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Only one team stood between the Narragansett High baseball team and a berth to the Final Four of the Division II Tournament last season; Woonsocket.
The No. 5 seed Mariners lost to the Villanovans in the second round of the tourney to fall into the loserâ€™s bracket but battled back to force a winner-take-all game in the regional finals after beating Woonsocket 3-0.
Unfortunately for the Mariners they couldnâ€™t get it done, falling 3-1 to end their season.
This spring â€™Gansett returns most of its starters and wonâ€™t have to worry about Woonsocket as the Villanovans have moved up to Division I.
â€śI anticipate us being just as strong as last year,â€ť Narragansett coach Keith Vellone says, â€śif not stronger.â€ť
Even still, making it back to where they did a season ago wonâ€™t be easy for the Mariners in the new-look, 27-team Division II.
During the regular season each team in D-II will play a home and home series with the other eight teams in their respective subdivisions and on paper the Mariners appear to be in the most challenging.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a battle thatâ€™s for sure,â€ť Vellone says. â€śEverybodyâ€™s tough. Westerly, EWG [and] Prout, the list goes on and on. I think the division is very strong this year.â€ť
Vellone says the goal is the same as it is every year â€“ to make the playoffs â€“ but with teams like West Warwick, Rogers, Mt. Hope and former D-I Chariho lurking in addition to the Bulldogs, Knights and Crusaders itâ€™s going to be a challenge.
Fortunately for the Mariners they may have the pitching necessary to survive the South.
Seniors Zach McKanna and Ross Hodnett were the Mariners most consistent hurlers last season and will be back on the mound again this spring.
Sophomore Brayden Stritzinger and junior Kullen McGill will also see time on the mound but the Mariners are still searching for a few other arms to sure up their bullpen.
Senior captain Jimmy Kershaw will anchor the Marinersâ€™ infield as the teamâ€™s shortstop, while sophomore Austin Butler will play third and junior Tyler Toolin will hold down first when Hodnettâ€™s pitching.
The biggest position battle for â€™Gansett so far has been at second as juniors Bradley West, Quinn McLaughlin and senior Chris Marsh are each vying for playing time.
Junior Nick Schone returns behind the plate, while Connor Butler, Justin Cronin, McGill and McKanna will platoon the outfield.
Early on Vellone says the team has had its struggles but looked much better Saturday in a scrimmage with South Kingstown.
â€śWeâ€™ve had a couple of scrimmages that we didnâ€™t play too well in until the other day,â€ť he says. â€śWe scrimmaged South and played a lot better.â€ť
The Mariners had their home and season opener Tuesday against Chariho (results unavailable at press time) and will be back in action Friday at 4 p.m. when they travel to Bristol to take on Mt. Hope.