WOONSOCKET — After missing the first month of the season, Cumberland Post 14 outfielder Christian Spader was having a little trouble adjusting to the wooden bats that have been instituted into the American Legion baseball season this year.
But the Cumberland High product broke out of his mini slump in a big way on Thursday night against Navigant Credit Union Post 85. Spader collected four hits, including a game-winning two-run single in the top of the 11th inning as Post 14 outlasted Navigant, 2-0, in a three-hour marathon at Renaud Field.
“Christian has been struggling,” said Post 14 assistant coach Dan Attwood, whose first-place squad improved to 9-2 in the Northern Division. Navigant dropped to 3-12. “He came to our team a little later in the season. It was like his third game using wooden bats. He has been struggling. We put him in the leadoff spot to give him a little extra at-bats. He came through. We thought he would. We put him in the top spot and it was his time to shine.”
In a classic pitchers’ duel that featured outstanding performances from Navigant starter Jon Flynn and Post 14 starter Joe Hamilton, Spader was able to finally settle the verdict in the 11th, connecting on an outside pitch thrown by Post 85 reliever Dan Rivera and driving the ball to deep right-centerfield.
Cumberland’s Kyle Jackson (three hits) got things started in the inning with a one-out single and then stole second. After a strikeout to Brandon Sullivan, Rivera walked the next two batters to load the bases, setting the stage for Spader to deliver the goods with his clutch single.
“I was just kind of relaxed,” he said. “I have been out for about five weeks and have just been practicing. Luckily the guys got on. I just took an outside pitch to right field and it was good.”
Credit certainly has to be given to Hamilton and Flynn for their efforts on the mound. In eight innings, Hamilton allowed just three hits. At one point, he retired 12 straight batters stretching from the third to seventh innings. Hamilton was relieved by Nick Zammerelli and Matt Mennucci, who kept Navigant scoreless the rest of the way.
“He’s tough,” said NCU coach Jim Gauthier, about Hamilton. “Any one of their pitchers is tough. The first two innings you could see we had that little fear in our eyes. We struck out [four] times in those first three innings. After that, we hit the ball. We put the ball in play. We made them make the plays and they made it.”
“[Hamilton] was unbelievable,” Attwood said. “He threw eight scoreless [innings], threw about 130-140 pitches. He pitched his heart out. The other kid threw well, too. It was a pitchers’ duel.”
Flynn, a 16-year-old right-hander, was just as lethal. Before he was relieved by Rivera in the seventh, he yielded just seven hits to the powerful offense of Post 14.
“For a 16-year-old, against that team, Flynn pitched a heckuva game,” Gauthier said. “I thought he did a fabulous job.”
One particular inning that Flynn demonstrated his gutsiness on the mound occurred in the sixth inning when Post 14 had one of its few legitimate threats to score in the game. The Cumberland squad had three straight singles to begin the inning from Tyler Santaniello, Joe Yankee and Jackson. With the bases loaded and no outs, Flynn and Navigant got out of the frame unscathed. Sullivan hit a hard grounder that Navigant shortstop Will Andino scooped up and threw home for the force out on Santaniello. Flynn then struck out Alex Zannella on a low pitch and the inning ended with Hamilton hitting a deep fly ball that was caught by left-fielder Kevin Reyes.
Cumberland Post 14 had a chance to put a number on the scoreboard in the sixth as well. With two outs and Spader on second, Ryan O’Dell hit a deep screaming line drive to right-center that was tracked down nicely by right-fielder Phil Sawyer.
The night also had a little controversy that went in Post 14’s favor and got Gauthier ejected from the game. With two outs and [Andino] on second, Rivera hit a ball that appeared to hit off his leg inside the batter’s box and dribbled about 10 feet from the plate. After no ruling was immediately made on the hit and with Rivera still at the plate, Hamilton picked up the ball and threw it over to first. The home plate umpire ruled it an out, prompting Gauthier to storm out of the dugout and argue the call. After less than 30 seconds of arguing his point, he was ejected from the game.
“It clearly hit his thigh and bounced out,” Gauthier said. “My objection to that is for him (the umpire) to get help and he said no. There’s an umpire trying to get a call right and they won’t ask each other for help. But it’s over. We had our chances. It didn’t come out to that.”
“We’ll take an out when we are given an out,” said Attwood, about the play. “I thought it was possibly a foul ball. Our kid sold it and sometimes you got to sell it out here. I am happy we got the out.”
Cumberland Post 14 returns to action on Saturday at 1 p.m. when it plays host to Upper Deck Post 86 at Chet Nichols Field.
“We are a powerful team,” Attwood said. “We are going to be dangerous in the playoffs. We expect to win every time we come out. We are just happy to be playing well right now. It’s the summertime. The kids are happy. We all love each other. We are having a good time.”
Navigant Credit Union welcomes Providence Post 56 to Renuad on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
“Our record isn’t that good, but we came to play tonight,” Gauthier said. “Hopefully, they can see that they can stay with the big boys. [Post 14] is one of the favored teams to win it all.”