Happy New Year, everyone. Hope you all enjoyed a peaceful and safe holiday. I am thrilled to be starting off 2022 and am expecting another terrific season of sports. We did something new this year, if you saw on the front page. We decided to hand out
Happy New Year, everyone.
Hope you all enjoyed a peaceful and safe holiday. I am thrilled to be starting off 2022 and am expecting another terrific season of sports.
We did something new this year, if you saw on the front page. We decided to hand out Team and Coach of the Year Awards for our local squads and we began by unveiling the girls side first.
If you take a look at the front pages, you’ll see the credentials for each team and coach, but I will give my personal opinion and touch here.
Let’s start in Warwick.
For the girls team, we went with the Pilgrim softball team. Ultimately, the biggest reason was how close the girls came to the title. Although Coventry simply had their number, Pilgrim got the win in the first game of the championship and hung in there for a bit in the eliminator.
Overall, this team was rather unsettled heading into 2021. Most teams were thanks to 2020 being eliminated by the pandemic, but Pilgrim had new faces that were being looked to and had a new coach. In a division so loaded, no one would have been disappointed to see the Lady Pats regress a bit.
They didn’t though, and had every chance to win a title. The biggest story of the tournament if you ask me was Alyssa Twomey’s emergence both in the circle and at the plate. Whether it was pitching gems in big games, coming up with the timely hit - including the game-winning home run against the Oakers in their first playoff meeting - she really became one of the state’s top players.
Unfortunately for the rest of Rhode Island, they’ll have to deal with her for two more seasons in which she will likely only continue to get better.
I have to give a shout out to the Toll Gate girls lacrosse team as well. The Titans were expected to be a solid unit, but wound up being the second seed and would go head to head with top seed Burrillville at states. Although the Titans gave the Broncos a scare early in the game, Burrillville would roll down the stretch to take the win.
Recently, Pilgrim girls tennis also pulled off the huge postseason upset of St. Ray’s to reach the championship match. You can’t overlook them either.
The Pilgrim girls soccer team and the Toll Gate girls basketball teams also had strong years as well.
In terms of coach of the year, we went with Tom Flanders from Pilgrim girls soccer.
At this point, his system and model is full-proof. Although the Pats have come up short the past few seasons, their ability to dominate the regular season and always be a favorite in the postseason is something special. The consistency is impressive and one of these times the team will break through. It has to.
Other close names were Carlos Rodas with Pilgrim as well as Jim Areson, who coached the Toll Gate girls lacrosse team.
Over in Cranston, we went with the West softball team as our girls team of the year.
The Falcons were another force in Division I and reached the playoffs after a solid regular season campaign in which they beat some of the top units in the state.
Sure, the team fell in the quarterfinals, but it was beat by the eventual champion Oakers. Not exactly an easy draw that early in the tournament.
What stood out to me the most was the number of players going off to compete collegiately. Essentially half of the starting lineup will be taking the next step. Look at some of the names on the roster, Mackenzie Bessette, Emily Durigan, Brenna Whittaker. That’s just to start. This lineup was loaded from top to bottom.
It will be interesting to see what this team looks like next season with a large hole left behind by the seniors and the transition to a new coach in PJ Bessette. In 2021, it accomplished a whole heck of a lot.
The Cranston East girls basketball team was right there in the mix having won five straight contests to reach the playoffs. The West girls basketball team also stood out, reaching the semifinals against Barrington.
For coach of the year, we went with East basketball’s Jhamal Diggs.
I have covered this topic quite a bit so I will keep it brief, but Diggs felt like the obvious choice.
The Lady Bolts were in no position to be a factor last year. They didn’t have any household names, had a shallow bench, a young coach, coming off a tough year the season before. Things just did not seem to be aligning in the early going and it felt like they had a ways to go.
Fast forward to the end of the regular season. The Bolts rattled off five straight wins and would win in the prelims before a quarterfinals exit.
The kids deserve a ton of credit, for sure, but Diggs was in a tough spot. How do you motivate a team that is reeling to the point that it does a complete 180? He reached the kids, remained confident, and that clearly resonated as the team caught fire and became a scary foe in the postseason. Diggs deserves a huge nod.
Lastly in Johnston.
Now, with one school to choose from, this was a fairly easy decision. We went with the softball team as well, as it was the one team that made an actual run come playoff time. I promise, I do not have a bias toward softball, it just is what it is.
The Panthers had a new coach, well, sort of, David Iannuccilli has been around the block but happened to return for the spring. Although the regular season was a mixed bag in terms of results, the Panthers caught fire to win their final three games and would then get a big win over Prout in the playoffs. Johnston would then fall to eventual champ Scituate in the following round.
Johnston could have folded at any point, but it hung in there and became a factor in the playoffs.
Coach of the year went to David Iannuccilli, who returned to the dugout and focused on getting back to the basics with the team. By season’s end, he did just that as the club was fundamentally sound and competitive with every team it faced.
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