CUMBERLAND – A week off did nothing to cool down Cumberland American’s scorching bats. Nor did the steady rain that fell at Garvin Field throughout Friday’s pool play finale against North Smithfield.
Next up for manager Dave Belisle’s team: the District IV tournament semifinals.
Conor Lavallee and Steve Dugas belted home runs for Pool B champion Cumberland American (4-0), which collected its third mercy-rule victory of the tourney, a 12-1 thumping of North Smithfield (1-3).
American’s impressive pool play run – which featured four walk-off wins – was capped by a combined four-inning one-hitter from power right-handers Max Hanuschak and Lavallee.
Lavallee and fellow righty Connor Mastin are candidates to start Tuesday’s game against Pool A runner-up Lincoln or Smithfield at 6 p.m. at Lincoln’s Randy Hien Field.
Showing no signs of rust after the seven-day layoff that followed its 7-5 win at Bernon on June 30, American unleashed a six-run first inning that knocked out North Smithfield starter Ben Alexio, who retired two of the 10 batters he faced. Lavallee highlighted the outburst with a titanic two-run blast to right-center field.
Alexio exited after 39 pitches in favor of Chris Matulitis, who kept American at bay in the second and third frames, during which Jake Glod’s second RBI single of the game accounted for Cumberland’s lone run.
“We came out strong, but then we had a lull,” Belisle said. “You have to give [Matulitis] credit. He had that off-speed stuff and it took us a little time to adjust.”
North Smithfield never quite adjusted to Hanuschak, who, despite pitching for the first time in a month because of a back injury, fired 2 2/3 innings of one-hit, one-run ball. He walked three and struck out four across his 61-pitch outing, before being relieved by a 26-pitch effort from Lavallee, who fanned four of the six batters he opposed.
“We know it’s going to take pitching to try to win this district,” Belisle said. “It was nice to get Hanuschak in there, and he looked good tonight. He elevated the ball a little bit too much, but I thought he pitched well. I have confidence in him to come in and get a few outs for me. We’re going to need him, because you don’t play for Friday, you play for Tuesday.”
The hosts erupted again in the fourth, sending six batters to the plate and scoring five times to conclude the contest. Dugas’ two-run shot to left-center gave American yet another walk-off victory.
Friday marked the end of a tough tournament for North Smithfield, which totaled two runs during pool play. Nonetheless, manager Steve Taylor’s squad entered Friday’s tilt having allowed a respectable 3.33 runs per game.
But North Smithfield had its hands full with American, comprised of a group that won last summer’s 11-year-old state championship, thanks in part to one player who is now injured.
Cumberland lost star Chris Wright to a broken left ankle in the team’s first practice, depriving Belisle of his No. 1 pitcher and No. 3 hitter.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult task without him, because he’s such a premier ballplayer for us,” Belisle said. “The kids have really picked it up in his absence. He’s hoping he can see us down at the end of the road. You never know, if we can go far, he can join us. That’s a nice incentive.
“But the road is difficult without him. Very difficult.”
That road continues on Tuesday, and after American outscored its pool play opponents by a 42-7 margin, Belisle has plenty of reasons to feel confident in his club.
“We like what we’re doing,” Belisle said. “We’ve got really solid pitching in all four games, and I really love the way we’re hitting the long ball. I think you win the district with the long ball and pitching. We’ve gotten that, so I like our chances, but we know that the competition is great.
“It’s going to be a great Final Four.”