In an action-packed 2016 that was highlighted by several championship teams and top-notch individual performances, there was one baseball team that ended up standing out among the pack – the Upper Deck Post 86/14 American Legion ballclub.
Not only did Upper Deck, a Senior Division team that featured some of the best high school upperclassmen and college freshmen in Cumberland and Lincoln, repeat as regular-season and state champions, but Post 86/14 also won the Northeast Regional title at historic Muzzy Field in Bristol, Conn., producing a 5-0 victory over Connecticut champion (and two-time regional champ) RCP Post 105 of Cromwell that clinched the crown.
That gave Upper Deck a berth in the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., making Post 86/14 the first Rhode Island team since 1980 to play in the World Series, and while Post 86/14 was only able to win one of its three games, the team was still able to fly back home with a 34-6 season and some fond memories from the past 2 1/2 months.
The Lincoln Little League’s Major Division (ages 9 and 10) all-star baseball team’s marvelous run to the New England championship was also one of the top highlights of the year, as was the multiple state championships won by three graduated seniors, Cumberland’s Meaghan Scullin and Lincoln’s Dariy Esenov in track and field and Lincoln High’s Mollie Westrick in swimming, and the All-American honors received by Cumberland High track and field thrower Mike Coppolino and girls’ soccer standout Julianne Ross.
The list of highlights goes on and on, and here’s a look at the moments that shined the brightest this year:
• Among the student-athletes to sign National Letters of Intent in the spring were Lincoln’s Jack Bacon of the Pomfret School (soccer, D-I Boston College), Cumberland High’s A.J. Bibeault (football, D-I University of Rhode Island), and Lincoln High’s Maya LaFleur (women’s soccer and lacrosse, D-II St. Thomas Aquinas College) and Kaelyn Zak (women’s tennis, D-II Seton Hill University).
• Lincoln High junior Tyler Balon became the sixth member of the Lions’ wrestling team’s 100-win club.
• Cumberland High junior Brandon Kolek scored his 1,000th career point in a 71-66 loss at home to Narragansett High on Feb. 1.
• The Cumberland High boys’ indoor track and field team continued its rule of the Northern Division by winning its 16th straight Northern Division title and posting its 13th consecutive unbeaten season. It’s the second longest string of undefeated seasons in the state, trailing Bishop Hendricken, which hasn’t lost a meet since 1993.
• The Cumberland High girls’ indoor track and field team also completed an undefeated dual-meet season for the fourth time in the last 10 seasons.
• Westrick, who is currently swimming in the Ivy League at the University of Pennsylvania, made her final appearance at the RIIL Championships a memorable one. She won the fifth and sixth state titles of her superb career, the 50-yard freestyle in a time of 23.69 seconds (that broke her own state record) and the 100-yard freestyle in 50.92.
• The North Cumberland Middle School boys’ basketball team posted a 12-2 record that gave NCMS its third straight Northern Division title, as well as its fifth in the last six seasons.
• The Lincoln Middle School wrestling team also won a regular-season title, capturing the Snyder Division with an 8-5 record.
• Lincoln’s Mike McCourt, a senior captain on the La Salle Academy boys’ basketball team, scored more than 1,000 points in a remarkable high school career that saw him help lead the Rams to the state title his junior year and return to the finals last March.
• Lincoln’s Matt Laliberte and Jackson McDonough played key roles in helping the La Salle Academy boys’ swim team capture the Division II championship.
• The Mercymount Country Day 8th-grade boys’ basketball team completed its third straight undefeated season as CAL (Catholic Athletic League) Grammar Division I state champions.
• Cumberland’s Moulaye Sangare (152 pounds) and Nate Skawinski (195) captured state championships in their weight classes at the RIIL Wrestling Championships. Skawinski went on to place fourth at the New England Championships the following weekend.
• For the second straight year, the Cumberland High boys’ hockey team was swept by Burrillville in the best-of-three Division I finals. The Broncos netted a pair of 2-1 victories, with the second win decided by a shootout that they won, 3-2.
