The entire spring sports season always seems to move faster than the winter or the fall. It is actually shorter in terms of days, but not drastically so, yet it feels like it’s about half as long as the other two.
So that said, amazingly, it’s already almost playoff time. The postseason for tennis and boys’ and girls’ lacrosse starts next week, while baseball, softball, golf and outdoor track come the following week. Volleyball is the only sport with a substantial portion of its regular season left, as it doesn’t begin the postseason until June 6.
But while the regular season is short on time, there are a number of teams in Warwick that have a chance to make their seasons a little bit longer. For the first time I can remember, there are at least five teams – outside of Hendricken – that have a chance to compete for a state title.
Naturally, Hendricken has its fair share of teams that should be in the mix when it’s all said and done, as well. The Hawks’ baseball, tennis, lacrosse, volleyball, golf and outdoor track teams are all either the favorites or in the top two or three in the state. But I’ve counted three teams from Pilgrim and two more from Toll Gate that, I think, have a legitimate shot at raising a trophy this year.
Considering that I’ve been covering high school sports here for two full years now, and the only state champion I’ve seen from one of the three Warwick public schools was the Warwick Vets wrestling team in 2010, and the only runner-up was Toll Gate boys’ lacrosse in 2011, five public school teams with a real chance is a pretty big deal.
It starts with the Pilgrim boys’ volleyball team. The Pats are 11-0 in Division II and have already knocked off second-place Cranston West.
With five more matches to go, they’re clearly the best team on their side of the division, D-II-South. They’ve been pushed to five games a few times, but they’ve responded every step of the way. With potential All-State senior Sean St. Jacques leading the way, the Pats have established themselves – at worst – as co-favorites in Division II.
The only reason they aren’t the runaway favorites is because of Barrington, a team that is also 11-0 but plays in D-II-North. Pilgrim and Barrington won’t meet in the regular season, so it’s tough to determine which is actually the better team at this point. But it’s safe to say, after losing in the quarterfinals each of the last two years and the semifinals three years ago, that the Pats are in a great position to finally get to the top.
Another group from Pilgrim with title hopes is the softball team. At 9-4 in Division II, the Pats haven’t had a perfect regular season, but they’re one of the most talented teams in the division.
They have the fifth-best record in the league, have already clinched a playoff spot and have played the other top teams in the division closely all year long. The lost to defending D-II champion East Greenwich twice by a combined three runs, and they lost to 9-2 West Warwick by one run.
After going 9-7 last year, Pilgrim brought back almost everybody this season and knew that it had the skill to make a run. With three regular season games remaining – and in the midst of a run that has seen Pilgrim win seven of its last eight games – the Pats have a chance to finish at 12-4 and establish themselves as one of the favorites when the playoffs open next week.
The Toll Gate softball team is also hoping to find a way to get over the hump. Plagued by offensive struggles all season, the Titans are just 7-7, but it’s not hard to see that they’re significantly better than their record indicates. Last year’s team was one game away from making it to the final six, and Toll Gate returned every single contributor off that team this year, including All-State catcher Pattie Turner. While it’s been a little rough thus far, all the Titans have to do is look at last year to know that they have the ability to get into the title hunt.
The boys’ lacrosse team from Toll Gate has proven that it’s one of the best three teams in Division III, and it will open the playoffs – in all likelihood – as the No. 3 seed.
Undefeated Smithfield is certainly the favorite, and one-loss Narragansett isn’t very far behind, but the Titans can’t be counted out. They’ve played both Smithfield and Narragansett tough this season, and they’ve taken care of business against every other team.
A finalist last season, Toll Gate has leaned heavily on its defense and gotten balanced production from its attackmen this year. It doesn’t really have a go-to guy, but it does have the weapons to beat anybody on any given day.
Finally, there is the Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team. At 5-7 in Division II, and in only its second year of existence as a program, it doesn’t look on the surface like the Pats should be title contenders.
In fact, they’ll actually need some help to even qualify for the playoffs. They have two games remaining – against winless Warwick Vets and 6-5 Middletown – and they’ll likely have to win both of them just to get in.
But if they do get in? Watch out, because Pilgrim has jelled all of a sudden and would be the one team that the top teams in the division would hate to play in the early rounds of the playoffs.
The Pats have won four of their last six games, with the only losses during that stretch coming in nail-biting fashion to the top two teams in D-II-South. They lost to one-loss Narragansett 12-11 on April 30, then lost to two-loss Tiverton 19-17 on May 12.
Considering that the Pats lost to those two teams by a combined 17 goals earlier in the season, Pilgrim’s improvement – and sudden contender status – is evident.
Now, we’ll just have to wait and see if any of those five teams can actually come out on top. In a short sports season, it would be nice to see at least one of them drag it out a little bit longer and challenge for a title.
Both schools could use it. Toll Gate hasn’t won any title since the 2008 boys’ tennis team did it. For Pilgrim, it’s been even longer, with the 2003 softball team being the most recent.
Spring 2012 is as good a time as any to break those dry spells.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.