Some coaches may be taken aback by five straight losses in the championship.
Spend the entire winter wondering how they can come so close, so often, but never reach the top of the mountain.
Prout High School baseball head coach Mike Labarbera, however, is not one of those people.
“In my opinion,” he says, “there is no hump.”
When folks like to point out Labarbera’s failure for not being able to bring home the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Division II title despite a trip to the finals at McCoy Stadium each of the past five seasons, he is quick to correct them.
“We’ve accomplished everything I could have imagined,” said the coach, citing the five trips to McCoy as a learning experience and a chance to better his ballclub.
While some ask what his team has to do to get over the championship hurdle, Labarbera answers by asking how many teams out there would like
Prout’s level of long-standing success and be able to say they have played until the final day of the season in each of the last five years, rather than have that one, fleeting moment?
It is that past experience the Crusaders will call upon as they open their 2013 schedule with a pair of road games this week at Westerly and Chariho, before finishing with their home opener Saturday against Tiverton.
Despite their recent success, however, Labarbera knows this is a new season and nothing is a given.
“[I am] cautiously optimistic,” he said prior to the season opener on Tuesday. “We’re solid, we have experience, but we have question marks we’re going to need to work on.”
Injuries have hit the Crusaders early as Ryan Walsh, one of Prout’s top pitchers and starting first baseman, and James Pardington, the team’s starting right fielder and number three hitter, will both be on the shelf to start the regular season.
While there seems to be little concern coming out of the Prout camp about the team’s offense, led by All-Division shortstop Jack Lambrecht, the Prout skipper has some concerns about his team’s defensive effort heading into the season.
“We’re going to hit throughout, but in practice, we’re not making the routine plays,” said Labarbera of his team’s preparation heading into the season.
It is with his team’s preparation in the field that Labarbera will call upon his players past experience, particular the senior trio of Walsh, Billy Thomas and Dan Irwin, to guide Prout both on and off the field.
Prout’s current senior class has been able to play alongside the strong, successful tradition of baseball the school has seen in the program’s decade of existence.
The players have had the opportunity to witness the highs and the lows, and learn from the players who brought the team to a near championship level.
And while former players have come and gone, it is time for this year’s crop of seniors to leave their mark on the Prout baseball legacy.
“It is their team now,” said Labarbera of his senior class. “Their leadership and performance is going to guide us.
“It is time to write their Prout history.”