Titans bank on experience
The goals never change for the Toll Gate baseball team, regardless of how the squad shapes up. Young or old, deep or thin, the top item on the list is always the same.
“Our goals are always the same, whether we’ve got a young team or a veteran team,” said head coach Dave Hagopian. “Our goal is to make the playoffs.”
As familiar as that goal is, though, there’s still a bit of a different buzz with a team like the one Toll Gate has coming back this season. The Titans have nine seniors in the fold, including the bulk of last year’s starting lineup.
That means optimism is running high.
“We’ve got a great group of kids, and the seniors I have are pretty pumped up for the season,” Hagopian said. “They’re ready to go.”
The Titans are coming off a 7-11 campaign that included a trip to the postseason. Toll Gate went two-and-out in the playoffs, losing to Hendricken 8-0 and South Kingstown 10-6.
Despite that ending, there was a lot to build on for the Titans, and they’re eager to get started.
“They’re working hard and they’ve got a terrific attitude,” Hagopian said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors who have been in the program for four years and quite a few juniors who have been with us for three years. It’s a veteran team.”
The Titans had only three seniors on last year’s squad – Mike Giard, Luke Politelli and Spencer Willett. All three were key players, with Willett anchoring the pitching staff and Politelli and Giard serving as key cogs in the lineup.
They’ll be missed, but there are plenty of experienced players to pick up the slack. Colin Stamps, Jason Shushtari, Tyler McLaughlin, R.J. Mann, Kevin Sanda and John Crowley were all regular starters as juniors last year. Sophomore Ben Mann also started at shortstop and batted leadoff.
With those players and a host of others ready to contribute, the Titans are feeling pretty good about where they stand, especially when it comes to offense.
“I would think we’d be able to score some more runs this year,” Hagopian said. “It’s difficult to tell right now how everything is going to play out. It’s early. But I do know we have a lot of good baseball players who have experienced a certain degree of success at the varsity level.”
It’s a bit of a different story for the pitching staff. Willett was a workhorse last season, and his steady performances accounted for the bulk of Toll Gate’s victories. Several players bring some experience to the table, but the team will need them to take things to another level this season.
“Spencer was the big horse and we’re going to miss him,” Hagopian said. “Right now, I don’t know who’s going to step up. We have a couple of seniors who have gotten some innings and we have a few juniors who have gotten a chance and pitched well. A year can make a big difference for a pitcher. We’re hoping somebody steps up to lead the staff.”
Toll Gate’s pitchers may benefit from new bat regulations that are expected to cause a dip in offensive numbers. High school teams are now using the BBCOR bats that college baseball switched to last season. Numbers were down across the board in the college ranks last season.
“There’s definitely not going to be as many deep shots,” Hagopian said.
As far as how the bats will impact Toll Gate’s hitters, Hagopian isn’t too worried.
“We’ve never really been a power-hitting team,” Hagopian said. “We’re used to playing small ball and moving runners along. I don’t think the bats are going to impact us too much.”
Whatever happens, the Titans are excited to get on the field – and they’ve been thrilled with their early opportunities. Last week’s sun and 70-degree weather made for quite a first week of practice.
“It’s been terrific,” Hagopian said. “It’s the first time in my tenure that we’ve had tryouts every day outside on the baseball field. It’s been great.”
The Titans hope it’s a springboard for a big season.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Hagopian said. “We put all our energy and effort into that one game, and hopefully at the end of the season, we’ll get to where we want to be.”
Toll Gate opens the season on Monday with a road game at defending state champion Cranston West.