WOONSOCKET — After nearly two decades as a Division I program, Woonsocket High dropped down to Div. II this spring – a new league with plenty of unfamiliar faces.
Head coach John Marsella is taking a realistic approach to how his team will fare in the lower division, refraining from getting over confident despite fielding a solid bunch of players.
“They are high school kids,” he said. “The game is baseball. I learned over the years that anything can happen in the game of baseball. Anything can happen with high school kids. We expect to compete. We expect to have a good account of ourselves every time we go on the field. We expect the best.”
With the season just three-games old, the Woonsocket players have given Marsella a good account of themselves so far. During a Tuesday afternoon affair with visiting North Smithfield, the Villa Novans received a dominating performance from ace pitcher Kory Lawrence and broke open a tight game with a four-run sixth inning to earn a 7-2 win at Barry Field.
Lawrence finished the game by tossing a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts. The junior right-hander had a few rough patches during the middle innings, but otherwise was a nuisance to the Northmen, particularly with his high fastball that proved to fool a number of batters.
Lawrence’s performance comes after hurling a three-hitter with nine strikeouts in a 2-1 setback to Johnston in the Novans’ season-opener last Wednesday.
“It was an excellent start for him,” said Marsella, whose squad improved to 2-1 in the league (3-2 overall). North Smithfield remains winless at 0-3. “I thought last week was even better. He threw a three-hitter against Johnston, gave up two unearned runs. I thought he was overthrowing a bit today. He had better location last week. We expect big things from Kory. We expect when we give him the ball to be in every game.”
Despite the effectiveness of Lawrence, North Smithfield held tough with the Villa Novans for most of the game, trailing by a reachable 3-2 margin in the top of the sixth inning. N.S. junior Connor Narodowy allowed just four hits during that stretch.
Woonsocket was able to finally break through in the bottom of the six. With one out, William Adino and Ryan Boulanger hit back-to-back singles off Narodowy. Relief pitcher Ryan Nelligan came in after Boulanger’s base hit and right away was put to work when leadoff Kevin Reyes hit a high, bloop RBI single to the middle of the third-base line that Nelligan missed catching on a dive attempt. The decisive shot for the Novans came a batter later when sophomore Brandon Rainville blasted a two-run double to deep right-center. Woonsocket scored its fourth run of the frame on a bases-loaded walk to Josh Houle.
“Sometimes all it takes is a little bunt to get us started and take the pressure off. I was just telling them, when it’s a close game they are way too tense,” Marsella said. “You can’t play this game when you are tensed up. I think when we got the lead we started to loosen up a little bit. The bats relaxed and found some good swings.”
The Woonsocket coach was impressed by Rainville’s at-bat. He was a mid-game substitution, coming onto the field in the fourth inning.
“He’s a sophomore. He’s a sophomore that’s trying to impress and break into the starting lineup,” Marsella said. “I am very happy with his effort and he’s going to make the coach’s decision tougher, but that’s what coaches want. They want to make those tough decisions on who to play.”
First-year North Smithfield coach Jon Leddy saw his team overcome six strikeouts thrown by Lawrence to the first seven batters to make the game honest until the bottom of the sixth. Carlos Guzman hit an RBI single in the third and teammate Randy Masnyk was hit by a pitch with the bases-loaded - no thanks to a pair of errors by the Novans - to draw the other run for the Northmen.
“We battled for most of the game - it was back-and-forth - we just didn’t hit,” Leddy said. “We played well, we just didn’t hit. Their guy shut us down for the most part. He pitched very well today. We got to protect the plate a little more with two strikes. Connor Narodowy really battled today. He came back on four days’ rest. They are a good hitting team and their pitcher, there’s no much more you can say, he just shut us down.”