Motivated group aims to lead turnaround for Pilgrim
The Pilgrim boys’ basketball team moved down to Division III last year after some lean years in Division II, and unfortunately for the Pats, the trend continued even in the lower division.
Pilgrim finished with a 5-13 record and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Already, this year just feels different.
In his third year at the helm, head coach Mike Batalon is seeing a change in his team’s attitude and a sense of urgency amongst its seniors. Pilgrim wants to get back on the right track, and it hopes this is the year it happens.
“So far things have been going good,” Batalon said. “The kids have worked hard in practice. This year I think that we’re a little more cohesive. The kids are a little bit more of a close-knit group. I’m pleased with everything.”
The Pats aren’t overly veteran, but they have a few important pieces back in the fold and most of the other spots are being claimed by players who were on last year’s junior varsity team, which made the playoffs.
Plus, Pilgrim does have its most important player back, and he’s poised for another strong campaign.
Senior Ryan Morris, who has been with the varsity team since his freshman year, will lead the way from his position on the block. He was a first-team All-Division III-Central performer last year.
A standout on the baseball field, Morris did undergo shoulder surgery and missed the entire spring season. That’s in the past though, as he’s 100 percent in terms of what he can do on the basketball court.
“I think he can improve upon last year for sure,” Batalon said. “I think he wants to become a more complete player – more aggressive rebounding in addition to becoming a better passer. He should at least equal his point total.”
Morris is serving as a captain, and joining him in that role are senior Brendan Rix and juniors Chris Duchesneau and Blake Doelling.
Rix was the sixth man for the Pats last year, and he’ll provide another big body down low, giving Pilgrim a point of emphasis on offense between him and Morris.
“He brings a lot of hustle and is a good rebounder,” Batalon said.
Duchesneau and Doelling will start in the backcourt after solid junior varsity campaigns a year ago that also featured some time with the varsity team.
The fifth starter will likely be senior Letrelle Johnson, who played early on last year but then was away from the team down the stretch.
He can play any of the positions from shooting guard to small forward to power forward, and he should provide scoring touch and another solid rebounding presence.
Among Duchesneau, Doelling and Johnson, Batalon likes what he has.
“Blake has a chance to be a real good outside shooter,” Batalon said. “Chris and Letrelle can slash to the hoop.”
Another key player will be sophomore Elijah Dressel. After missing his freshman campaign due to injury, Dressel – who is 6-foot-5 – gives Pilgrim a big, viable body for frontcourt depth. Junior Mike Broccoli will also play a forward spot.
“We’ve got a couple of big guys this year, so we’re definitely going to try to get our offense to work inside to out,” Batalon said.
Backing up the guard spots will be sophomores Tyler Perry and Ethan Schneider. Senior Matthew Court is also on the roster, along with sophomore Zachary Drake.
“I am optimistic,” Batalon said. “The attitudes are great. We play well together. Everybody is very coachable. Just being my third year here, they know what to expect.”
Pilgrim scrimmaged Cranston West already and was pleased with how it stacked up to the Division I opponent. Today, the Pats will play at Davies at 6:15 in an Injury Fund game. On Monday, they’ll play at South Kingstown for a non-league game at 7 p.m., before opening up the league season on Friday, Dec. 20 at Juanita Sanchez.
Pilgrim hasn’t made the postseason since the 2008-09 season. It wants that to change.
“It starts with (Morris),” Batalon said. “He’s mentioned that it’s his third year playing varsity and he hasn’t made the playoffs yet. He’s really focused on that. He’s one of our captains and he’s going to articulate that.”