The Hurd Auto Mall American Legion team lost seven players from last year’s Final Four club and didn’t have its first practice this season until after its first game.
But you wouldn’t guess that with the way the season has gone so far.
Hurd won four of its first five games, capping the strong start with a 3-2 victory over Navigant Credit Union/Fairmount Post 85 on Sunday night at Johnston Memorial Park.
“We’re young,” manager Mike Cantone said on Sunday. “We lost seven guys from a Final Four team. We’re young, but we’re starting off strong. If all goes well, we’ll be back where we were last year.”
Hurd has become a powerhouse in the last few years, ever since the old Scituate Post 88 team merged with Johnston’s legion entry. Last year’s team was one of the last four standing when all was said and done, and though a lot of talent has moved on, there’s no reason to lower the expectations this year.
“I think it’s going to be a fun year,” Cantone said.
Cantone couldn’t get his team on the field as quickly as he would have liked. For the second year in a row, the Johnston High School baseball team won the Division II championship and played into June.
But Hurd hasn’t missed a beat since the late start.
Four players from that Johnston championship team – Gian Bianchi, Mike Pennacchia, Steve Pennacchia and Steve Perfetto – lead the way. Dylan Pingitore and Bret Simas, two 2011 Johnston graduates, are also looking to make big contributions for Hurd.
The rest of the roster features mostly players from Scituate High School and Ponaganset High School. The common thread is talent.
“I think we’ve got a good looking club,” Cantone said.
Cantone expects pitching to be a major strength. Bianchi was the ace of Johnston’s staff, and Pingitore was in that role in 2011. Pingitore also pitched at CCRI this spring.
Nick Cessino was the ace of the St. Raphael staff this year, while Aaron Bowen was a standout for Ponaganset.
Those four make up a pretty strong rotation.
“I’m confident that pitching is not going to be our downfall this year,” Cantone said.
On the other side, Hurd hasn’t broken out with the bats quite yet. The team scored 11 runs in a win on Saturday but scored a total of seven in its other three wins.
Still, there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
The lineup includes returning standouts Bianchi, Brandon Cessino, Evan Cabral, Cam Simpson and Joe Crino, all of whom played key roles last season. Several other players have been waiting in the wings and will get their chance this year. That list includes Simas, Perfetto, Scott Iacobucci, Mike Pennacchia, Steve Pennacchia, Shane Lynch, Ryan Cabral, Pat Crino, Nick Cessino and Logan Duffy.
For now, it’s just about finding the right fit.
“The first eight games, I tell these kids, it’s preseason,” Cantone said. “If you’re fortunate enough to have a winning record after that point, great. But if nothing else, it’s a time to mold everything together.”
Hurd hasn’t had many growing pains so far.
On Sunday, Pingitore picked up a complete-game win, cruising most of the way until some defensive miscues led to two runs in the seventh inning.
Pingitore ended up allowing just four hits. He struck out four and, at one point, he retired 12 in a row.
“He throws strikes,” Cantone said. “If the guys make the plays behind him, we’re going to have a lot of quick innings. He’s starting off the year well. He had a good year at CCRI. He didn’t pitch much, but I think he learned a lot.”
Lynch, Nick Cessino, Brandon Cessino and Mike Pennacchia all had hits to lead the offense.
Hurd was scheduled to return to action Wednesday against South Kingstown. The team visits Shoreline on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Lischio Field in North Kingstown.
“It takes time,” Cantone said. “You can’t rush it, because if you rush it, then you do the wrong things. You just let it mold out. I think we’ve got a good team. Hopefully we can get back to the Final Four.”