Based on experience and a lineup full of talented hitters, head coach Josh Pimental knew his Rhode Island Rays 13U baseball team would be good this season.
But this good?
“Never in a million years,” Pimental said. “It’s been an amazing season.”
The Rays, who have two players from Warwick on their roster, play in the Diamond Division, the top circuit in the New England AAU ranks.
And they’ve navigated it to perfection – literally.
Since starting their season at the end of March, the Rays have gone 43-0 against fellow 13U teams. They played a non-league doubleheader against a 14U team and split the two games, leaving their overall record at 45-1.
“We knew coming into the season that we would be good,” Pimental said. “We have a lineup that’s filled top to bottom with just pure hitters, and we have a lot of kids who are experienced.”
That’s been the formula for a remarkable spring.
As summer gets underway, the Rays are ready for the next step.
The team will leave this weekend for the AAU National Championships at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. It’ll be a fun trip, but a team that’s had this much success isn’t going just to have a good time.
The Rays are eager to test themselves against the nation’s best.
“I’d be lying if I said we were just trying to be competitive,” Pimental said. “We’re going down there to win the whole thing.”
The way the season has gone, that goal may be within reach. Many of the players on the team have been together for three years now, and they’ve had a lot of success along the way, but this year, things have reached a new level.
The team has scored 527 runs, an average of more than 11 per game. The team batting average is .441. On the other side, the Rays have allowed 127 runs for an average of just under three per game.
Considering those numbers, it’s no wonder that the team has steamrolled the competition.
“They’re a great group of kids, and they’re great baseball players,” Pimental said.
The team has 14 players on the roster. Nine are from Rhode Island – including Warwick’s Andrew Almonte and Elijah Brown – four are from Massachusetts and one hails from New Hampshire.
Together, they’ve jelled into a powerful unit, one that has great chemistry in addition to its talent.
“The common denominator every year with these kids is that it’s always family first,” Pimental said. “We have no kids who are ‘me’ guys. It’s all about the team.”
The team’s Warwick players have certainly helped the cause. Almonte is hitting .375 and has also had success on the mound. Pimental highlighted his attitude as well.
“Andrew is probably one of the best team players on the entire team,” Pimental said. “He’s the consummate teammate. He understands his role. He’s a great defender and he’s pitched some big innings for us. His bat has been a pleasant surprise. He’s really had a good season.”
Brown is the team’s shortstop and leadoff hitter. After a few bumps in the road in that spot early in the season, Brown has emerged as a major threat atop the order. Brown is hitting .415 with a .550 on-base percentage.
“He’s adapted to the leadoff role and he’s taken off,” Pimental said. “The first 20 games of the season, he was still figuring it out, but the last 20 games, he’s been awesome. He’s working the count, he’s getting on base. And if he gets to first, it’s basically a double because he’s so fast.”
The rest of the contributions have come from up and down the lineup. Kyle Dupuis of Jaffrey, N.H., has powered the offense with a .545 average, nine home runs and 65 RBI.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Pimental said.
Kyle Beaulieu of Woonsocket is the team’s leading hitter with a .629 average. Steve Salisbury of Cranston is at .547 with 63 RBI and Chad Mansolillo of North Kingstown is hitting .480. Shahiem Torres of East Hampton, Mass., is hitting .583 while playing in 20 of the team’s games.
On the mound, Tommy Doran of West Warwick and Zach Pipa of Rumford have led the way. Both are lefties and both are 7-0. Doran has a .68 ERA and Pipa has a 4.01 ERA.
Salisbury, Mansolillo, Kyle Tweedy of Taunton, Mass., and Casey Carreau of Acushnet, Mass., have also been key pitchers. Beaulieu has been used as a closer and has topped out at 83 miles per hour. He has struck out 12 and allowed two hits in 7.2 innings pitched.
Other team members are Nicholas Woodruff of Attleboro, Mass., Robert Bordieri of Johnston and Justin Gist of Cranston.
Pimental is assisted in the dugout by coaches Peter Almonte, Dennis Medeiros and Steve Salisbury.
While the season has been a dream so far, the Rays aren’t done yet. They’re hoping to come home from Florida with a championship.
“It’s just a great group,” Pimental said. “It’s all about the team. They don’t care who’s playing where or any of that. They all understand their roles. They just want to win.”