Last year, the Rowley Rams saw their Intertown Twilight League (ITL) baseball season end with lots of summer left. It was the first time the team had missed the playoffs since 2009.
But this year, the Rams, who were 14-6-1 entering Thursday’s make-up game, are firing on all cylinders and preparing for Monday’s start to the postseason.
“It’s good to be back,” said Rams coach Jeff Wood. “It feels like we’re kind of back where we should be.”
After their Wednesday night matchup against Ipswich was rained out, the Rams’ exact playoff seed is still up in the air. They will either head into Monday’s matchup with the Hamilton Generals in either second or third place.
Early in the season, it didn’t look like Rowley would be headed to the playoffs, but a six-game win streak at the close of June turned things around.
“We struggled a little bit out the gate this year,” said Wood. “I thought that it was going to take a little something going for us to feel good about ourselves again and just things to start to click, and they did. The guys took that momentum and the energy and we were able to take off again. It’s a tribute to the guys. They know what they can do.”
The roster, which is made up of players from Rowley, Newbury, Salisbury, Groveland and Georgetown, is similar to last summer’s lineup, but some key returns and newcomers boosted the Rams back towards the top of the ITL.
“You know, last year was a tough year for a lot of guys and it didn’t really go our way,” said Wood. “But we got a couple of key guys back this year, and some good new young guys, and turned things around. The team’s not very different. We’re pretty much the same as we were last year.”
One key addition that helped the Rams return to form has been infielder Anthony Conte.
“Anthony Conte is a guy that didn’t play last year, but he had been playing for you know eight or nine years prior to that,” said Wood. “He missed last year, but he came back this year. He definitely makes us better having him around, with his baseball knowledge and all that. He’s just a good solid guy to have on the field. He’s a leader.”
Another key cog in Rowley’s run has been Tim Cashman, who has been able to contribute wherever the team needs him.
“He can play all over the field – infield, outfield, pitching,” Wood said. “He does a little bit everything for us and he’s just been very solid all the way around all year.”
Having players who can chip in around the field is key to playing in the ITL. With games through summer’s prime vacation time and rosters filled with players who have demanding day jobs and growing families, roster continuity can ebb and flow. That can prove a challenge to any team.
“You have guys who go on vacation, guys with work schedules, guys with just all kinds of things that come up that keep them from getting to a game,” said Wood. “The challenge is to have enough guys around so that you can survive those things. Fortunately, we’ve had the depth all year, and these guys have continued to play. They’re ready to go right now. That’s the idea, so you don’t get to the playoffs and have guys who have no at-bats all year. We try to spread things out throughout the year to make sure everybody gets a shot. That way everybody can be ready to go when this time of the year comes around.”
A roster chock full of experience will be beneficial Monday against the Generals, who haven’t won the league championship since 1991.
“We lost three out of four to them this year,” explained Wood. “They are having a renaissance in the ITL. They have a lot of young players. Their high school programs have been very good over the last couple of seasons and a lot of those guys have worked their way up into the ITL. They’re deep, they’re young, and they’re athletic.”
Hamilton might have depth, but so does Rowley. The Rams’ good mix of experience and new energy will serve them well in their first-round matchup. Wood’s team hopes to continue to show that last year was a fluke.
“We bounced back this year and I thought we would,” said Wood.