As disappointing as the end of last season was for the Warwick Vets baseball team, this year brings a sense of optimism that’s higher than it has been at any point during Nolan Landy’s three-year tenure as head coach of the ’Canes.
The ’Canes have high hopes, and they’re already on their way to validating them. In their first game of the season on Tuesday, they got a one-hit shutout from senior Dan Greaves on their way to a 13-0, mercy-rule win over Mt. Pleasant.
After going 9-7 last year in Division II before being quickly bounced in the postseason, the 1-0 start is a good feeling, and the team’s potential has everyone excited for what lies ahead.
“I would say we’re a little more seasoned,” Landy said. “It’s the same kids, they’re just a little older, a little stronger. They’re starting to understand the situations, making productive outs.”
There are certainly some notable losses from last year’s squad, especially shortstop/outfielder T.J. Boyajian, who is now playing at CCRI. But Boyajian was hurt most of last year anyway, and the ’Canes are returning many of their top players outside of him.
On the mound, Vets returns a group that should be its biggest strength.
Greaves has been a fixture on the mound since his sophomore year and is poised to continue his progression as a senior. He struck out eight batters on Tuesday in the win, and settled down after falling behind a few hitters early in the game.
“He’s going to be the anchor of the staff,” Landy said.
The next two pitchers in the rotation are juniors Shane Kittila and Austin Lamaire, who gained plenty of experience as sophomores. Those two, plus Greaves, give Vets a top three that should stack up favorably with just about anybody in D-II. Greaves was first-team All-Division last year and Lamaire was second-team.
“To say that we have a true ace, I think we have three true aces,” Landy said. “All three of those guys can lead a staff. Greaves has experience, but I’m not afraid to throw any of those guys against anybody.”
A fourth pitcher, sophomore David Simmons, will also factor into the mix, and Landy is expecting him to make a contribution at some point.
Those top three pitchers will also play in the field and be key members of the offense. Lamaire will play third base, Kittila will play right field and Greaves – who drove in three runs on Tuesday – will play first. Simmons could also see some time in the outfield, especially when Kittila pitches.
Behind the plate is junior Tyler DePetrillo, who contributed last year as a sophomore. He’s currently battling an injury, leaving junior Adam Dorsey to fill in. Dorsey is a utility man for the ’Canes, as he will also play some third when Lamaire is pitching and see time in the outfield.
Up the middle, junior Jesse Holland started at shortstop in the first game, with sophomores Chris Reid and Jarrod Houle both vying for time there as well, and at second base.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Landy said. “It’s that close of a competition.”
Senior Stephen Denis will play some first base when Greaves pitches, and will likely find his way into the lineup in other spots too, as he had two hits and two RBI on Tuesday.
In the outfield, senior Jeremy Morrissette is expected to have a solid year from his center field spot, while junior Jeremy Batista – a newcomer to the team – is currently playing left field and already making some noise in the leadoff spot. He had two hits and three RBI on Tuesday.
“He swings a great bat,” Landy said of Batista. “He’s fast. I’m expecting him to really have a good season.”
Two others in the running for playing time are seniors Greg Vespia and Jarred Cipriano, as they’ll slide into primary utility roles.
It’s an exciting group.
“I’ve got a good group of guys,” Landy said. “There’s a lot of competition at each spot. That’s the way it’s going to be all year long. It’s a good problem to have. I haven’t had that problem before this year.”
Landy is banking on that competition improving the offense, which struggled at various points last season. In two playoff games last year, Vets scored just two runs.
But with the 13-run effort to start things off, that already looks like it’s changing for the better.
“We drove runs in in those clutch situations, as opposed to leaving those guys stranded like we’ve done in the past,” Landy said.
On Friday, Vets will host East Providence, a team that went 15-1 last season, at 3:45 p.m.
That should be a tougher test than Mt. Pleasant, but the optimism is still there for the ’Canes, regardless of the opponent.
Vets is ready to roll.
“I expect to perform every year,” Landy said. “We should be in the playoffs, we should make some noise.”