WEST WARWICK – Joe Yankee wasn’t even sure he’d be able to pitch on Saturday. Hurd Auto Mall certainly wishes he hadn’t.
With Cumberland Post 14 fighting to stay alive in the American Legion Senior Division state tournament, its ace left-hander overcame back and shoulder discomfort to toss a complete-game three-hitter that headlined his team’s 2-0 win at sun-splashed McCarthy Stadium.
It was quite an afternoon for the Lincoln High School rising senior, who celebrated his birthday by striking out eight batters and not allowing a runner past second base.
“We love this guy so much,” Post 14 coach Jim Dawber said, “and with today being his birthday, we really wanted to showcase him because he’s a talent. He had a knot in his shoulder and we tried to work it out, so I asked him, ‘Do you think you can work through this?’ Physically he’s one of our toughest kids, as well as being one of our nicest kids, so he really toughed it up. He [usually] throws a lot harder, but he was locating more than overpowering guys.
“He really had a courageous performance.”
The 109-pitch masterpiece also included two successful pickoff throws to first base, the second of which came with no outs and the tying run at the plate in the top of the ninth inning.
Perhaps it was simply Yankee’s day to shine?
“I was definitely thinking that,” he said.
After earning the tournament’s top seed on the strength of a 19-3 regular season, Dawber’s club will play for the state title at noon today at McCarthy against third-seeded Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 of Cranston, which defeated Collette Vacations Post 79 opf Pawtucket by a 12-8 score in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Post 20 entered Saturday‘s game unbeaten in the double-elimination tourney. Cumberland needs to defeat the Cranston squad twice in today’s doubleheader to claim the championship while Auburn will need just one victory to claim the state title and advance to the regional tournament.
But first, Cumberland had to renew acquaintances with Johnston-based Hurd, which drew the No. 4 seed following a 15-7 regular-season mark that put it four games back of Post 14 in the Northern Division. The teams met twice during the regular season, with Cumberland eking out a 1-0 win on June 28, despite getting no-hit by Hurd right-hander Brendan Cabral, before slugging its way to an 11-2 victory on July 19.
Post 14 drew first blood on Saturday in the bottom of the third, when Nick Zammarelli blooped a one-out double to left field and scored on Ryan O’Dell’s single to center against Hurd starter Zach Daigle.
Hurd’s Cam Simpson drew a leadoff walk in top of the sixth, but he overslid second base on a stolen base attempt and was tagged out by second baseman Zammarelli.
Yankee retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced after Simpson’s free pass.
Cumberland handed Yankee an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh opposite Cabral, courtesy of Zammarelli’s fielder’s-choice ground ball to third that delivered Christian Spader.
Simpson once again worked a leadoff walk in the ninth. And once again, he committed a costly baserunning mistake, this time getting caught wandering off first for the inning’s first out.
“He’s got a pretty good [pickoff] move,” Dawber said of Yankee.
Having thrown 98 pitches through eight frames, Yankee concluded the contest by inducing a groundout from Gian Bianchi and freezing Matt Barnes with a curveball.
“He was getting mad at me [before the ninth], because we’ve got good relievers,” Dawber said. “He was like, ‘Coach, you’re not taking me out of this game!’ And I go, ‘All right, Joe. You’re going to stay in.’ It was just awesome.”
With his work complete, the southpaw pumped his left fist in celebration.
If Post 14 has its way, there will be a whole lot more celebrating on Sunday.
“I really didn’t expect this,” Dawber said. “We’re just riding the wave.”
Hurd Auto Mall 000 000 000 – 0-3-4
Cumb. Post 14 001 000 10X – 2-4-1
Zach Daigle, Brendan Cabral (7) and Brandon Cessino. Joe Yankee and Alex Howard.