Joe DeMelo didn’t care what the doctors were telling him. He had a baseball game to coach.
At 10 a.m. on Friday, June 17, the Seekonk baseball coach got out of work at MW Components, a plastic molding company in East Providence, and drove home to mow his lawn. As he pulled a weed wacker out of his shed, he noticed a stomach ache coming on. Soon the pain was nearly unbearable and he was drenched in sweat.
“I felt like it was raining on me,” he said.
He went in the house, cranked the AC and called his wife, Marcie, who was at the salon. She told him to call 9-1-1. While he was on the phone, his son-in-law came home and said it looked like a heart attack, so DeMelo relented and called 911. An ambulance whisked him to Rhode Island Hospital where he was diagnosed with appendicitis.
When DeMelo heard doctors wondering aloud if they would have an operating room available for him that day, he asked for the paperwork to sign himself out.
“I have a very important game to coach,” he told the doctor. “I’m not going to miss it for the world.”
“There’s always another game,” the doctor told him.
“It’s been 56 years and there hasn’t been another one like this,” said DeMelo, who didn’t grow up around baseball in the Azores and played soccer at East Providence after emigrating to the US as a teenager. But he grew to love the sport while coaching his son in youth baseball and he spent nine years as a middle school and JV coach before taking over the Seekonk program 11 years ago.
As he lay on the hospital bed, DeMelo couldn’t avoid thinking about 8 a.m. the next morning, when he was supposed to be on a bus rumbling toward LaLacheur Park in Lowell, where the seventh-seeded Warriors were taking on No. 5 Manchester Essex in their first-ever state championship game.
“There was a lot of speculation. We didn’t really know if the next morning he would show up,” said senior Seekonk catcher Cam Culpan, who discovered his coach was in the hospital during Friday’s practice. “We had to brace ourselves for not having him there.”
But an operating room fortuitously opened up and DeMelo went under the knife at 5:30 p.m. He emerged from surgery around 7 and was released from the hospital at 9 p.m. Eleven hours later he stepped onto the team bus.
“I didn’t even know he was going to be on the bus until I saw him,” said junior ace Jaden Arruda. “It really shows how much he cares for this team and how much energy and effort he puts into us. He wanted to make sure he was there for us.”
For the Warriors, DeMelo’s troublesome appendix was just another hurdle in a season replete with them. They opened the season with four straight losses. On April 22, sporting a 1-5 record, they were facing an undefeated Case team when senior Matt Boutin, the team’s best hitter and centerfielder, hit a foul ball and collapsed in the batter’s box.
“All I could hear was screaming,” DeMelo said. “I looked back and he was laying on the ground.”
Boutin had dislocated his kneecap and would miss the rest of the season. The Warriors went on to beat Case, 10-0, but as they gathered in right field, DeMelo wasn’t sure what to say.
“In my head, I’m like ‘Oh gosh, we’re really screwed now,’” he said on Sunday. “But they took it as a challenge, which shows the leadership we had on this team. That kind of turned the season around.”
It also forced DeMelo to adjust his lineup. He moved freshman Kevin Crowe from second base to center field, inserted freshman Jack Lasalle into the lineup and began using freshman leadoff hitter Connor Flynn at shortstop when ace Jaden Arruda was pitching. Suddenly, the Warriors were starting five freshmen, including designated hitter David Souto and first baseman/No. 3 starter Tyler Kropis.
Seekonk won three of its next four, finishing the season 9-11 and in a three-way tie for the South Coast Conference’s Gold Division crown.
“We had to figure our inexperience out,” Culpan said. “I think we just got tired of losing. We knew we had the talent to win, we just couldn’t put it together.”
While Arruda anchored the rotation all season, finishing 7-4 with a 1.98 ERA, the Warriors were buoyed when sophomore Declan Lush, who went 7-1 as a freshman, began rounding into form midseason after breaking a bone in his hand during basketball season.
“Our pitchers hit their stride,” Culpan said. “Jaden and Declan found their control and they knew how to pitch and they took over.”
