The Cranston East Thunderbolts are set to kick off the 2019 spring season, and with that comes baseball.
This year, the Bolts will have a new coaching staff, as it’s brought in Cranston Western Little League manager Gary Bucci and his staff following the departure of former manager Mike Walsh.
Bucci has coached CWLL for over 20 years, including a 2015 World Series run, where his team made three total trips to Bristol, Conn as state champs. He is also the Vice President of CWLL. Bucci coached at Cranston West, Exeter-West Greenwich, and most recently, La Salle Academy during the last three years as Associate Head Coach where the Rams won the state title in 2017.
“Obviously very excited taking over this group,” Bucci said. “It’s really a nice group of seniors. A senior- laden team. And for the most part, I think the majority of the seniors will contribute. We’ve got some leaders in Giovanni Canales and Robenson Antoine. They’ll be the pivotal leaders, along with Quinn Lanigan.”
Those three seniors will hit 1-3 in the batting order during most games.
Canales will also be the team’s ace pitcher, followed by Lanigan and then, Jay Cooke, who is also a senior.
Canales committed to Coppin State University in November of last year and he has been working hard to fine-tune his craft all offseason.
“Gio’s worked out consistently through the winter,” Bucci explained. “He is an extremely hard worker and he basically knows what he needs to do, whether it’s a bullpen or a flat ground, and so forth and so on.”
Canales says the team is fitting in well with their new coaches and that they are eager to get the games underway.
“We are doing great,” Canales said. “As a team, we are starting to form as a whole. I honestly can’t wait until the season.”
Last year, East finished the season with an overall record of 16-7 while going 13-5 in the division and this year they are hoping to build on that.
“This year we are coming back stronger than ever,” Canales said. “The boys on the team are basically my brothers. We have been playing together ever since we were starting little league. Us nine seniors, plus young talent, have all the chemistry down.”
“It’s just competing as a team against the high competition that Division 1 high school baseball brings,” Canales continued. “With the great new coaching staff, I believe we can take this division by storm and continue to be one of the top baseball programs in the state.”
Battling for the starting catching job will be Caleb Joubert and Nathan Lanigan, following the exit of graduate Alex Martinez last year.
“They’re two seniors,” Bucci said. “Two good kids. I don’t think they saw much action last year because the graduating senior was a very talented catcher. So, these two guys are competing against each other and we’ll have to see what the next two days bring from a catching perspective.”
Coming out of the bullpen will be Jorge Pizarro, a junior, sophomore Chris Torres, and junior Christian Adams.
Helping out Bucci on the coaching staff will be assistants James Sweeney and Lou Umberto, plus pitching coach Mark Cahill.
Sweeney has been coaching CWLL for the last eight years and has spent the last three years at La Salle Academy with Bucci. Sweeney too, is Vice President at CWLL.
Umberto played baseball at Bishop Hendricken and Johnson & Wales University. He is the owner of Lou Umberto’s Italian Kitchen on Cranston Street in Knightsville.
Cahill pitched at East in 1979 when it won its last state championship. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners during the fifth round of the ’79 draft and he played six years of minor league baseball. Cahill has been a professional baseball scout for the last 12 years and he’s been a professional baseball instructor since ’92, plus he owns K Performance Baseball in Coventry.
It may only be spring training, but Bucci likes what he’s seen up to this point.
“The kids have done a nice job so far,” Bucci said. “We basically just had one week of practice. Tryouts were last week. There’s a nice group of freshmen coming into the program that’ll obviously play JV, and there’s some sophomores that are probably going to help us at the varsity level right now. So, it’s a good mix.”
Bucci believes that pitching is the team’s strong-point and he hopes they can get the bats hot soon.
“I think we’re going to be pretty solid from a pitching perspective with Gio leading the helm,” Bucci said. “We’ve got to find some more offense, I think. We’ve got a couple scrimmages today and tomorrow that hopefully will help.”
Lastly, the manager spoke about his position players.
“Defensively, I think we’re going to be pretty solid in the outfield,” Bucci said. “The infield is still somewhat a work in progress. So, all and all, pleased with the effort, pleased with the energy and the kids, at least the returning players, seem to jell pretty well.”
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Bucci added. “They’re buying into our program. It’s a more fast-paced program than I think they accustomed to. At least in my opinion. And that’s it. We’ve just got to score some runs, play defense and win some games.”
The Bolts opened the season at home on Tuesday afternoon against Moses Brown. The score was unavailable at press time. East will head to Moses Brown today for a 4 p.m start.