WOONSOCKET â€“Facing unbeaten Johnston High on Friday, Woonsocket coach John Marsella couldnâ€™t have asked for a better effort from his squad on a windy afternoon at Barry Field.
The Villa Novans had timely hitting, a strong outing from lefthander Brandon Perrico and some top-notch defensive plays.
They even had a controversial, game-ending double play go their way.
All those positives added up to a big win for Woonsocket as it handed its Division II-North rival its first loss of the season with a 5-4 victory.
The play in question occurred with one out in the top of the seventh inning and the Panthers mounting a serious comeback from an early 5-0 deficit. Johnston scored twice in the frame on an RBI double from Steve Perfetto and a run-scoring base hit from Chris Pistacchio.
With Pistacchio on first, teammate and starting pitcher Gian Bianchi slashed a hard grounder that Woonsocket second baseman Cody Lâ€™Heureux scooped up and tagged second for the force out. In the process of throwing to first, he was thwarted in his attempt by the base running of Bianchi.
The umpire ruled the play as interference and awarded the Villa Novans the double play despite a late throw to first.
â€śItâ€™s the rule,â€ť said Marsella, whose Villa Novans improved their second-place record to 10-2 in the league, a half-game behind Johnston, which fell to 10-2. â€śBut I hate to see a game end like that. They had a lot of fight in that inning.â€ť
While he wasnâ€™t satisfied with the call, Johnston head coach Steve DeMeo felt it wasnâ€™t necessarily the difference-maker.
â€śWe got ourselves in a hole and no umpire is going to get us in that hole,â€ť he said. â€śMost of it was self-inflicted.â€ť
Woonsocket finished the game with two double plays and multiple more defensive gems in the contest. The Villa Novans also got just the type of performance it needed out of Perrico. The senior hurler gave up a few long drives to the Panthersâ€™ powerful bats, but he was still effective in limiting the damage, striking out five and yielding eight hits.
Perrico helped to his cause with two extra base hits and three RBI as well as two pickoffs at second base.
â€śBrandon had been working on his pickoff,â€ť Marsella said. â€śIt took four years, but heâ€™s finally getting it right.â€ť
â€śYou got to give their pitcher credit. He had us off balance the whole game,â€ť DeMeo added. â€śYou canâ€™t take anything away from Woonsocket. They made all the plays they had to. I knew it would be a dogfight.â€ť
Woonsocket, which dropped its season-opener to the Panthers by a scant 2-1 score back on April 6, jumped out to a 5-0 lead by the third inning of yesterdayâ€™s game. After a scoreless first frame, Josh Houle got the Villa Novansâ€™ offense started with an infield single, beating out a close play at first. He advanced to second on a passed ball and, with one out after a deep pop-out to left field by Lâ€™Heureux, was plated on an RBI triple to right field from Perrico. Freshman Will Andino gave the Villa Novans a 2-0 advantage by driving home Perrico with single.
Seven players would make it to the batterâ€™s box in the third. Luke Chala led off the inning with a single and Andreas Brackett managed to get on base off an error by catcher Ryan Geraghty. With one out, Houleâ€™s bloop hit to short center turned into an RBI single. Two batters later, Perrico gave the Villa Novans their 5-0 lead with a two-run double.
â€śYou always want to set the tone. You never want to stay close and fall behind,â€ť Marsella said. â€śYou got to play loose, and they did. They are a loose bunch.â€ť
Johnston, which has won seven of its games by 10 or more runs, showed their lethal, no-quit offense in the next few innings. The Panthers scored twice in the top of the fourth on a mammoth two-run homer from cleanup hitter Greg Doutre that went over Chalaâ€™s head in deep centerfield.
Johnston had a chance to add to its total when Nick Laffredo followed with a single on a hit that went under the glove of Houle at third base. But after Laffredo was out on a fielderâ€™s choice hit from Mike Pennachia, Perrico got himself out of the jam by picking off Loffredo at second on a steal attempt and then forcing Simas to groundout to third on a perfectly-executed play from Houle to Brackett at first.
â€śI think that really took the air out of their comeback,â€ť Marsella said. â€śIt could have chipped away at the deficit. That was a big inning.â€ť
Woonsocket had two close plays on a pair of groundouts go their way in the sixth inning and then was able to halt the Panthersâ€™ last-ditch and gallant effort in the seventh with another too-close-for-comfort call.
Woonsocket has now won three straight league games. On Monday, the Villa Novans will play host to Ponaganset (6-6 in II-North).
Johnston 000 200 2 â€“ 4-8-2
Woonsocket 023 000 x â€“ 5-6-1
Gian Bianchi and Ryan Geraghty. Brandon Perrico and Jose Rivera. 2B â€“ J, Steve Perfetto, Mike Pennachia. W, Perrico. 3B â€“ J, Nick Loffredo. W, Perrico. HR -