First-place Hawks look to keep CCC top spot heading into postseason

Junior Chris Bosco is greeted by his teammates after scoring a run against UMass Dartmouth on April 12.

Brett Johnson, Herald Reporter

Who would have thought that a squad with 21 freshmen on it would be sitting at the top of the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) at the end of April? Not many. The Roger Williams University baseball team has surely shocked the conference with their steady hold of first place.

The Hawks entered the season with a vengeance after being voted sixth in the CCC Preseason Coaches’ Poll at the end of February. Salve Regina University had eight first place votes, and Endicott College and Western New England University were predicted to finish second and third, respectively. As of April 24, RWU is the top team with a 10-2 conference record, followed by Salve Regina and Gordon College.

RWU opened their season the weekend of March 3 with a four-game road trip to Maryland and Pennsylvania. They were swept in both doubleheaders and lost a starting outfielder for the season. Junior Eli Camner tore his left labrum in the second inning of the opening game and scheduled surgery for June.

Their spring break trip was not much more successful, and the Hawks left South Carolina at the end of the week with an overall 2-8 record. The team stayed determined, however, and allowed the high-level competition they faced in South Carolina, including nationally-ranked State University of New York at Cortland, to only push them to be better. Like the preseason, they continued to focus on the basics and let everything fall into place.

The weather did not cooperate when they returned to Rhode Island and had to reschedule their first six games. They finally had their home opener exactly two weeks after their final spring break trip game and grabbed a win over Keene State College.

The biggest shock in N.C.A.A Division III baseball was the Hawks’ triumph over University of Massachusetts Boston, which was ranked fourth/fifth in the nation at the time. A grand slam by senior third baseman Shane Nowak sealed the 5-1 win.

After multiple attempts to start conference play, the Hawks got their first CCC matchup of the season in a doubleheader against Nichols College on April 8. Nichols took the first game 7-3, but the Hawks battled for 14 innings in the second game and grabbed a walk-off win on a sophomore right fielder Justin Stone RBI single.

Since their loss in the first CCC game, the Hawks have remained almost perfect in conference play. The Hawks have also shown how clutch they are in extra innings by winning all three games that have gone into extras. All three were CCC matchups against WNE, Gordon, and Eastern Nazarene College.

The Hawks recently split a doubleheader with Curry College on April 22. Down 4-0 in the top of the seventh inning in the first game, sophomore Danny Roth tried to make it a little more interesting with a two-run home run. Unfortunately, it was not enough. The Colonels tried to do the same thing to the Hawks in the second game, but RWU held them off for a 6-4 win.

As predicted by Head Coach Jason Tower and captains junior Chris Bosco and senior Jimmy Smith, the underclassmen have been stepping up and filling crucial roles. One of the biggest surprises has been freshman first baseman Brandon Jenkins. Of the 31 games this season, Jenkins has started 20 games. In 75 official at-bats, he is second on the team with a .293 batting average.

Roth has also stepped up and has started all 31 games in various positions around the field. Hitting .250, Roth is leading the team in RBIs with 18, is tied for most triples with two, and is second on the team with six doubles. Roth has also been solid defensively, strutting a .983 fielding percentage.

Bosco is doing what he was expected to do — hitting .301 with the most hits and total bases on the team. Behind the plate, he’s still gunning runners down. He has thrown out 19 runners trying to steal in 25 attempts.

Tower is utilizing his entire pitching staff. A total of 20 pitchers have appeared in the 31 games this season. Their most used pitchers are senior Sam Bennett, sophomore Justin Garcia, freshman Matt Vernacatola, and senior Jimmy Smith, in that order. In 45.2 innings and seven starts, Bennett has thrown two complete games and has the best ERA on the team at 1.97. Garcia’s 2.41 ERA is the second best on the team and has a team-leading 42 strikeouts. Vernacotola has been successful in the relief position, appearing in 12 games and only allowing nine earned runs.

The Hawks look to keep their momentum going with two more conference doubleheaders against Endicott on April 28 and Salve Regina the following day before the tournament at the beginning of May. The Hawks are currently 17-15 overall, which is already more wins than the past two seasons.