The spring season is here with practices beginning last week and scrimmages taking place this week. There are plenty of teams that will be interesting to watch as we get rolling here, so here are a few of them that I will be paying close attention to moving into the season:
The Pilgrim softball team had a stellar 2021 campaign and reached the state championship against Coventry. It was an extremely close finale but the Oakers would get the job done. Pilgrim returns some of its core from last year, including standout pitcher Alyssa Twomey.
Pilgrim will be considered one of the favorites this spring, as it should be. Pilgrim has had one of the elite programs in the state over the past decade and will be right back in the mix this time around.
Division I is always a dogfight at the top, and one of those dogs will once again be Cranston West. The Falcons had an impressive season last year when it reached the playoffs once again. The Falcons saw nearly half of their lineup go on to play college ball, which was a really special story a year ago. Having even just one player compete at the next level is impressive, but for West to have half of its starting lineup reach the next step was a sight to see.
Now, like Pilgrim, will the new role players be able to fill those shoes and get back into the mix? Will the team also be able to flourish under new coach PJ Bessette who is taking the reins from longtime skipper Jeff Smith? Division I is so competitive and these two teams have a chance to make noise once again.
Other softball teams that intrigue me are Johnston and Toll Gate. Each of those teams had similar paths last year. They got off to shaky starts, found their rhythm in the back half of their schedules, and then became forces come playoff time. Neither team was looked at as championship material heading into last year, but by season’s end they were each legitimate playoff factors.
For baseball, Hendricken fell victim to one of the biggest upsets of the year when Cranston West won in the opening round of the playoffs. I still remember that day … I was down the road covering Pilgrim-Toll Gate when I heard a parent in the crowd read a text saying the Hawks lost. I couldn’t believe it … Hendricken seemed like a lock to take home the title after a dominant regular season.
Hendricken is a consistent program that is always in the championship mix, so it will be interesting to see how it responds to the disappointing and premature end to last year.
On the flip side, West will be returning quite a bit and has the momentum from the surprising run it went on.
Meanwhile, Pilgrim lost its top two players from last year in Jared Reminder and Kenny Rix. Those two became one of, if not the best 1-2 punch on the mound in the state. Can the Pats overcome the loss of those two studs?
Next up is lacrosse.
The Pilgrim boys fell in the title game and had their chance to win it after an impressive regular season and dominant postseason run. The returning players have been very vocal about how hungry they are to get the job done and they will have more than enough pieces to have a chance this time around.
I won’t make this an official prediction, but I have a strong feeling that these guys are going to have a special year. The players that I have spoken to throughout the school year, the ones that player other sports, it always seems to come back to the upcoming lacrosse season and how they are eyeing a title. They have the skill, experience and hunger. If they put it all together, the Pats will be a force.
The Toll Gate girls also came close to bringing home the title, taking an early lead on Burrillville at states. The Broncos rolled in the second half and would run away with the victory.
Toll Gate lost a chunk of its lineup, but did return standout Adeline Areson, who was the Warwick Beacon’s Player of the Year in 2021. Areson was a force as a freshman, and then just enjoyed a huge season on the basketball court this winter as a sophomore. She alone will make this team a contender.
Cranston East, Johnston and North Providence are joining forces as a boys co-op this year which will be interesting to see. I always find co-ops fascinating, especially in the early going. That will be a team that could be flying under the radar.
Bishop Hendricken’s outdoor track and field team is always in the mix for a championship and will once again look to make some noise. The Hawks came up short in the indoor season, and although they are different sports, much of the team will remain intact. I do find that crossover interesting. It really is amazing how volatile the results can be once you switch to the outdoors.
I also am expecting big things from Cranston West’s track team. The Falcons had a strong finish in the winter and have pretty strong numbers returning. West is definitely a team that is being overlooked.
Boys tennis returns to action, and I am curious to see which, if any, of our teams will break out in 2022. None of our teams made deep runs last season, which surprised me a little bit considering Hendricken is, well, Hendricken, and West has a deep roster numbers-wise. The Falcons were young and now have a year of experience under their belts, Pilgrim and Toll Gate will be a co-op. We’ll see how it pans out.
I am looking forward to getting back out there and giving you my updated thoughts as we roll along. Happy spring!