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CUMBERLAND â Paul Murphy didnât know it at the time, but when Cumberland High had to fill a non-league date after a postponement last week and Barrington came calling, it would be a preview to a R.I. Division I/Region 4 Tournament opener.
The Clippers had snatched that âglorified scrimmage,â as the skipper Murphy phrased it, by an 8-6 count, but neither squad offered its best at the opponent.
Maybe thatâs a reason why this one â held on a cold, windy Wednesday at Tucker Field â became such a chess-like pitchersâ duel: The Eaglesâ senior ace Dan OâBrien, who apparently has been offered a full scholarship to the University of Rhode Island, facing junior righty Ryan OâNeill.
Both pitched their hearts out, as their statistics will verify, but it was OâNeill who claimed the victory.
Obviously tiring, OâBrien yielded a one-out walk to sophomore Josh Brodeur in the back half of the eighth inning, hustled to second on a curveball gone awry and raced home on junior Tyler Calabroâs pounded line drive to deep left-center.
That gave Cumberland a most-unanticipated yet thrilling, come-from-behind 4-3 triumph over Barrington.
For the Clippers, seeded second in Region 4/North, OâNeill surrendered just four hits, a hit batsman and a walk while whiffing four in a superb complete-game performance to gain the victory that pushed his club to 15-5 overall.
After yielding three runs on four hits in the top of the fourth, and striking a foe, OâNeill retired 12 of Barringtonâs next 13.
Courtesy of the triumph, CHS now will host East Greenwich, a 5-4 victor over Woonsocket, at 4 p.m., Friday back here at Tucker in a winnersâ bracket semifinal. The Eagles will travel to the Villa Novansâ Renaud Field home for a losersâ bracket semi at the same time.
âI thought Ryan pitched really well, and our defense played great; we didnât screw up anything out there,â Murphy stated. âWe just executed. I thought (our shortstop Calabro) played very well, gobbling up everything in front of him. It was just a tight baseball game, and there was good pitching all the way through.
âWe had a non-leaguer with them last week, and we learned a little bit about them, like âThat kid is fastâ or âThis kid can hit,â but they knew the same thing about us.â
OâNeill had retired his first nine foes in virtual order â he had walked senior Jim Murphy with one down in the second but was caught stealing â before running into trouble in the fourth.
Senior Matt Ferdenzi led the frame with a hit to center, and classmate Brett Fayâs perfectly-executed bunt pushed him up, and went for a single. No. 3 batter Nate Bannon flew to center, though senior third baseman Joe Fine inhaled OâBrienâs grounder and stepped on third for the second out.
Jim Murphy then mustered a âswinging-buntâ hit, one that refused to go foul halfway down the third-base line, to juice the bases, and junior Brandon Dorsi ripped a bases-clearing double just over right fielder Nate Mercureâs head.
That gave the Eagles what seemed to be an insurmountable 3-0 cushion.
For OâBrien, he had allowed only one baserunner â junior backstop Kyle Opiekun â to reach in the initial four innings, though he was thrown out after the pitcher enforced a pickle.
And, through 4 1/3 frames, he hadnât yielded a hit while fanning five.
But senior designated hitter John Sikie reached on the shortstop Bannonâs bobble, and OâBrien walked junior Jake Rockefeller before whiffing Kyle McKenna for the second out.
Diminutive junior Nick Provost followed that by crushing a most opportune 1-1 fastball far over left fielder Jake Royâs head, and his double plated both to chisel the deficit to 3-2.
The Clippers managed to knot it in the sixth after Calabro walloped a one-out, stand-up two-bagger to the right-center hole, then sprinted in on Opiekunâs looping, line-drive single to right.
Both hurlers retired the side in order in the seventh, though No. 9 hitter Quinn Morvillo led the eighth with a walk. Head coach Ralph Caruso replaced him with pinch-runner Jon Freidman, and OâNeill needed just one throw to first baseman McKenna to catch him napping. Ferdenzi then flew to right and Fay bounced to OâNeill to end it.
CHS skipper Paul Murphy chose to pinch-hit junior Jax Domonte for No. 9 batter Mercure to lead the eighth, but he grounded out to third. OâBrien then walked Broduer, who took second on a wild pitch before scoring on Calabroâs more-than-timely hit left-center.
âWhen we were down 3-0 and didnât have a hit, and youâve got a guy on the mound who was pitching so well, your confidence level isnât going to be real high,â the elder Murphy explained of an eerily silent dugout before the fifth. âOâNeill came back in the next (fifth) inning and put up zeroes, and that was very important.
âHe gave up four hits all in the same inning, but he had some bad luck,â he added. â(Ferdenzi) hit that line drive to center, and (Fay) reached on a spectacular sacrifice bunt that didnât turn out to be one. We had one down, and (Jim Murphy) had a swinging bunt down the third-base line that wouldnât go foul.
âThen the kid (Dorsi) had the big, three-run double; our right fielder got buried on that. Still, we kept battling, and you have to credit the kids for hanging in there.â
Noted Caruso, whose squad fell to 7-12 overall: âDanny OâBrien is a senior whoâs on his way to URI â I think theyâre going to red-shirt him â but heâs a battler. Heâs had a few tough-luck losses. He lost to Pilgrim, 1-0, because we didnât have any offense, and then he lost to East Greenwich, 4-2. We gave up three unearned runs in the second inning and couldnât fight back.
âThe third is this one,â he continued. âHe pitched fantastic, and deserved a better fate. His record is only 4-3 âŠ but heâs a great competitor. He was very economical through just short of the full five innings; he was at about 47 pitches. We knew before coming in Cumberland was a very good hitting team.
âThe thing is, we didnât score after that one inning, and thatâs been in our DNA for most of the season. We score early, then have problems later.â