Every season brings a lot of roster turnover in junior college athletics, and this season has brought more than most for the CCRI baseball team. The Knights have 18 freshman on their roster and just a handful of contributors back from last year’s team.
But in terms of expectations and the way things are done, nothing is really changing.
“We’re really unique here because our whole coaching staff went to CCRI,” said assistant coach Mark Andrews. “You’re not going to see that at many places, or really anywhere. There’s a system here at CCRI. We’re young but we’re very talented and it’s just about fitting into the system we have here.”
And it’s a system with a proven track record.
The Knights are coming off a 30-11 campaign, their second 30-win season in three years. Last season also included a milestone, for head coach Ken Hopkins, who became the all-time winningest coach in CCRI baseball history.
Not surprisingly, there’s an expectation for more success this year, regardless of youth and inexperience.
“Our goals are always high,” Andrew said. “We don’t like second place here.”
The Knights opened their season in February, with three games on a North Carolina road trip. They also played in New Jersey and Florida before hosting their home opener this past weekend.
So far, the Knights have had some ups and downs. They went 6-6 in their early-season road games, but won three of four games over the weekend to bump their record to 9-7.
Throughout, the Knights have flashed plenty of potential as they shoot for the program’s eighth consecutive winning season.
“We’re talented,” Andrew said. “We’re a very athletic team, and speed is big for us. It’s been pretty smooth so far. It’s just trying to get kids in the right spots from here on out.”
At the plate, the Knights will be led by returning all-region selections Tom Gavitt and Jamale Horn.
Gavitt, who hails from Stonington, Conn., is a captain and the starting catcher for the Knights. He hit .414 last season – 23rd on the program’s all-time list – with six home runs, and is off to a .353 start this season. Gavitt has committed to Division I Bryant University for next year.
Horn, an outfielder and designated hitter, is a former North Kingstown High School star and is the son of former Boston Red Sox Sam Horn. As a freshman, Jamale Horn hit .359 with six home runs and 47 RBI. With a strong spring, there’s a possibility he could be drafted in June. Horn is hitting .406 with a home run thus far.
Other returning position players include third baseman Marc Dorsi and shortstop Mauricio Checo. Dorsi, a West Haven, Conn., native is hitting a team-best .474 so far this season.
Brendan Cabral, a two-way sophomore, is hitting .400 in five games.
Everybody else who’s pushing for time is a newcomer, but there’s no shortage of talent. Freshman Nick Coro of North Providence is hitting .435, Middletown’s Dylan Gracia is hitting .370, former Cranston East standout John Razzino is batting .346 and Lincoln’s Tyler Santaniello is hitting .321.
Several other freshmen are seeing time, and the common thread for all is speed and athleticism.
“Our one to nine can all run,” Andrews said. “We’re going to put a lot of pressure on teams on the bases. We’re very fast.”
On the pitching side, the Knights don’t have a ton of experience but they have a wealth of depth and potential.
Cabral and captain Cris Peralta lead the way, with fellow sophomores Adam Chrzanowski and Rodger Lincoln also providing a veteran presence. Sophomore Joe Portukalian, a former Cranston West standout who is recovering from arm surgery, will also be in the mix.
The rest of the staff will be made up of freshmen, several of whom have made a big splash already. Connor Gleason of North Stonington, Conn., is 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched. Todd Lyons of Norwalk, Conn., is 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 16 innings.
Max Perry and Ben Libuda are also pushing for spots in the rotation, while the bullpen features former Warwick Vets standout Kevin Dale along with Will Standeford, David Dwyer, Jacob Ciolfi and Dylan Pingitore.
“I think our pitching staff can be one of the better ones we’ve had in a while,” Andrew said. “We’ve got some very good arms.”
All in all, the Knights think they have what it takes to keep their tradition going. They hope to be in the running for the region championship, and then they’ll aim even higher.
“Our goal is to win the region, and hopefully in May, we’re playing in a World Series,” Andrews said.