• Cumberland High track and field coach Vanessa Molloy was named the RITCA Indoor Coach of the Year. Her Clippers captured their first Large Schools championship in a decade and took third place at the RIIL Championships.
• Scullin, who is currently on the Quinnipiac University women’s indoor track and field team, won four individual state titles in 2016. During the indoor season, Scullin captured the long jump for the third straight year with a leap of 18 feet, 4.5 inches, as well as her first high jump title with a 5-foot-2 leap, and less than four months later, she won the first two outdoor titles of her career by taking the high jump (5-1) and the 300-meter intermediate hurdles (personal-best time of 45.3 seconds).
• Esenov, meanwhile, swept the state indoor and outdoor high jump championships with identical 6-foot-2 leaps. Those were the first two titles of his career.
• Cumberland High’s Sean Laverty took 10th place in the mile with a school-record time of 4:13.12 at the New Balance National Indoor Track & Field Championships in Manhattan, N.Y. He also set a school record in the outdoor mile three months later at the New Balance Nationals in 4:13.92, which gave him ninth place.
• Lincoln resident Bryan Berard, who was a former Mount Saint Charles Academy and NHL defenseman, was inducted into the RIIL Athletic Hall of Fame. Berard helped lead the Mounties to three state titles (1992-94) and spent 10 seasons in the NHL, winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in the 1996-97 season and the Masterson Trophy in 2003-04.
• Lincoln’s Lindsay Mayer, a junior third baseman on the Fordham University softball team, was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year.
• Cumberland resident Carl LaBranche and former Lincoln High swimmers Anne Iacobucci Witti and the late Evan Robertson Miller were inducted into the R.I. Aquatic Hall of Fame.
• Cumberland’s Trevor Bauer, a standout junior swimmer on the Worcester Polytechnic Institute men’s team, broke five school records at the NCAA Division III Championships in Greensboro, N.C. He set new marks in the 50-, 100-, and 200-yard freestyles and helped the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relay teams establish records.
• The Providence Gridiron Club named Lincoln High senior Malik Rocha the Division III Lineman of the Year.
• Cumberland’s Peter Belisle was named the Division III Men’s Hockey Coach of the Year after leading UMass-Boston to its first NEHC (New England Hockey Conference) championship since 1982 and a berth in the Division III Frozen Four in Lake Placid, N.Y.
• Cumberland native Hilary Dionne was the fourth fastest American runner at the Boston Marathon, as she took 23rd place in a 2:50:56 time. Another Cumberland runner, Jason Reilly, also finished the race in under three hours, doing so in 2:50:46.
• Cumberland High baseball coach Andy Tuetken was named the RIIL Male Coach of the Year after leading the Clippers to the state finals in 2015.
• The Cumberland High track and field program continued its dual-meet mastery during the outdoor season. At 12-0, the boys were undefeated for the ninth straight spring, and the girls also produced a 12-0 record for their first perfect season since 2003.
• The Cumberland High softball team dominated the Division I-North ranks, winning the regular-season title with a 16-2 mark that was a whopping nine games better than second-place Tolman (7-11) in the standings.
• The Cumberland, Lincoln, and Smithfield High golf teams shared the North Division regular-season title with 12-2 records.
• The Lincoln Middle School baseball team and North Cumberland Middle School softball team captured their respective North Division regular-season titles with 12-0 records.
• Lincoln High’s Marissa Isabella earned Second-Team All-State honors in golf by placing seventh at the RIIL Championships on May 24 at Newport Country Club. Isabella, who earned First-Team All-State honors as a junior and has continued her career at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., battled back from a 49 on the front nine to shoot a 91.
• Cumberland High baseball/football star Josh Brodeur and three-sport standout Rachel Haviland were named the Clippers’ Athletes of the Year.
• Lincoln High baseball star Trevor Marques and six-time RIIL swimming champion Mollie Westrick were named the Lions’ Athletes of the Year.
