state at shortstop and Matt Murphy and Jarek Krajewski went on to play in college from their second base and first base positions. Center fielder Rob Henry played this season at Brown University, and ace pitcher Mike King pitched at Boston College.
The year prior to that, players like Tom Pannone, Bobby Indeglia, Billy Walker, Rich Bacon and Reed Gamache were some of the state’s best in leading the team to the championship.
This year, it’s essentially Chant, Boulanger and Rotondo. Fellow seniors Christian Travers, Rob Fredette, Brandon Kenyon, Dan Miller, Gus Culpo and Josh Rego are on the roster, and they’ve all helped out in various roles, but the biggest senior contributions have come from the three regulars.
Prior to the season, Chant was named the team’s lone captain.
“Even though it’s only us three and a few other guys that were going to make contributions, it’s different,” Chant said. “There’s only a few of us, and we have to lead. It’s tougher. Last year, you had senior leadership with a bunch of guys. This year, it’s a small group.”
All three of them have had key moments in Hendricken’s season. Chant’s marquee moment came in the Region 1 tournament final, with the Hawks playing an elimination game against South Kingstown for a berth in the Final Four. With his team already ahead 6-0, Chant belted a grand slam over the fence in center field at Old Mountain Field to put his team on top 10-0 and give it the breathing room it needed to earn the win.
In the semifinals, it was Rotondo’s turn. He had three RBI in a 4-3 victory over Cranston West in game one of the best-of-three series, including the game-winning sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. In game two, he added another RBI in the Hawks’ 6-1 victory.
Boulanger was instrumental in that series as well, adding an RBI in game two as well as a crucial sacrifice bunt.
“Last year, it was all seniors,” Chant said. “We were just sort of waiting our turn, almost. It was great to be a part of that, but we knew this was going to be our year.”
It may not be a senior class like the past few seasons, but for Boulanger, Chant and Rotondo, this is undoubtedly their year. Martellini and Toppa, Willette, Baldelli and McCaffrey, they’ll all be back next year. Order will be restored, with another big star-studded senior class attempting to go out in style.
First, though, the 2014 class wants the same exit.
“It would be a dream come true, that’s for sure,” Boulanger said. “Playing our senior year, and playing on this field, it’s a great experience.”
They’re two wins away.
“This would be 100 times more incredible (than last season),” Chant said. “It’s totally different when you’re out there and you’re the one getting it done, your best friends are the ones getting it done. It’s awesome.”