Turning the page

Turning the page

Lincoln senior pitcher Corey Mayer, left, and junior shortstop/pitcher Randall Hien are enjoying excellent seasons for the Lions, who will fight for their playoff lives these next two weeks when they take on East Greenwich and Ponaganset. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Despite slow start, coaching change, LHS baseball team hopes successful two-week run clinches playoff berth

LINCOLN – Two-thirds of the way through its season, the Lincoln High baseball team has seen more than its share of adversity.

For starters, the Lions stumbled out of the gates in April and found themselves with a 4-8 record that marked their worst 12-game start to a season since 1993. That was also the last time they did not reach the postseason.

Two weeks ago, in a defeat to La Salle Academy, one of the team’s top players, senior outfielder Aaron DeSousa, injured his elbow in a collision with the Rams’ second baseman. His remarkable high school career might be over.

And that same week, after a 5-0 loss to the Rams at Chet Nichols Field, second-year head coach Vin Zibelli resigned from his position.

It’s been a lot for the players to absorb, said interim head coach Angelo Bruno, but with less than two weeks left in their regular season, their focus remains the same – take care of business in the Lions’ final four games and clinch one of the Division I-B’s final playoff spots.

“They’ve been good,” Bruno said on Monday afternoon outside the school’s gymnasium after the Lions’ contest that day against East Greenwich was rained out. “They’re all respectful kids, and there hasn’t been any backlash or anything like that, which is good. We’re just trying to put some pieces back together and keep moving forward.”

Bruno refused to talk about Zibelli’s resignation or answer any questions about it, but he took a long look at his team’s final four games, starting with Wednesday’s game against last-place East Greenwich (3-10) and today’s 4 p.m. rematch with the Avengers at Chet Nichols Field.

The Lions, who split their home-and-away series with Central last week to move their record to 5-9, came into this week in eighth place, a game behind Ponaganset (6-8) and a game-and-a-half behind sixth-place Toll Gate (7-8), which swept its series with Lincoln last month.

The top seven teams will qualify for the playoffs, which will begin on Wednesday, May 29, and the Lions’ final series of the season – against Ponaganset, of all teams – should decide who plays baseball past Memorial Day weekend or not. (The Chieftains have games against Toll Gate and first-place La Salle later this week.)

“You have to take it one day at a time,” said Bruno. “You can’t really think ahead to Ponaganset. You have to worry about East Greenwich this week and not look past them. You just have to try to win each game.”

“If you win all four, then you’re in (the playoffs) easily,” Bruno continued, “but if you split with both teams, then you’re probably looking at tiebreakers, and who knows how those would shake out.”

The Lions got off to a rocky 2-6 start in the first three weeks of the season, and included in that stretch was a difficult 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth that ruined a masterful outing by senior pitcher Corey Mayer, followed by two-run losses in Warwick to Pilgrim and Toll Gate.

Before April turned into May, it looked like the Lions were on their way to bouncing back after sweeping their series with fourth-place North Kingstown in impressive fashion by scores of 4-2 and 4-3, but three straight losses and Zibelli’s resignation soon followed.

Bruno, who joined the Lions’ coaching staff last season, was soon named the interim skipper, and in his first game at the helm, on Monday, May 7, at Central, the Lions defeated the third-place Knights, 12-8, with sophomore catcher Nick Toro highlighting the win with a three-run homer that snapped a 4-4 tie.

Three days later, the Lions hosted the Knights at Chet Nichols Field, but not before they took part in a moving ceremony to retire the uniform number of the late Michael Monteleone, who in 2005, was a freshman on the junior varsity baseball team who died from a heart ailment.

“That was a big deal,” said Bruno. “I’m originally from Connecticut, so I really didn’t know the whole story about it, but (the ceremony) was awesome. It was nice to have every spring program out there supporting the team, and it was an awesome crowd and a good day for a game.”

Unfortunately, the game wasn’t a good one for the Lions, who held a 3-0 lead after three innings, thanks in part to a run-scoring double by Toro and an RBI single from senior Tyler McNulty, but yielded five unearned runs and absorbed a 5-3 loss.

“(The first win over Central) was a huge one, especially for our team morale,” remarked Bruno. “And even in the game we got beat, they battled, and that’s really all we can ask them to do.”

Last Saturday, the Lions bounced back to record a 12-7 victory in their non-league game against North Providence, which is one of the D-II’s top squads this season. Leading the Lions’ offense were junior Giancarlo Ricci and McNulty, who each collected two hits and as many runs batted in, junior Aidan Murtha, who added two hits, and Toro, who had two RBIs,

While Bruno has been pleased with the way his ballclub has been swinging the bat recently, he’s also given two thumbs up to his pitching staff.

“Our staff has been doing really well,” he said. “Corey’s done a great job, but he’s been out hurt for a little. But (junior) Randall (Hien), (sophomore) Julian (Horan), and the younger guys have kind of stepped up.”

Bruno also gave praise to his four seniors, Marty Gaughan, McNulty, Mayer, and DeSousa, and speaking of DeSousa, who was a Second-Team All-State pick as a sophomore, as well as a two-time First-Team All-Division selection, “he’s recovering and he started physical therapy,” said Bruno. “We’ll see what happens with him.”

The Lions will pay tribute to their seniors next Tuesday at 4 p.m. when they host Ponaganset in their regular-season home finale. Two afternoons later, the Chieftains will entertain the Lions in a 3:30 p.m. matchup that could determine their playoff lives.