WEST WARWICK – Instead of dwelling on Thursday’s loss to Collette Vacations Post 79, the boys from Cumberland Post 14 answered the challenge of keeping its season alive.
Top-seeded Post 14 lives to fight another day thanks to eight standout innings from knuckleball artist Zach Perry and key hits from Tyler Santaniello and Nick Zammarelli. Almost forgotten in the aftermath of Friday’s 5-2 win against defending champion New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 was the spectacular – some may argue season-saving – catch Matt Sorkin made in center field to end the top of the first inning.
NEFL had already built a 2-0 lead against Cumberland starter Zach Perry and was in a position to add more when Sorkin flashed some leather. The web gem stranded two baserunners and got Post 14 back into the dugout. Perhaps just as important, Sorkin’s grab breathed new life into a Cumberland Post 14 outfit that was seeking to remain alive in the American Legion Senior Division “Elite Eight” double elimination tournament.
“We weathered the storm,” noted Cumberland head coach Jim Dawber. “Matt got us out of the inning with that catch, and knowing that we still had nine at-bats, it was a big relief.”
Perry had one bad inning as NEFL benefited from two walks and a hit batsman in the first. The recent Lincoln High graduate was able to turn the page and quickly move on, providing Dawber with eight innings of two-hit ball. The biggest change Perry made in his outing was relying more on his butterfly pitch and less on his curveball. The adjustment worked as NEFL had a hard time registering solid contact.
Perry’s ability to control the knuckler as best as humanly possible was evident with just one walk materializing over his final seven innings. He finished with six strikeouts before passing the baton off to Ryan O’Dell, who nailed down the final three outs for the save.
“Zach has been so dependable. He’s basically our little pitching machine in that he throws the ball over the plate,” Dawber said. “We stuck with him and he was able to get the results, which is why we’re so comfortable and confident with him on the mound.”
Santaniello got Cumberland on the board in the last of the first, clubbing a double to score Joe Landi, who once again enjoyed a productive day at the dish – 3-for-5 with three runs scored. The game’s complexion turned on one two-out swing in the third with Zammarelli stroking a two-run single to put Cumberland up for good.
Post 14 still remains nine innings away from seeing the curtain lowered on its season. What remains to be seen is whether Dawber & Co. can stave off said scenario another day when Cumberland returns to McCarthy Stadium on Saturday.
“There was certainly an intellectual sense that our season was on the line, but I’m not going to push these students into desperation,” Dawber said. “My message is a simple one: do what we’ve always done. Nothing special is required. Our language, our instruction and methodology does not change from inning one to pitch one, up 11-2 or down 11-2.
“Our message is a relentless one,” Dawber added. “Does it work all the time? Well, no. Kids are and kids and they’re going to make mistakes, but that’s what we try to do.”