WEST WARWICK — To say that Ryan O’Dell and his Cumberland Post 14 teammates are looking forward to the American Legion Senior Division playoffs would be a gross understatement.
Just a few months earlier, many of the same players on manager Jim Dawber’s crew figured prominently on the Lincoln High baseball squad that exited quickly from the Division I playoffs. It was the type of ending that was viewed in some corners as a complete shock, especially since Lincoln had captured the I-North division title and rattled off seven consecutive wins to begin the season.
In some regard, these Legion playoffs represent a chance for O’Dell & Co. to atone for the past. The redemption tour got off to a strong start as top-seeded Post 14 disposed of Shoreline of North Kingtown, 8-3, Wednesday night to cap off a doubleheader day of double-elimination playoff action at McCarthy Stadium.
“It’s a little bit of redemption where we’re coming out with a chip on our shoulders,” said the URI-bound O’Dell. “We’ve kind of been notoriously bad in the playoffs whenever we’re together.”
O’Dell was referring to the last two summers when Cumberland Post 14 suffered early playoff exits after sitting atop the standings at the conclusion of the regular season.
“The experience level on this team is unreal,” O’Dell said. “We’ve all been there, we’ve all cried, but experience does pay off.”
Ex-Smithfield High standout and URI sophomore-to-be Joe Landi led the way offensively for the victors, finishing 3-for-3 with four runs scored. Three pitchers – Matt Mennucci, Landi, and Joe Yankee – combined to toss a five-hitter with nine strikeouts for Post 14, which now faces Blackstone Valley neighbor Collette Vacations Post 79 Thursday as the state tourney shifts to Pierce Field.
Shoreline drew first blood in the top of the first as centerfielder Matt Sorkin misplayed a ball with two down, though he would later make up for it with a nice sliding catch in the top of the seventh. On the next pitch Chris Hess delivered a booming triple for a 1-0 lead. Playing its first game in over a week after drawing a first-round bye, Cumberland erased the deficit as a sacrifice fly by cleanup batter Tyler Santaniello scored Landi, who began his onslaught with a single.
Post 14 broke the stalemate in the third behind a groundout by Yankee, scoring Landi. Nick Zammarelli jumped all over a first pitch fastball, sending it deep enough to right field to score O’Dell for a 3-1 Cumberland lead. Landi continued to torture Shoreline in the fourth, sending a towering drive just to the left of dead center for a two-run triple. O’Dell plated the team’s sixth run with a bloop single, chasing home Landi.
Besides being a factor on the mound and at the plate, Landi also influenced the outcome on the basepaths. In the seventh with Cumberland Post 14 sitting on a 6-3 lead, the ex-Sentinel was stationed at third when Santaniello lifted a pop up that Shoreline second baseman Nick Savickas caught. Landi faked going home, which Savickas saw and decided to throw to the plate. The problem was that Savickas overshot Hess, the catcher, which allowed Landi to score easily.
“He brings a whole different dimension to the game. It’s great to have Joe back,” said O’Dell about Landi. “He’s a dynamic player that you can put anywhere. Plus his experience at URI has really paid off. He’s given us little tips that he’s learned [as a member of the Rams’ baseball outfit] and because of that we have a little more knowledge.”
Alex Howard, who took over for O’Dell at catcher in the fifth, fulfilled his end of a Post 15 squeeze play in the eighth, dropping a bunt along the right side that made it next to impossible to nab Kyle Jackson, who was breaking toward the plate the moment Shoreline reliever Will Rodriguez went into the windup.