Novans seeks strong finish to Div. II-B season

Novans seeks strong finish to Div. II-B season

Woonsocket shortstop and senior tri-captain Harrison Blais, left, and freshman standout Mikey Laboy, shown in action during last week’s game against Wheeler at Renaud Field, have been two of the top players on this year’s baseball team, which entered this week with a 7-7 record. The Novans will face St. Raphael Academy in a two-game series this week and Westerly in their series next week. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
WHS baseball team takes 7-7 record into showdowns with SRA, Westerly

WOONSOCKET – Owners of a 7-7 record with four games left on its Division II-B schedule, as well as a return trip to the D-II playoffs on its radar, the Woonsocket High baseball team entered Tuesday’s divisional action in a tussle with Scituate and Wheeler for fifth place in the standings.

Unfortunately for the Villa Novans, those last four games are against two of the top teams in the division, second-place St. Raphael Academy, which came into the week with a 10-3 mark, and Westerly, which was tied for third place at 8-4.

But second-year head coach Tommy Brien is welcoming the challenge of facing the Saints and Bulldogs, and win or lose, those games should help get his club battle-tested for the top Division II-A teams Woonsocket will most likely contest after Memorial Day weekend.

“I kind of like playing those two teams,” Brien said on Monday. “That will help us get a gauge of what we’re going (to play) in the first round because now the playoffs are one-and-done and not double elimination. Once you get to the (semifinals and finals), then it’s best-of-three. I really like that format.”

Brien spent a few minutes talking about his team’s season as it heads into the stretch run and toward the postseason, which is scheduled to begin with 14 teams on Wednesday, May 29 – the II-A and II-B regular-season champs will earn a first-round bye – and continue with the quarterfinals two days later and best-of-three semifinals the following week.

Entering Tuesday’s action – the Novans were slated to take on the Saints that afternoon at Renaud Field – Scituate, which swept its “home-and-away” regular-season series with Woonsocket, was in fifth place with a 7-6 mark, and Wheeler, which split its series last week with the Novans, was in seventh place at 6-7. North Providence sat atop the league at 11-3 and Mount Saint Charles owned a 9-5 record.

With a little luck, the Novans might have a winning record right now – two of their losses were by a run and another two were by two runs – and with some good fortune, the program would still have the luxury of fielding a freshman team, but after posting a 2-3 record, the ballclub dissolved when it didn’t have enough bodies to field a lineup.

But that allowed Brien to add a few talented freshmen to his varsity team, and right now, he’s carrying four quality 9th-graders he had been high on since the start of the team’s preseason workouts: Mikey Laboy, Shane Perrico, Ethan Allaire, and Deryn Glassey.

The top player among that group is Laboy, who plays third base and appears to be the Novans’ number one pitcher. In last week’s series against Wheeler, which saw the Villa Novans win the opener, 8-2, and lose the next game, 7-6, Laboy led the Novans offensively with five hits and as many runs batted in.

“Opposing coaches can’t get enough out of seeing Mikey Laboy,” Brien said. “They’re telling me, ‘He’s only a 9th- grader? What is your team going to be doing to us when he’s a senior?’ He’s just a good kid from a good family.”

As expected, the Novans are receiving superb seasons from their tri-captains: senior center fielder/pitcher Hezekiah Adeyeye, senior shortstop Harrison Blais, and junior first baseman/pitcher Latrell Lopez, but there are a few under-the-radar players that have also made significant contributions and impressed Brien.

“I didn’t realize Peter Santana was that good of a player for a 10th-grader,” Brien said. “He’s come a long way. He’s always hustling – he can take a regular single and turn it into a double. He’ll slide into first base on an infield hit – and he plays every position out there.”

“Our catcher, Sean Anelundi, has already thrown out seven (would-be base stealers) this season and picked off two more,” added Brien. “He didn’t do any of that last year. Matt Green and Tyler Violette have had very good seasons, and Perrico caught his first varsity game the other day because Sean had to take an exam. He’s going to be a good utility player in the infield and outfield for us.”

Brien also made a special note about Adeyeye, who is also one of the top sprinters on the RIIL track and field scene, and it wasn’t for his play on the field.

“He’s really stepped up with the leadership role,” Brien offered, “and that made him a winner in my eyes, as well as to (assistant coaches Mike) Champagne and (Mike) Cahill.”

The Novans’ next game is against the Saints tonight at 6 p.m. at Slater Park, and next Tuesday, they will pay a visit to Westerly at the Bulldogs’ Cimalore Field before wrapping up their regular season the following night at Renaud Field.

“We have four games left, we’re 7-7, and if we can split them …” Brien said. “We were 8-10 last year, and 9-9 would be a nice number. Our goal is to be a win better than we were last year, so we’ll see what happens.”

Woonsocket runner Peter Santana, left, does his best to avoid the tag of Wheeler catcher Nick Avalos, but he is out at the plate in the bottom of the third inning of the teams’ game on Monday, May 6, at Renaud Field. The Novans scored three times in each of the first and third innings to down the Warriors, 8-2.
Woonsocket starting pitcher Nick Strojny picked up the win on the hill.