NEFL Juniors getting ready for stretch run
There have been ups and downs all season long for the New England Frozen Lemonade Junior Legion team, but luckily the ups have been a little bit more common than the downs.
Only barely, though. NEFL is still trying to find some consistency.
NEFL currently sits at 7-6 and in second place in the Southern Division and it trails only 9-2 Warwick PAL in the standings. The team has its strong performance during the middle portion of the schedule to thank for its lofty status in the division. The early season games and a few of the recent games haven’t been great.
NEFL began the season 1-3, beating only Upper Deck/Post 86 during that span.
Then NEFL got hot. In won four games in a row, and picked up a fifth win by forfeit. Included in that stretch was a 9-6 win over PAL.
Recently though, the team has come back down to Earth. It lost three in a row this past Thursday, Friday and Saturday, dropping its record back to .500. It got back to one game over in its second game of the day on Saturday, a 7-0 win over Upper Deck No. 2.
It’s been an interesting 13 games.
“The pitching has kept us in every game,” NEFL manager Eric Rollinson said. “The pitching has been there. We’ve expected the pitching to be decent. Hitting, we’re struggling. It’s hot and cold. Some games we’re hitting, other games we’re struggling to get that hit with guys on base.”
Luckily for NEFL, with good pitching usually comes wins, and that’s what has kept the team as a contender all season.
It begins at the top with Pilgrim’s Steven Noti and Toll Gate’s Joe Martinez. Those two have set the pace, but there are plenty of others that give the team front-line depth.
Rising sophomores at Pilgrim, Elijah Dressel and Michael Broccoli, have been strong, as has Jessie Gannon, a junior varsity pitcher at Pilgrim last year.
Out of the bullpen, NEFL has gotten help from La Salle pitcher Tyler Davey, who was a late addition to the team.
“The pitching has been really good,” Rollinson said. “The majority of our pitchers will be coming back next year, so that’s good too.”
And it’s not as if the offense hasn’t shown the ability to back up the pitching. NEFL has scored seven runs twice this season and nine in two other games.
Catcher Chris Ray, who attends Pilgrim, has been a strong presence at the plate in the middle of the order
“He’s an excellent catcher,” Rollinson said. “He does a great job back there. He’s got a great bat. Big kid, big strong kid. He’s really done a great job for us.”
First baseman Luke Verrier, who also goes to Pilgrim, is having a strong offensive season as well, while leadoff hitter and second baseman Zach Bacon, from Toll Gate, has been a catalyst. Gannon has also played some second.
Pilgrim’s Brandon Paiva has been solid at shortstop, while Davey and Dressel have been splitting the duties at third base.
In the outfield, Martinez has manned center field for the most part, with Pilgrim’s Brett Ferguson in right. In left field, Mike Broccoli and his brother, Evan Broccoli have played the majority of the time.
It’s a talented group, as Rollinson saw on June 30, when NEFL beat R&R Construction 9-4 in what was its most complete game of the year.
“Our best game was in Newport,” Rollinson said. “We played at Cardines against R&R and we had a great game. We were playing well in the field, the pitching was right on, and so was the hitting. Everything came together.”
NEFL also has been in every game, even it hasn’t won every one of them. Its most lopsided loss was by just four runs, showing that it can hang with just about anybody on the schedule.
“I think we can hang with teams,” Rollinson said. “We’re in every game. We haven’t been blown out. We’re losing by two or three runs. If we can get that key hit with guys on base, then we can take it to somebody.”
Besides Rollinson, the team is coached by assistant Mike Martin, as well as Rollinson and Martin’s two sons – Nick Rollinson, a former Vets player and Justin Martin, a former Pilgrim player. Those four will try to help get NEFL in gear for its stretch run. It has five games remaining in the regular season, including one Wednesday against West Warwick Post 2, with the results unavailable at press time.
The regular season comes to a close on July 24 and then it’s on to the playoffs, where NEFL hopes it can put it all together.
“We’ve made some mistakes,” Rollinson said. “We give runs away. We have that one bad inning where we give runs up. We give the other team extra outs. If we play a clean game, we tend to play well.”