Villa Novans begin to see the light

Villa Novans begin to see the light

Woonsocket leadoff batter Hezekiah Adeyeye belts a fastball into deep center field for a double that drove in the Villa Novans’ second run during Monday afternoon’s Division II game against West Warwick at Renaud Field. The Novans improved to 8-9 by posting a 2-1 victory. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Baseball team doubles win total from previous two seasons, eyes playoff berth

WOONSOCKET – When it comes to baseball, Tommy Brien has seen it all, and in his first season as the Woonsocket High head coach, he has seen some unusual things.

He’s seen his pitching staff walk 17 batters in a nine-inning game and still come away with a 14-11 victory over the Wheeler School. He’s seen a game-ending triple play wipe out a comeback in a 6-4 loss to St. Raphael Academy.

“And there was the Burrillville game,” Brien, a veteran youth coach and umpire in the city, said with a smile. “The bus broke down on the side of the highway and we suffered our worst loss of the season, 16-3. That just threw us out of our focus and there’s nothing that could have been done.”

Next week, Brien and his ballclub may also see something than the program hasn’t witnessed in three years, a berth in the postseason, because on Monday afternoon at Renaud Field, the Novans improved their Division II mark to 8-9 by taking a 2-1 thriller from West Warwick.

While the other 18 teams in the division have anywhere from three to five games remaining in their regular seasons, the Villa Novans have just one to play, next Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. contest in Ponaganset against the two-time defending champion Chieftains, who are currently 12-3 and in second place behind Chariho (12-1).

The Villa Novans currently sit in 13th place with their record – the top 12 will advance to the playoffs – but three other teams also have nine losses, including two that Woonsocket defeated, Juanita Sanchez and Scituate, and four have eight defeats, including Westerly, Tiverton, and Wheeler, which also fell to the Villa Novans.

“We’re holding spots over a lot of teams,” Brien said after Monday’s game, referring to the head-to-head tiebreaker for seeding purposes in the postseason. “But right now, we want to beat Ponaganset. We’re off for the next 10 days, but we have some work to do, so we’re going to do some light practicing this week, we’ll start right back up on Monday, and (we’ll be) back on the Reservation on Thursday.”

After going 4-32 during the past two seasons, the worst two-year stretch in team history, it appears that the good vibes are back with the Novans’ program. All you had to do was check out Monday’s game, which saw the Villa Novans celebrate their Senior Day in front of a packed house and reward their fans with an exciting victory that saw Woonsocket scratch out a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and shake off a scare by the Wizards in the seventh.

Woonsocket starting pitcher Harrison Blais traded zeroes with West Warwick southpaw Robert Bird until the fifth, which saw the Villa Novans string together four of their seven hits. The first two were one-out base hits by Zach Larusso and Roger Bissonnette that put runners on the corners, and with George Roderick at the plate, the duo pulled off a daring double steal to break the scoreless tie.

After Roderick singled to right, Hezekiah Adeyeye doubled over the center fielder’s head to plate Bissonnette with the second run.

Blais, meanwhile, limited the Wizards to six hits and struck out six batters in 6 2/3 innings of work, but exited the game after the Wizards loaded the bases with two gone in the seventh. Brien brought in Adeyeye to extinguish the fire, and although his first pitch was a wild one that brought in a run and his next pitch plunked a batter to reload the bases, he came back to strike out his third batter and end the game.

“(Bird) was outstanding on the mound today,” said Brien. “He didn’t throw very hard, but he threw right down the plate. It was tough for our batters, but they readjusted during their second times through the order, getting their stances up closer to the pitcher.”

Only seven seniors are on the Novans’ roster, and included in that class are Bissonnette, an outfielder/first baseman who also plays for the school’s volleyball team; infielder Colin Godfrin; Roderick, a first baseman; and outfielders Peyton Carrigan and Larusso.

“I’m proud of my seniors,” said Brien, “but we’ll also have a nice team that I can now work with over the wintertime. And there are a lot of ninth graders who are coming up to this team from the middle school, so I’m pretty excited about that.”

Adeyeye, a shortstop/third baseman and leadoff batter who is one of the state’s top track and field sprinters, and Blais, who also plays shortstop, are the top two juniors and pitchers on the team. Sophomore catcher Latrell Lopez and pitcher Tyler Violette have also prospered, as well as freshman middle infielder Nick Strojny.

“It’s almost like everyone on this team is a utility person,” said Brien. “At the beginning of the season, when we were practicing in the gym, I said every person needs to know how to play every position. They kind of shook their heads when I started to do this, but we worked on that all year, so I wasn’t afraid to take someone and put them at shortstop because I knew he worked hard at that craft. When you can have that kind of depth, you can do some nice things out there.”

While it took some time for the players to get used to Brien’s ways, it also took a couple of weeks before the Novans were able to win their first game. They lost their first four games to teams that are currently among the top seven in the standings (Barrington, Narragansett, Prout, and Mount Hope), and the Novans nearly topped Prout in their fourth game, only to watch the Crusaders score runs in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings and walk off with a 4-3 win.

The Novans then went on to win their next three games over the vacation break, one of them a 9-6 victory over crosstown foe Mount Saint Charles, but it wasn’t until midway through the season, in an extra-inning loss to Chariho, that Brien thinks his team began to see the light.

“I think the turning point of the season was when we lost to Chariho, 2-1, in eight innings,” said Brien. “They knew right then that they could play with the big boys and that’s what turned it around. They went 4-32 the last couple of years, and to get eight wins right now and have a chance to finish .500, that’s pretty cool for us. That’s pretty cool.”

After talking about his players and their recent success, Brien also took some time to praise his coaching staff, which includes Mike Cahill and Mike Champagne.

“Without those two coaches, this doesn’t happen,” Brien added. “We’re a three-person coaching staff and we all have our things that we bring together, and that’s what makes this fun for all of us. We all have a lot of experience and these kids have bought into what we’re teaching. It’s been great to see.”

Villa Novan starting pitcher Harrison Blais picked up the win on Monday afternoon by striking out six batters and limiting West Warwick to six hits in 6 2/3 innings of work.