Both of Warwick’s entries in the Rhode Island Connie Mack Baseball League had up-and-down regular seasons. When the playoffs begin today, they’ll be looking for more of the ups.
Warwick PAL finished its inaugural campaign with the PAL sponsorship at 5-9 in league play. Flood Auto Group, Hendricken’s team, went 4-7.
But in a league marked by its parity, the stage is set for a postseason run. All 16 teams in the league make the playoffs, and they open with three-game series running today, Wednesday and Thursday.
Warwick PAL earned the No. 5 seed in the Dickerman Division and will play Cooney Division No. 4 seed Slocum of North Kingstown. Flood, the No. 7 seed from Dickerman, will play Cooney Division No. 2 seed Narragansett.
“I think every year, anybody can put together a run,” said Flood manager Bryan Leahey. “It’s about who wants it – that’s what puts you over the top.”
Flood has a history of postseason surges. It won state titles in 2010 and 2011 without dominating in the regular season.
“That’s basically how we set it up,” Leahey said. “In the regular season, everybody plays and we figure out who can do what. When we get to the playoffs, we try to put our best team on the field and see what we can do.”
It’s worked perfectly in recent years. In addition to the two championships, Flood made it to the finals last year before losing to Cranston.
The one difference in this year’s team is youth. Flood has fielded a lineup with more rising sophomores than usual. Some teams around the league have the same profile, but others are heavy on veterans.
“It’s definitely a younger group this year,” Leahey said, “But I think they’re capable. They’re hungry. They want to work hard for it.”
The Flood offense has gotten contributions from a lot of players, led by Christian Maselli, Andrew Almonte and Justin Gist. Maselli is batting a team-best .381, Almonte is hitting .321 while manning a middle infield spot and Gist is batting .280.
The pitching staff is led by Matt Kennedy, who was the ace of the Hendricken freshman team this spring. He hasn’t seen a ton of work, but has struck out 11 in 12 innings pitched. Matt Colucci and Coltin Perras, who pitched JV for Hendricken this year, have also been go-to guys in the starting rotation. Christian Travers has pitched as a closer, giving Flood a weapon that many teams don’t have.
All in all, Leahey believes his team has what it takes to get hot. Now it’s just about doing it.
“They definitely have the hunger, and that’s the key,” he said. “That little bit of grit, that heart is what puts you over the top.”
Warwick is hoping the same qualities shine through – and there’s reason to think they will. Of its nine losses, four came in extra innings and one was a walk-off in the seventh. While those losses could have easily been wins to vault Warwick into the head of the pack, they could also serve Warwick well going forward.
“We had a lot of games that we were right in,” said manager Pete Palermo. “Hopefully all the close games will give these guys a little grit, a little toughness when they’re in these situations in the playoffs.”
Warwick lost its season finale to undefeated defending champion Cranston on Saturday, but before that, it had won two straight, including a 5-2 victory Flood last Wednesday.
The pitching staff has been hampered by some injuries, but players like Bryant Palermo, Dave Babcock, Bobby Lineberger and Jarred Cipriano have picked up the slack.
Offense has been more of a struggle but Warwick has found a way to score runs when needed.
“We’ve had a lot of good pitching performances down the stretch,” Palermo said. “I thought we would hit better but as long as we get some timely hitting, I think we can do okay.”
Slocum went 8-6 in the regular season. Teams in the two divisions do not cross-over, so Warwick doesn’t know exactly what it’s up against.
But the squad is hopeful.
“I feel like we can hang with anybody,” Palermo said.