WOOD RIVER JCT. — Sometimes you just know. Even with the most difficult of choices, the correct decision can often become very clear.
That's how it was for longtime Chariho High softball coach Dave Petrocelli. After 16 years of service to the program, Petrocelli has decided this was his final season, a season for which he was named Division I coach of the year by his peers.
"Honestly, I've been thinking about it for a little bit, and I felt like it was getting close to the time," Petrocelli said. "What put me over the top was that if I do leave now, whoever gets this job, and it's a wonderful job to get, would come in with a good team.
"It made me feel good to leave the program where it was as strong as it always has been. It's the right way to do it."
The 64-year-old Petrocelli, who lives in Wyoming, informed the team of his decision on June 6.
"It was extremely hard addressing the team," Petrocelli said. "You do develop relationships when you do something this long. I have a zillion people to thank. And this has just been an awesome experience to see the kids grow."
Chariho has played in Division I all 16 years of Petrocelli's tenure. And the league is a tough one, with perennial public school powers North Kingtown, Coventry and, at times, Lincoln and Cumberland.
Then there are the private schools like La Salle Academy and Moses Brown. St. Raphael was a power during Petrocelli's first few years as coach.
Chariho has held its own. Petrocelli has a career record of 183-163, qualifying for the playoffs 12 straight times. The Chargers have made the final four of the tournament three of the last four years.
During his first season, Chariho lost in the championship round to St. Raphael.
"I'm very proud that we've played in a very tough division every year," Petrocelli said.
And Petrocelli said it's even tougher for public schools that are limited in their reach for players. La Salle won the title this year and Moses Brown in 2018.
"You have to take your hats off to us, Coventry and Pilgrim that we've been competitive the last couple of years," Petrocelli said. "Two of the last four Gatorade [players of the year] in Rhode Island were Massachusetts girls."
Petrocelli said he has benefited from the support of superintendent Barry Ricci, principal Craig MacKenzie and athletic director Mike Shiels. He also thanked former principal Bob Mitchell and former AD Todd Grimes for giving him the opportunity when they hired him.
Petrocelli, who works for Total Welding Supply in East Freetown, Mass., said it would be hard to isolate any particular player or moment during his tenure.
"We've had so many great players. You remember the most recent things the best. This year we lost to La Salle, 4-3, in the opener and then we won 14 straight," Petrocelli said.
He also remembers his very first game, a 1-0 loss to Westerly, in the 2004 season opener. Audrey Poulton pitched for Chariho and Samantha Shawn for Westerly, both Hall of Famers at their schools.
"We had to play on the middle school field, and they beat us 1-0 and it was freezing. Luppe (Westerly coach Chris Luppe) comes up to me after the game, 'You know what, coach? You should have warmed up your pitcher a little longer.' I know he was just busting my chops, but I do remember that," Petrocelli said.
Later that season, the two teams played in the state tournament with the Chargers prevailing, 1-0, in 21 innings. It took two days to finish the game. Shawn pitched all 21 innings, striking out 29. Poulton also pitched all 21 innings and struck out 21.
"Fortunately, we ended up winning the game, but it led to a rule change where a runner would be put at second base if the game went to extra innings," Petrocelli said.
What advice would he give to his successor?
"You better be very, very dedicated because these kids deserve it," Petrocelli said. "This program has always been a special program and you need to continue to treat it like that."