CRANSTON — The never-say-die attitude was there. So too were the late-game heroics that some have come to associate Lincoln High baseball with.
On a sun-splashed Tuesday afternoon, the end result went astray from the now one-beaten Lions. A valiant comeback bid was nullified thanks to Cranston West’s Alex Moretti’s two-out double with one on in the bottom of the seventh, lifting the Falcons to the 8-7 walk-off triumph. Moretti’s clutch knock touched down in the right-centerfield gap, chasing home catcher Jeff Diehl with the winning run.
The game-ending hit, which Lincoln senior Matt Mennucci surrendered, put a damper on what was a dauntless bid by Ed Hunt’s crew. Trailing 7-2 after six innings, the Lions (7-1 Division I-North) mounted a serious charge in the top of the seventh, scoring five runs against two Cranston West relievers. It was the kind of surge that has been almost routine for the Lions this spring – remember when Lincoln fought back from a 9-2 hole against Mount St. Charles and erased a three-run deficit with two innings left against La Salle just last Thursday?
Tuesday’s comeback ended up being in a class by itself. For one thing, this uprising came nearly out of nowhere. Cranston West starter Mike Hayden had shut down Lincoln’s normally reliable bats through six frames, scattering two runs on seven hits. To compound matters, the Lions ran into some outs on the base paths, one a caught stealing by Diehl and the other on a runner cut down at third.
In the blink of an eye, Lincoln took an eraser to the 7-2 discrepancy. With Hayden out of the picture, the Lions thrived, as Nick Zammarelli and Ryan O’Dell singled to begin the seventh. Zammarelli was dangerously close to becoming yet another baserunning casualty after overrunning second, but as the rundown between second and third gathered steam, Moretti, Cranston West’s third baseman, was called for obstruction. Just like that the Lions had two in scoring position with no outs.
A double by Tyler Santaniello scored Zammarelli to make it 7-3. That was followed by a groundout to first by catcher Joe Hamilton, plating O’Dell to cut West’s lead down to four runs with two outs to work with. Shaky up to this point, Falcons reliever Matt Rousseau got a strikeout for out No. 2. The final out proved elusive thanks to Kyle Jackson (RBI single) and Steve Marcello (loud single to place runners on the corners).
Out went Rousseau, replaced by Richard Reo. With Lincoln now down 7-6 – the result of a double steal in which Marcello scooted home from third – Hunt decided to roll the dice, sending up seldom-used freshman Doug Harrison to pinch hit for classmate Sam Brito. Harrison worked the count to 3-2 before depositing a soft single just past the infield dirt and into right field. The biggest hit of his young varsity career had just evened the score at 7-all, as Marcello gleefully touched down on home plate.
Lincoln had a chance to push across the go-ahead run in the seventh, placing two on with two down, but a groundout ended what was a memorable frame, one that saw Lincoln’s once-quiet bats erupt for six hits.
The burden of pushing the game into extras fell on the slender shoulders of Mennucci, who relieved starter Zach Perry in the fifth. Diehl started the bottom of the seventh with a walk before advancing into scoring position with a swipe of second. Mennucci got Hayden to bounce out to third, a big out considering Hayden’s last at-bat featured a line drive solo home run, coming in the fifth.
An intentional walk was issued to Matt McCool, creating a force-out-at-any-base scenario for Lincoln. Moretti had other ideas, as he ended the contest with one mighty swing.
“It would have been nice to get a ‘W’ out of this for all the work and effort we put in during that last inning,” said Hunt. “They (Cranston West) were better than us by one run, but I was pleased with the way we came back, as we have a few times this season. That’s a sign of leadership and experience and it’s starting to rub off on the freshmen because Doug had a hit and Brito was out there, batting ninth in the DH slot.”
While the comeback was at the heart of Hunt’s postgame assessment, so too were the reasons why Lincoln found itself in said hole. Besides having trouble on the base paths, the Lions committed a pair of errors, one of which resulted in two runs for Cranston West in the second inning. Perry, who has earned two wins in relief, ran into trouble the second time through the Falcons’ lineup, as West notched four runs in the third inning to open things up at 5-1.
“He had shut teams down in relief and it was his turn,” said Hunt about Perry, who allowed 10 hits in four-plus innings. “We thought this might be the recipe against a good fastball-hitting team like (Cranston West). He had a decent knuckleball and curve but he started throwing his fastball over the plate and started to get hit.”
It was a day that featured a little bit of everything for Lincoln, a good club that knows the meaning of resiliency. Sure, going undefeated would have been nice, but playing solid and fundamental baseball, that’s more important in Hunt’s eyes.
“We try to work on something different every day,” said Hunt, whose squad faces another tough test Thursday at North Kingstown. “No one ever thinks that they’re going to go undefeated. We’ll regroup; there were some positives from this game and we’ll take those back with us.”