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Northmen post upset of MSC in Division II baseball playoffs

June 1, 2014

WOONSOCKET – Just before the start of the back half of the sixth inning, North Smithfield High head coach Jon Leddy approached his bench and indicated Prout School had just eliminated Scituate, 7-5, in a R.I. Division II/Region II Tournament loser’s bracket semifinal.

At least 30 miles north, Leddy’s Northmen had been embroiled in a 1-1 deadlock with favored Mount St. Charles in a winners’ bracket final on the latter’s home diamond on Saturday afternoon.

When a bystander asked the skipper, “So the loser of this one would play …,” Leddy interrupted, replying tongue-in-cheek, “That’s right, Mount will play Prout. Enough said.”

Superstition aside, he turned out to be right. North Smithfield plated a run in the top half of the eighth inning to edge the Mounties, 2-1, in a spirited, entertaining thriller before a minimum of 100 fans.

The winning run came after junior Nick Cicerone had drawn a leadoff walk off of MSC junior hurler Kevin Valentine. Shatraw then knocked a grounder to senior shortstop Riley Young, who stepped on second to get Cicerone but airmailed his toss to first.

That gave Shatraw the automatic trot to second base.

Valentine then intentionally-walked senior Dylan Narodowy, and classmate Conor DiSpirito followed with a bounder up the middle. Both the Mounties’ Young and second baseman Josh Robert dove for it, but it squirted beyond their reach as Shatraw raced home with the clincher.

It proved to be a most important infield single in what became a classic pitcher’s duel between Valentine and junior righty Ian Pascoe. The latter collected the triumph after yielding three hits and two walks with four whiffs in a complete-game outing.

Valentine, on the other hand, surrendered just six hits, two runs (one earned) and three walks (one intentional) while fanning six.

Call it sweet revenge for North Smithfield.

Leddy’s bunch had captured its first eight straight before playing the Mount in successive days on May 7-8. The Northmen dropped the first, 4-0, then looked pathetic in a 9-2 loss on their home turf. The defeats crushed their confidence; that couldn’t have been evident with their resulting six-game losing streak.

“Our kids are always fired up, but – no – they weren’t in those games,” Leddy stated after the victory, one that lifted NS to 12-6 overall. “They knew they were playing an outstanding team in Mount, and I think they let that get in their heads. I mean, we made eight errors in that second loss.

“But Ian pitched unbelievably well,” he continued. “That’s how he had been throwing before he pulled a hamstring in a (4-1 win over) Tolman on April 21. He missed a couple of starts, but worked his way back.

“He pitched to contact (Saturday), and came back when he was down in the count. He didn’t let anything get to him. I’m proud of the way he conducted himself out there.”

With the verdict, the Northmen now have a few days off before awaiting the victor of the Prout-Mount losers’ bracket final at MSC at 4 p.m., Monday. Either way, they will have to travel, with that game on Wednesday at the same time.

It seemed as if the hosts would continue its successful roll over their rivals when it took an immediate 1-0 cushion in the first. Young drew a one-out walk, moved to second on Valentine’s grounder to first and scored on senior Nolan Hayward’s hit up the middle.

When Hayward tried to hustle to second, however, NS senior backstop Mike Cicerone accepted center fielder Shatraw’s delivery from center, then fired to Narodowy at second for the tag that ended the frame.

In the third, the Mount manufactured another opportunity. Sophomore No. 9 batter Colin Cannata reached on an infield miscue, though was thrown out at second on Eric Abruzzi’s fielder’s choice. The latter robbed second, then took third on a wild pitch with still only one out.

Young, however, lined to short and Valentine grounded to second to squelch the possible surge.

NS finally tied it in the top of the fourth; Narodowy roped a ground hit to center, moved to second on a passed ball and third on DiSpirito’s groundout before senior Chris Forbes plated him with a pounded single to left-center.

Pascoe followed with a bloop hit to shallow right, but Valentine caught Mike Cicerone looking at a called third strike, then retired sophomore Eric Ethier on a fly to right.

“Forbes again came up big, but he’s been doing that all season,” Leddy explained. “He had a couple of tough at-bats before that, but redeemed himself.”

So did the defense after that shoddy display back on May 8. In the bottom of the fourth, Hayward drove a major-league popup to the middle infield, and Narodowy hustled in from short and made a sliding snag to the right of the hill; junior Tate Laquerre grounded one past Pascoe, but second baseman Nick Cicerone scooted in and made the awkward throw to first; and junior Mike Dixon drove a grounder to third, though first baseman Forbes made a tremendous scoop of Ethier’s toss to close the frame.

During the top of the seventh, the Northmen assembled another chance to take the lead. Valentine issued a free bag to Pascoe to begin it, and the latter took second on Mike Cicerone’s sacrifice bunt and third on Ethier’s groundout to third. Ethier drilled a line drive to first, but Lataille made an phenomenal catch for the third out.

In the interim, Pascoe had retired 14 of 15 batters between the third and the end of the seventh, the lone hiccup Cannata’s hard hit to left with two down in the fifth.

He nevertheless walked junior Justin D’Abrosca in the eighth, and Cannata sacrificed him to second. Pinch-hitter John Montani immediately grounded to Narodowy, who surprised dozens when he attempted to cut down D’Abrosca at third with a short toss.

But Ethier made the tag, leaving the Mount with pinch-runner Alex Hale on first.

When Young flew out to left and Boucher made the snare, the Northmen celebrated the upset.

Some would state it wasn’t, given North’s start, but MSC had captured nine straight before this one. It fell to 18-3 overall.

“I thought both pitchers had great games,” Mount skipper Tom Seaver noted later. “It was a good ol-fashioned pitchers’ duel between two standouts. Honestly, it was a fantastic high school baseball playoff game, with many exciting plays by both teams.

“Someone’s got to win, and someone’s got to lose,” he added. “That’s just baseball. Now we have to look ahead to our next game, and that will be Prout here. You have to give credit to North Smithfield; they did a great job.”

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