Rhode Island may be small, but it produces big-time players

Rhode Island might be the country’s smallest state, but it produces some big-time baseball players and teams. In the New England Region, it stands out as a giant.

This is the fifth time in eight seasons that Rhode Island has sent a team to the Little League World Series. This time it is Coventry carrying the state’s banner so well.

The message is clear. Survive Rhode Island district and state tournament fields and one has a strong chance at reaching Little League’s biggest stage. There is nothing small about that development.

“We’re a very small state, but the baseball is very good,” Coventry manager Lou Simon said. “I get asked that question a lot about why Rhode Island is so good at baseball and it’s because a lot of the kids are really into baseball in the state and that pushes the competition among the towns to really battle to get to that point.”

Just look at the path Coventry traveled to reach regionals. It first had to beat 2016 Series qualifier Warwick North twice in districts. After doing that, two-time Series qualifiers Lincoln and Cranston Western waited in states. Cranston Western captured the 1996 U.S. championship and reached the 2015 Series. Lincoln is a perennial Rhode Island power that played in the 2001 and 2004 Series.

Lincoln is a perennial state power and defeated Coventry in the 10-year old state final two years ago. The current Coventry players knew they would cross paths with Lincoln in the future and knew they would have to keep improving to flip the script.

Look at where Coventry is now. That explains why Rhode Island Little League baseball is so strong.

“When you have to battle through Rhode Island, it pushes you to get to the next level,” Simon said. “We knew beating Lincoln would be tough. We used that as motivation to get the kids to work harder and they were motivated every day.”

“You can see the talent at the state level. A lot of the the kids play together on travel teams and we see them throughout the year and you know it’s never going to be easy,” former Coventry Little League president Steve Desjarlais said. “You’ve seen it with (2011 and 2014 Series qualifier) Cumberland and Warwick and Cranston and Lincoln has always been good since I was playing Little League 30 years ago.”

That tough road makes regionals seem less daunting. Winning the New England championship remains an immense challenge, but the Rhode Island state champion enters battle-tested every year. It already has played regional-caliber teams and has valuable experience entering those games.

That was evident again this season. Coventry opened regionals with 10-0 mercy-rule wins against 2017 New England champion Fairfield, Connecticut and Vermont. Massachusetts, though, defeated it 10-1 in the winner’s bracket final. Past state experiences taught this team that nothing came easy so it did not flinch after the defeat. Even after falling behind 5-0 entering the bottom of the sixth inning the next day against New Hampshire, Coventry stayed strong and rallied for a stunning 6-5 win.

Two days later, Coventry exacted revenge against Massachusetts, winning 3-2. Logan Lama left the bases loaded in a 2-2 game, striking out two straight with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. Logan Lama hit the go-ahead home run an inning later and the defense made two spectacular plays in the sixth to clinch the win. It was a hard-fought win by a team that plays in a hard-knocks baseball state.

Once again a Rhode Island team reigned supreme.

“There’s a lot of great teams in Rhode Island and it’s never easy to get by them,” Coventry Little League president Donovan Frenze said. “You face some tough pitching and tough teams and you know you are going to face the same thing in Bristol but having all this talent in Rhode Island helps you gear up.”

Coventry is the fifth different Rhode Island team to represent the state at the Series in the 21st century. Former rivals are now huge supporters, wishing them well and congratulating Coventry for enhancing the state’s baseball-rich tradition.

Coventry has driven the message home once again. Size does not matter. Rhode Island might be a small state, but it continues making an enormous impact. And what this team has achieved will not soon be forgotten.

“(After the regional final) I was getting messages and phone calls from people I have not seen in years,” Desjarlais said. “It’s not just good time for Coventry Little League, but for all of Coventry and all of Rhode Island. There are a lot of people really enjoying this moment. It’s fantastic.”