The Johnston baseball team has been one of the hottest clubs in Division II this spring and sat in second place with a 12-2 record earlier this week.
After dropping its second game of the year in a 17-8 loss to Chariho, the Panthers would turn around and rattle off 11-straight wins. The Panthers’ streak came to an end on Monday when they lost to Tiverton 9-6, however, they still hung on to second place in the crowded DII standings.
“We never really looked at the games ahead, we took them one game at a time. We made sure that anytime we made a mistake that we covered it, we made sure everyone was on the same page and they really grew as a team. It’s the little things too, they are doing all of the little things which is what we emphasize,” said Johnston coach Joe Acciardo.
“After we lost to Chariho, we talked about it and felt that we should have won that game but our bats just didn’t come alive. Since then, we have been working hard and playing as a team. We have a bunch of (seniors), it’s our last year and we want to win a championship. Every game that we play, we play like we want to win the whole thing,” added senior Jeremy Urena.
Urena has been a force on both the mound and at the plate for Johnston this season. Urena is currently leading the team in batting average, home runs, runs scored and on base percentage. He is also leading the team in ERA on the mound.
“Jeremy has made a big impact. Not only does he have the velocity but he is very consistent with his command. There are never wild pitches, pitches over to the fence, pitches in the dirt, he’s always in or around the strike zone. He’s got a good variety of pitches, uses his offspeed stuff well. He’s the whole package,” Acciardo said.
Other key pieces include Derek Salvatore and Joe Vento.
“Derek has also done a great job behind (Urena) and has also played well at shortstop. He’s got some good offspeed stuff and keeps the batters off balance as well. Another leader is Joe Vento who has been hitting the ball well,” said Acciardo.
Since the early loss to Chariho, the Johnston bats have taken off, averaging seven runs per contest. Run support has been key for Urena on the bump as well.
“I pitch better when I know that I can give up one or two runs and still be up. It gives me confidence on the mound,” Urena said.
The Panthers will take on perhaps their toughest stretch of the season to close the regular slate, which includes two games against first-place Westerly. Acciardo hopes that the loss to Tiverton will help the team refocus as it heads into the postseason.
“Maybe it was a bump that we needed, maybe it was a wake up call,” said Acciardo. “When you get into the playoffs you are facing the better teams. This is going to give us a preview of what we’re going to see. We’re going to treat (the upcoming Westerly game) like any other game, but we’re also going to treat it like the championship because we may see them again (in the playoffs).”
Urena added: “We have to play every game like it’s our last. We’re excited to face (Westerly), it should be a good game.”
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