The Community College of Rhode Island baseball team has had a historic spring, topping Suffolk County in two games to win the District and secure its spot in the NJCAA World Series for the first time since 2012.
The Knights got off to a shaky 3-7 start to begin the year, but have been on a tear since and have won their past 11 contests. CCRI will take on top-seeded Rowan Gloucester to kick off the tournament in Greenville, Tennessee, and looks to show the country that it can hang with anyone.
“This is a special group that has worked hard all year, they’ve really worked their butts off. They are tough kids that like the dirt, they’re all friends, they’re talented, they have it all. I really believe that we can do some damage down there,” said CCRI manager Kevin Rix, who welcomes the challenge of being the underdog. “We are going in as the eighth seed which means we will be facing the higher seeds … which is fine with us, we like that challenge. That’s why we set up our schedule the way we did this year, we faced a lot of top teams, we faced some D1 teams, some D2 teams. We can play with anyone; we have a lot of skilled kids. We like that our starters have faced that level of competition.”
CCRI finished at .500 last season, which was a down year compared to some of its recent campaigns. Rix and his staff knew from the early going that these Knights would be a little different, and have a chance to make it to the top.
“When we recruited these (freshmen), they just gelled with the sophomores which didn’t really happen last year. We knew that we were going to be pretty good, in the fall we faced RIC and Johnson and Wales, Salve Regina and we beat them which showed these kids that they could do it,” said Rix, who believes that the Knights’ pitching will be the key. “We just need to go down there and play good defense, we will have Ben Sears on the mound for Game 1. He’s been on fire lately, he’s averaged 14 strikeouts over nine innings, has one of the lowest ERAs in the country. Our top three starters have been lights out and we will be relying on them.”
Warwick native and Pilgrim alum Zack D’Andrea echoed those sentiments.
“Winning Districts was huge for us. We have been close the last few years, but we just worked hard and made it happen. Now we’ve got to keep rolling. Our pitching is going to be huge, so we just need to play defense. We always score runs, so if we just continue to hit and give good support in the field, we’ll be good to go,” said D’Andrea.
D’Andrea also looks forward to showing the country what kind of talent is being grown in the Ocean State.
“This is going to bring a lot more attention to Rhode Island, and this is going to make more people want to come here,” said D’Andrea. “I’m looking forward to the competition and taking on teams from all over the country, we can see what we can really do.”