Ed Colvin knew this year was coming, when it would be time to break in an almost entirely new Pilgrim baseball team. After his senior-laden group made a run to the verge of the Division I final four last season, the Pats said goodbye to almost every contributor.
Still, Pilgrim had a standout on the mound in sophomore Ryan Morris ready to come back and some strong players coming up from the JV team. Then, Morris discovered an injury to his shoulder and is now slated to miss the entire season.
That puts the season squarely on those JV players, who will be making the transition to varsity and trying to keep Pilgrim’s run of nine consecutive playoff appearances alive.
It’s going to be a challenge, but Colvin has seen his new team work hard thus far.
“A lot of the teams out there have lost a lot,” Colvin said. “These kids were all successful on the JV level. I’m not conceding anything. We’re going to play hard and do what we need to do.”
Still, there is a lot of ground to make up. Pilgrim graduated three-year starters Branden Hoxsie, Sean Clayton and Nick McGuirl. Hoxsie was a first-team all-division selection while Clayton was on second team last year.
The Pats also lost contributors Mike Mallozzi, Kevin Conway and Colin Douglas. Plus, the Pats are without Morris, who was poised to be one of the top pitchers in the state and was drawing Division I college interest.
“Being down Ryan is a huge, huge blow to us,” Colvin said. “We’ve got question marks.”
The landscape around the Pats has also changed, as Division I sent six teams down to Division II and called up D-II powerhouses Johnston and Woonsocket. That means that there likely won’t be any easy games on the schedule.
Pilgrim has seen that firsthand in the preseason, as it’s had tough scrimmages with Toll Gate, La Salle, Lincoln and Hendricken, as well as one with Division II Warwick Vets.
It hasn’t been perfect, but a team with as much inexperience as the Pats have is going to take some time to jell.
“Even the seniors are inexperienced,” Colvin said.
While the cast is basically brand new, there are a few players back from last year’s team. Seniors Mark Lenz and Brett Ferguson both started in the outfield. Lenz will play center this year and hit leadoff – Colvin describes him as one of the fastest players he’s ever coached – while Ferguson will handle right.
“They cracked the starting lineup late in the year and did a nice job for us as role players,” Colvin said. “Now they need to step up.”
At shortstop, Pilgrim brings back senior Cole Furney, a regular starter last season. Furney can also pitch, and may be a late game option out of the bullpen.
Third baseman Kyle Perry saw some time last year as well, and he should take on a bigger role this season.
The only other player to contribute last year was pitcher Stephen Noti. Noti pitched sparingly behind Hoxsie and Morris a season ago, but he did take the mound in the playoffs.
Now, he’s the team’s No. 1 pitcher.
“I think the kid Noti will be solid,” Colvin said.
Stepping into the No. 2 role is sophomore Elijah Dressell, and he’ll be asked to be a big contributor in his first season with the varsity.
“Dressell’s got potential,” Colvin said. “Big, strong kid. He could be a legit high school pitcher.”
After that, it gets a little murky. Right now, the team doesn’t have a No. 3 starter, and may end up going with a pitcher by committee at points when Noti or Dressell can’t pitch.
There are candidates, though. Seniors Billy Chase, Luke Verrier and Jesse Gannon are in the mix, as are juniors Patrick O’Neil and Bryant Palermo.
“None of these guys are ready to extend,” Colvin said. “We might have to go two, three innings with these guys.”
Many of the other positions are equally as up in the air. Competing at catcher are senior Tyler Galligan, junior Brendan Rix and sophomore Chris Ray.
At first base, Verrier and Palermo are in the running, as is junior Andrew Swain. Swain has been swinging a hot bat thus far, and somebody out of that group of three could also DH.
At second, senior Devon Gamba – a hockey standout – is stepping in to replace McGuirl. Gamba missed all of last season with an injury, but should be a welcomed addition, especially at the plate.
“He can swing the bat,” Colvin said. “Definitely, offensively he’s going to contribute.”
Dressell and Ray are two others who can play third base, and Ray can also DH, catch or play left field. He’ll be in the lineup somewhere.
In left, besides Ray, junior Joe Paliotte and sophomore Chris Duchesneau are competing for time. Sophomore Brandon Paiva, who will likely play JV, is also someone who could help out, potentially in the middle infield.
Realistically, Colvin doesn’t quite know what to expect. But the Pats will compete and hope that translates into another playoff berth.
“The attitudes are good, they’re working hard, and that’s all you can ask for,” Colvin said. “It’s a good bunch of kids.”
Pilgrim will play at Cranston Stadium against Cranston West on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in an Injury Fund game, and then open the season at home on Monday against Coventry at 3:30 p.m.