• A year after losing in the Division II finals, the Cumberland High boys’ lacrosse team captured the D-II title by defeating Westerly, 12-10, for its first title since 2009. Jake Salisbury, who scored five goals, was named the MVP of the finals, and the Clippers, who dominated the third quarter to snap a 3-3 halftime tie, ended up with a 16-2 record that included a season-ending seven-game win streak.
• Cumberland High’s Ben Drezek had an amazing year that saw him set a 42-year-old state record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on May 14, taking third place at the Glenn B. Loucks Games in White Plains, N.Y., in a time of 9:38.99. At the New Balance Nationals, he broke a 23-year-old state record in the 2,000-meter steeplechase by finishing 20th in 6:23.54.
In October, Drezek received one of the state’s biggest honors when he was named the R.I. Wendy’s High School Heisman Award winner, and in November, he not only earned a return trip to the First-Team All-State squad by placing fourth at the state meet in a time of 16:05.23, but he also placed 21st at the New England meet in 16:02.52.
• Following an exceptional junior season on the Elon University baseball team, Lincoln’s Nick Zammarelli was drafted in the eighth round of the MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners. He played for the Everett Aqua Sox of the short-season Single-A Northwest League and earned year-end All-Star honors by batting .329 in 65 games. He was also second in the league in hits (84) and total bases (119) and third in batting and OPS (.858).
• Lincoln’s Ed Cummins, a senior thrower on the Rhode Island College men’s track and field team, became a national champion and captured All-American honors in the hammer at the NCAA Division III National Championships in Waverly, Iowa. Cummins, a 2012 graduate of Lincoln High, took first place with a throw of 62.19 meters (204 feet, 0.5 inches).
• Cumberland High’s Mike Coppolino put an exclamation point on his superb high school career by earning All-American honors with his sixth-place finish in the hammer at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. His throw was 207 feet, 1 inch. At the New England Hammer Championships that took place the previous week, he took second with a throw of 215-7.
• The Lincoln Little League Major Division (ages 9 and 10) all-star baseball team won its second New England title in the past three years by posting a 5-3 win in the finals over Taunton, Mass. That victory was the 14th of the postseason for Lincoln, which had also won the District IV and state championships, and the tournament title was the team’s 10th in a row during a three-year span.
• The Lincoln Little League Major Division (ages 11 and 12) all-star baseball team also repeated as District IV champions, but lost in the state finals to Warwick North, which went on to represent New England in the Little League World Series.
• The Cumberland Little League’s Major Division (ages 11 and 12) all-star softball team won its seventh straight District IV title and extended its win streak in district play to 21 games by posting a 16-8 victory over North Smithfield in the title game. Also winning the District IV championship for the fourth time in the last six years was the Cumberland Little League’s Major Division (ages 9 and 10) all-star softball team.
• The Cumberland American Major Division (ages 10 and 11) all-star baseball team captured the District IV and state championships.
• Cumberland’s Eric Laboissonniere, who graduated from Roger Williams University after a superb career with the Hawks’ men’s tennis team, was named the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) R.I. College Tennis Player of the Year and received the Andy Chase/Gordie Ernst Award.
• Cumberland’s Brooke Zeiger, who is a member of the University of Minnesota’s women’s swim team, placed 10th in the 400-meter individual medley and 12th in the 200-meter IM at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
• Former light heavyweight boxer Rich Gingras of Lincoln was inducted into the CES (Classic Entertainment & Sports, Inc.) Ring of Honor on July 15 at the Twin River Event Center.
• Cumberland’s Dante Baldelli, who graduated from Bishop Hendricken in June after a spectacular high school career, was also one of nine national recipients of the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings High School Gold Glove Awards. Baldelli was also selected in the 39th round of the MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies, but decided to continue his baseball career at Boston College.
