When the Pilgrim baseball team opens the 2014 season this week, it’ll be a fresh start. The way went 2013 went, the Patriots could use it.
Last season was marred by internal issues that came to a head with the midseason resignation of longtime head coach Ed Colvin. Their best pitcher – and one of the best in the state – missed the entire season with an injury, and the Pats won only four games, finishing with their worst record in more than 20 years.
In the wake of the lost season, the Pats are bringing in a familiar face as head coach, a talented pitching staff and a lineup that is ready to take a step forward.
They’re turning the page.
“Things have been fantastic,” said new head coach Scott Bailey. “The kids are excited. They’re working hard.”
Bailey is a 1995 graduate of Pilgrim and he’s been a fixture in Warwick dugouts for more than a decade. He was an assistant under Colvin for 12 years, helping lead the Pats to a string of solid seasons and big playoff success. The last two seasons, he was an assistant coach with his former teammate Nolan Landy at Warwick Vets. They led a six-win improvement in their first year at the helm.
For Bailey, the chance to return to his alma mater was too good to pass up.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the season.”
Bailey inherits a team with the potential to turn things around from last year. There are seven seniors and a big junior class, with a host of players from both groups who got their feet wet last year and are ready for a breakout this year.
Optimism begins with the pitching staff.
Senior Ryan Morris, a four-year varsity player, emerged as one of the state’s top young arms when he was a sophomore. Last year, a shoulder injury kept him off the field all season, but he was healthy enough this winter to deliver a big performance for Pilgrim’s basketball team, and he’s been working his way back to the mound, as well.
“So far, so good,” Bailey said. “He’ll get his first live action Saturday in an Injury Fund game. After further assessment, we’ll see where he stands. It’s been slow going, but it’s also been faster than I expected.”
If Morris returns to form, the Pats will add an ace to a pitching staff that was already looking pretty good without him. Senior Stephen Noti emerged as the team’s top pitcher in Morris’s absence last year and is poised for another strong season. Junior Elijah Dressel had flashes of brilliance as a sophomore.
“They look fantastic so far,” Bailey said. “They worked really hard all winter and they’re ready.”
The Pats also have junior Mike Broccoli poised to get some innings.
If all goes according to plan, the Pats could have one of the best pitching rotations in Division I.
“Hopefully, that’s going to be our strength,” Bailey said. “We just need to solidify the rotation and get everything squared away.”
Compared to the pitching staff, the offense will have some catching up to do, but there’s no shortage of potential. Players like Brandon Paiva and Chris Duchesneau are back after grabbing starting jobs last year, while a host of others have been waiting in the wings.
Junior Evan Broccoli will likely take over catching duties. Seniors Andrew Swain and Bryant Palermo – who both got some varsity innings last year – can both play first base or DH. Paiva, a junior who was the leadoff hitter for much of last season, is penciled in for second base, with sophomore Tyler Perry making a play for the shortstop job. Chris Ray, another player who saw some time last year, may end up at third base. Duchesneau will anchor the outfield in center, with senior Joe Paliotte and others in the mix for the corner spots. Senior Brendan Rix is also pushing for playing time.
“The kids worked hard in the off-season,” Bailey said. “Offense is always a little slow this time of year, but we’ll keep hitting and keep working on it. Once we learn patience, get some repetitions, our offense should be fine.”
Repetition has been hard to come by with cold, wet weather and poor conditions on the school’s field, but Bailey is hoping the Pats can hit the ground running.
They’ll open the season on Friday with a road game at Coventry at 3:45 p.m.
They hope it’s the start of something good.
“Our goal is to win as many baseball games as we can,” Bailey said. “Be competitive, work hard, stay focused, and expect results from how hard we work.”