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PROVIDENCE â€” Immediately after the Davies Tech team bus arrived at the Rhode Island College diamond at approximately 4:30 p.m., Sunday, skipper Scott Cooper strode up the aluminum stands to the press box for a coin flip with Central High's mentor, Michelle Rawcliffe.
That toss would decide the home team for this Rhode Island Division III Tournament championship series' â€śrubberâ€ť tilt.
When Rawcliffe chose â€śtailsâ€ť and won the flip, choosing to bat in the bottom half of each inning, Cooper silently said a prayer.
â€śI was so thankful because we wanted to be the 'away' team,â€ť he said. â€śI thought if we could put up a few runs right away, it'd take a little wind out of their sails.â€ť
The gamey Patriots more than fulfilled their coach's hopes. They posted four runs in the first, two more in the second and an astonishing eight in the third to roll to a ridiculously-satisfying 18-10 rout of the defending champion Knights.
With the triumph, Davies Tech â€“ which finished their season at 18-2, arguably one of the finest marks ever posted by any athletic squad at the Lincoln school â€“ earned its initial fast-pitch state title. (The Patriots had captured a slow-pitch crown in 2003, just after the girls' hoop team snagged a D-II championship of its own).
Cooper rewarded his girls for their 15-hit, two-error effort with a vow he had issued way back on Wednesday, March 21, the third day of practice.
â€śI remember telling them, 'Listen up, we (himself and assistant Joe Handy) are going to make the commitment to be a true team, and try to get to the state championship (set),'â€ť he noted. â€śI told 'em, 'If we do, if you guys work hard and get there, then you guys can cut my hair on the pitcher's mound.'â€ť
He meant â€ścircle,â€ť but does it really matter? He also was referring to his pony tail, one extending perhaps 15 inches under his hat and down his back.
After the post-game celebration â€“ call it lengthy â€“ Cooper kept his promise. With her teammates surrounding her, senior center fielder Wilmarie Cruz took the scissors and clipped off virtually the entire â€śtail.â€ť Once it fell into her hands, the girls danced around him, laughing.
â€śI believed him when he told us we could cut it,â€ť Cruz chuckled. â€śEver since I was a freshman, he said that if we won the state title, we could cut it, so I never had a doubt.â€ť
When asked how it felt, she just smiled, â€śIt's amazing. He stood by his word. It was, fun, too!â€ť
Stated Cooper: â€śFor three hours a day, six days a week, these girls practiced hard. If it was sunny, we'd be outside. If it rained, we'd either be outside (getting drenched) or inside in a smelly gym. They did whatever it took. They're a true team.
â€śI started as an assistant coach four years ago, and when (former athletic director) Billy Murphy hired me, I promised him we'd win a state title in five years, and we did it! The rest is history.â€ť
Cooper sighed again, saying, â€śI've got to tell you, I'm emotionally spent.â€ť
The key to the victory, without question, was the offense. It was Cruz herself who went 3-for-5 with a triple, â€śdinger,â€ť three RBI and four runs scored, and freshman Victoria Lopes finished 2-for-5 with four RBI and a run while her classmate, victorious twirler Madison Goodhart, closed at 3-for-5 with two RBI and four runs.
Junior Kaitlin Flynn went 2-for-4 with an RBI and three runs; freshman backstop Maddie Cooper 2-for-5 with a triple, a pair of RBI and two runs; junior Ashley Cuccorelli 1-for-5 with three RBI and a run; and senior Caterina Martinez 1-for-3 with an RBI and run.
Actually, it was Goodhart who drilled Central junior pitcher Diana Torres' first pitch down the left-field line for a single, then robbed second. Flynn then reached on an infield bunt, and an ensuing throwing error plated Goodhart. Cooper then took second on a fielding error, scoring Flynn, and cleanup hitter Cruz whistled a grounder past short.
The ball hit the lip of the outfield grass and rolled to the fence, giving Cruz her first-ever inside-the-park homer, and the Pats a 4-0 lead.
Central responded with three in the bottom of the first, courtesy of Yamilex Salcedo's two-run single and Hennessy Garcia's sacrifice fly, but Davies made it 6-3 with a pair in the second. Lopes' two-run hit to left did that damage.
The Patriots then sent 11 to the plate in the third, scoring eight, to cushion its lead to 14-3. Highlights included Goodhart's two-run bloop single; RBI hits by Martinez, Cruz and Lopes; and three Central errors.
â€śIt was like a football game, the way the score was,â€ť stated the Knights' Rawcliffe. â€śThe last couple of games, I don't know if it was nerves or what. Davies was definitely the better team today; it had less errors and more hits. I will say we had more errors in the last three games than we had all season. If we did that every game, then we wouldn't be here.â€ť
Central notched one in the third, Kaitlin Ramirez walking and eventually scoring on a wild pitch; then rallied for four more in the fourth, thanks to a Torres double, a Garcia groundout and RBI hits by Ramirez and Khazia Delossantos.
That sliced the deficit to 14-8, but Cruz drilled a triple to the right-center gap in the fifth, later scoring on Lopes' groundout. Davies also delivered three more in the seventh on Cooper's RBI triple and Cuccorelli's two-run single to center to break the game open.
With the Pats ahead 18-9 in the crucial bottom half, the Knights mustered only one, Garcia scoring on Torres' softly-lined single to left.
In the end, Andrea Carmona, Ramirez, Garcia and eventual losing pitcher Torres each closed with two hits, while Salcedo led the team in RBIs with two.
All that was left for the Patriots? Accepting their gold medals for besting all other D-III squads statewide.
When Cooper was handed the state title plaque, he turned to the crowd behind home plate and screamed, â€śYes!
â€śIf I'm correct, and I think I am, the No. 1 seed has always won the Division III state championship in two straight games,â€ť Cooper indicated. â€śUnfortunately, at Davies, we do things the hard way. We dropped the first game, but then came back to win the next two.
â€śYou know, I'm not surprised we came out swinging,â€ť he added. â€śMy kids are capable of hitting it hard and often, but â€“ if they're not â€“ then I have to go 'small ball.' Here, they actually hit it, and hard.â€ť