Seekonk opened the postseason with wins over Lunenburg and Southwick before knocking off No. 2 Uxbridge, 5-1, to reach the state semifinals for the first time in school history. Culpan and a handful of teammates celebrated the win at Chili’s, where complete strangers started approaching them with congratulations.
“We had never had that type of attention from the community,” Culpan said. “It was definitely surreal.”
After edging Bay Path, 2-1, in the semis, the Warriors went five scoreless innings against Manchester Essex in the Division 4 title game before falling, 2-0.
“I was kind of disappointed, but I was super proud we were able to get to that point,” said Culpan. “It was really fun and really exciting. I was happy with the ride.”
After the game, DeMelo was feeling the effects on his post-surgical body. But, despite the – literally – painful loss, he has no regrets.
“Physically, I was beat,” he said. “I was drained. But there was no way I was missing that game.”
On July 1, schools flipped their calendars to a new school year, which for several programs marked the transition from one athletic director to another.
At Franklin High, former Tantasqua AD Karrah Ellis takes over for Tom Angelo, who stepped down from leading one of the most successful high school programs in the state — winner of the Dalton Award three years in a row — after six years. A former three-sport athlete at Wachusett, Ellis played basketball at Norwich University and has also served as athletic director at Grafton and Algonquin.
In Stoughton, Chris Carbone, who spent four years as athletic director at Uxbridge, takes over for Ryan Donahue, who stepped down after 13 seasons.
Over at Oliver Ames, Ryan Gordy is taking over from Bill Matthews, who is retiring after nine years at the school. Gordy spent the past school year as OA’s assistant athletic director.
At Lynnfield, Mia Muzio takes over as AD after spending the last two years as Wilmington’s athletic director. She replaces Mike Bierwith.
In Hopkinton, Rich Cormier is stepping aside as athletic director after three seasons to work for a solar company and enjoy more time with his family. The job opening is still posted and Kiely Murray, who has spent 13 years as a school counselor and coach, will serve as interim AD . . . Former New Bedford High wrestling coach Steve Sentes took the reins of Barnstable’s athletic program from Scot Thomas, who retired after nine years at the school.
▪ Longtime Reading softball coach Jill McElroy retired after making the MIAA tournament in 24 of her 25 seasons at the helm. A member of the Reading Hall of Fame, she won 391 games with a .710 career winning percentage, capturing the 2001 Division 1 state championship, as well as sectional titles in 2007 (D1 North) and 2015 (D2 North).
▪ Phillips Andover rising senior Thomas White, a Vanderbilt commit from Rowley who is expected to be a top pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, struck out the side in his first outing in the Prospect Development Pipeline League at the USA Baseball National Training complex in Cary, N.C. The PDP league is made up of the top 96 high school prospects in the nation.
▪ Recent Westford Academy graduate Morgan Smith won both the New England Women’s Amateur and Junior championships at the Country Club of Vermont on June 22 with a 7-under 209. She was the first junior to win the event in 19 years. After co-medaling at the US Girls Junior Amateur Qualifier with a 2-under 70 on June 28, she will compete in the US Girls Junior Amateur Championship at The Club at Old Stone in Bowling Green, Ky., from July 18-23.
▪ Brookline has hired former Franklin head coach Anthony Sarno as its boys hockey coach. Sarno played at Medford and Suffolk University and was an assistant under Pat Kennedy at Weymouth. ... North Andover announced Bill Varney, an assistant since 2016, as its new boys cross country coach.
▪ BC High and Middlesex Magic star Mike Loughnane verbally committed to play basketball at Davidson College on July 1. ... Foxborough junior kicker Sam Carpenter has committed to play football at Indiana.
▪ The 2022 BostonLax All-American Game will be played on July 13 (6:30 p.m.) at Babson College’s MacDowell Field. This year’s game features a new ISL vs MIAA format. All proceeds from the game ($10 admission) go to the Bruce Lerch Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Brendan Kurie can be reached at email@example.com.