WARWICK – A three-run deficit in the first inning? Just a minor inconvenience for Cumberland American’s potent offense.
The District IV champions smacked three home runs Saturday in their Major Division state tournament opener, using an eight-run fifth to blow open a tie game en route to a 13-3 victory over Portsmouth at Warwick West Side Little League’s Abe Klitzner Field.
Colin Cannata launched two three-run homers and Chris Wright added a two-run blast in his postseason debut for Cumberland American, which will meet Cranston Western on Sunday at 7 p.m. in the winners’ bracket final.
“I think experience comes into play in this [tournament], and I have a lot of faith in these kids,” Cumberland American manager Dave Belisle said. “[A] 3-0 [deficit] early is something that I know we can overcome. We can erase a two- or three-run deficit with one swing. It’s a little different than a lot of other teams.”
Making its first state tournament appearance since 2008, when it bowed out with an 0-2 showing in the double-elimination tourney, Cumberland American found itself in an early bind.
Starter Max Hanuschak fought his way through a 30-pitch first inning, the most notable of which was a fastball that cleanup hitter Connor Richardson smacked to left field for a three-run homer.
Hanuschak eventually settled in, despite battling a fever. The right-hander kept the District II champs off the scoreboard in the second, third and fourth frames, logging a gutsy four-inning effort during which he walked five and struck out five.
“I like the way Hanuschak gutted it out,” Belisle said. “He wasn’t feeling well, stayed in bed all day [Friday] and most the day [Saturday]. He battled. It was a struggle for him, but he did everything that we asked of him.”
Cannata erased the 3-0 hole in the second when he demolished a high fastball from Portsmouth starter Brian Wojichowski well beyond the left-field fence. The two-out, three-run shot ultimately changed the complexion of the game.
The score remained tied until the fateful fifth, when 11 Cumberland American batters came to the plate and eight of them crossed it.
The big blows came courtesy of Hanuschak, who drilled an off-speed pitch from Portsmouth left-hander Jack Page to center for a two-run single, Conor Lavallee, who greeted reliever Max Viana with a well-struck two-run double to left, and Cannata, who whacked a Viana changeup to center for his second three-run bomb of the night.
“Hitting is contagious,” Belisle said. “It really is.”
Wright capped the scoring the sixth, clubbing a two-out, two-run homer to left-center. Saturday marked his first postseason game of the summer, as he missed the District IV tournament after breaking his left ankle running out a ground ball during the team’s June 18 practice.
“It’s great to have him back in the lineup,” Belisle said. “He’s a big stick for us. Him watching four weeks of these power surges, he wanted a little piece of it, and he sure did. It’s amazing that he’s come back in such a short time.”
Last year’s No. 1 starter for the 11-year-old state champs, the ace lefty will likely be limited to playing first base during the state tourney but could take the mound in regional action, should Cumberland advance.
Connor Mastin is slated to start Sunday’s game against District I champ Cranston Western, with Lavallee available in relief after throwing 20 pitches Saturday.
Perhaps Cumberland will be the team assuming a comfortable early lead this time? Belisle sure hopes so.
“As the tournament goes on, you’ve got to get ahead,” Belisle said. “We can’t continue making this a habit, but I have a lot of faith in my hitting. We can hit the ball.”
Cumberland American 030 082 – 13-10-0
Portsmouth 300 000 – 3-4-1
Max Hanuschak, Conor Lavallee (5), Jake Glod (6) and Ryan McCormick. Brian Wojichowski, Jack Page (4), Max Viana (5), Garrett Campion (5), Ryan MacDonald (6) and Alex Battey.