• Despite having no seniors on their rosters, the Blackstone Valley Prep boys’ and girls’ soccer teams made their RIIL debuts in Division III. While the boys’ team went 3-11-1 and competed for one of the division’s final playoff berths, the girls were unable to win or tie any of their 11 games.
• Cumberland’s Andrew Kun repeated as Seekonk Speedway’s Pure Stock champion by racking up 860 points, 86 more than the next finisher in the standings and 74 more than he did in his 2015 championship season.
• The Cumberland High boys’ cross country team went 11-0 in the Northern Division for the sixth straight season, while the girls’ team went 11-0 for the third straight year.
• The Cumberland High girls’ volleyball team won the Division I-North title with a 13-5 mark.
• The Cumberland High girls’ tennis team’s bid for its first championship since 1992 came up short in its Division II title match against the Prout School, which repeated as champions by netting a 4-0 victory. The Clippers, who were making their first trip to the finals since 2008, wrapped up their season with a 15-3 record.
• The North Cumberland Middle School boys’ and girls’ cross country teams won five team titles at the state championship meet at Goddard Park by repeating as the boys’ and girls’ varsity and junior varsity champions and winning the boys’ futures title. The winners of the varsity races were NCMS’s Ethan Carpenter and Olivia Belt.
• Cumberland High’s Julianne Ross, an All-State striker on the girls’ soccer team, finished the season tied with the second-most goals in the state (31) and the most assists in R.I. (16). In the last three seasons, the senior standout totaled 71 goals. As for the Clippers, they posted a 12-1-3 record to share the Division I regular-season title with La Salle and Mount Hope.
• The Lincoln Middle School girls’ soccer team, which went 6-5-1 during the regular season, reached the state finals as the 17th seed in the 24-team field, defeating top-seeded Warwick, 2-1, during their string of upset victories, but falling to defending state champion Curtis Corner in the finals, 2-0.
• The Lincoln Lions’ U8 football team completed its second straight undefeated season by defeating the Fall Fiver Falcons, 18-0, in the BVYFC (Blackstone Valley Youth Football Conference) Super Bowl.
• Cumberland High had five student-athletes sign National Letters of Intent in the fall, the most by a public school in this state: Ben Drezek (men’s track and field, D-I UMass-Lowell), Ryan Mardo (men’s track and field, D-II Assumption College), Maddison Leite (softball, D-II St. Anselm’s College), Mikayla Bowerfind (women’s lacrosse, D-II University of New Haven), and Julia Dempsey (women’s track and field, D-II Merrimack College).
Also signing NLIs were Lincoln native and Tabor Academy student Martha Peppes (women’s hockey, D-I University of New Hampshire), Lincoln High’s Maggie Tarney (women’s track and field, D-I Lehigh University), and Cumberland native and Bishop Feehan High student Rebecca Rodriguez (women’s track and field, D-II Florida Southern).
• Manville resident and Mount Saint Charles Academy boys’ hockey coach Bill Belisle was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
• Blackstone Valley Prep also saw its girls’ basketball team make its RIIL debut. The Pride, which plays in Division III-North, dropped their non-league debut to Davies, 59-31, on Dec. 8, as well as their crossover game against Toll Gate on Dec. 19.
Cumberland, Lincoln area
The Upper Deck Post 86/14 American Legion baseball team not only repeated as regular-season and state champions this past summer, but it also captured the Northeast Regional Tournament in Bristol, Conn., and became the first Rhode Island team since 1980 to play in the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C. (Breeze file photo by Eric Benevides)
The scoreboard tells the story as the Cumberland High boys’ lacrosse team gets ready to storm the field and celebrate its 12-10 victory over Westerly in the Division II championship game at Brown University. (Breeze file photo by Eric Benevides)
The Lincoln Little League’s Major Division (ages 9 and 10) all-star baseball team enjoyed a sensational summer that saw the ballclub capture the District IV, state, and New England championships. (Breeze file photo by Eric Benevides)
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ERIC BENEVIDES, Valley Breeze Sports Editor
Championship teams, individual achievements made this year truly memorable
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