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CCRI baseball headed to NJCAA World Series

Friday, May 18, 2012

 

To say that 2012 is an unprecedented year for the Community College of Rhode Island would be an understatement.

Athletically speaking, it doesn’t get much better than having your signature programs – in this case, men’s basketball and baseball – both competing for national championships. The basketball team, under the guidance of Coach Rick Harris, reached the NJCAA Division II title game this past winter. The baseball team, led by Ken Hopkins, embarks on their chance of a lifetime next week when they depart for Enid, Oklahoma and the NJCAA Division II World Series.

Somebody needs to check on the water supply in Warwick. Having competitive teams, winning a division or a conference crown or two every few years is not unusual at CCRI, with a long tradition of success in athletics since 1965 under coaches like Vin Cullen and Art Pontarelli. But playing for national championships in the same year, in multiple sports? With mostly Rhode Island kids?

“It’s the same coaching, the support from on top is really where it’s coming from,” Hopkins said, deflecting much of the praise pointed his way after being named the Eastern District Coach of the Year. “Our president (Ray Di Pasquale) is taking athletics and public relations and combining the two. And that’s a smart move on his part.

“The nice part about this team is seven out of the nine starters are from Rhode Island,” Hopkins quickly pointed out. “Most of it is a Rhode Island group. I think it starts with President Di Pasquale and filters down to the rest of the department.”

Perhaps Hopkins is right about the leadership at the top. Ed Cooley says the same thing about Bob Driscoll and Father Shanley at Providence College. Dan Hurley is quick to praise URI’s Thorr Bjorn and school President David Dooley for “getting it.” Bryant has long praised President Ron Machtley for his foresight in ascending to NCAA Division I athletics from relative obscurity in Division II. Former Brown athletic Director David Roach had the foresight to hire football coach Phil Estes – who has turned out the most successful programs in school history.

If you want to be big, you’ve got to play big. And have administrators who understand that athletics mean more now, than ever before. Good programs can give you exposure. Great programs can bring in not only publicity, but increased dollars into school and athletic coffers.

“(President Di Pasquale) is pumping money into the facility and into the programs, upgrading the scholarships and we’re bringing in kids nationally now when before we were just bringing kids in from New England,” Hopkins explained.

Knights baseball - Region and District Champs - Courtesy: CCRI

So while CCRI is reaching nationally – even internationally – for talent, the 2012 baseball team is relying on local players to take them on this championship trip. “Academically we’re doing well. Some of our sophomores are moving on, our catcher (Tom Gavitt) signed with Bryant, moving onto Division 1,” Hopkins said. “I’m thinking maybe Jamale Horn (former Sox slugger Sam Horn’s son) might be drafted, we’ve been getting some calls on him this week, and I think he might have a shot, someone might take him in the later rounds, so we’re excited about that.

“All of this - this is something that we’re kind of pinching ourselves over.”

And while it’s great to say you have the ability to draw players from outside of Rhode Island, it’s also great to say Rhody kids still lead the way. “I think the economy has something to do with (some) kids staying home,” Hopkins reasoned. “Usually (in the past) some of the better players would leave. Jimmy Foster down at URI, we work together to try to develop baseball within the state, and if we can keep the better players home, I think we can compete with anybody in the country.

“There are good baseball players in Rhode Island, the key is to keep them here.”

For now, the goal is to keep this group rolling. They’re ranked eighth nationally. At 33-11 on the season, an all-time single season school record for wins (36) is within reach. The Knights won’t actually play until May 26th, but until that time, they’ll be kept busy with practice, travel and even a philanthropic activity. “I put together an anti-bullying campaign that we’re going to do in one of the elementary schools in Oklahoma, and I want our kids to experience treating other kids the right way, representing CCRI the right way,” Hopkins added. “Hopefully we’ll be the fan favorites. Little ol’ Rhode Island representing the east.”

That may not be unprecedented, but you must admit…having coaches like CCRI has is definitely impressive, even if they don’t win. Except these guys are winning, and winning big.

In an understated way.
 

 

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