WEST WARWICK – As Jim Dawber watched a mentally and physically drained Ryan O’Dell unleash pitch after pitch, a conclusion to Sunday’s marathon of baseball at McCarthy Stadium unfolded in his mind.
“Oh wow,” the Cumberland Post 14 manager thought to himself. “We’re going to win the championship, and he’s going to win the MVP.’”
Speaking through visible emotion a short while later, Dawber came to grips with the crushing reality.
“It didn’t play out that way in real life,” he said.
Jeff Diehl – not O’Dell – claimed Most Valuable Player honors, and Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 – not Cumberland Post 14 – walked away with the 2011 Rhode Island American Legion Senior Division championship trophy.
It took 19 innings of baseball to decide the state title, as top-seeded Cumberland forced a decisive second game thanks to its 4-3 victory earlier in the day. With a trip to the Northeast Regional Tournament up for grabs in the nightcap, third-seeded Gershkoff pushed two runs across in the top of the 10th inning en route to a 5-3 win that clinched the Cranston squad’s first state crown since 2008.
Post 14 celebrated its last state championship in ’07, and Dawber’s club has now lost in the final round each of the past two summers.
Though this loss certainly hurt, he said the ’11 squad ranks highly among the 17 Legion squads he’s managed.
“This team is among my favorites,” Dawber said of a group that went a league-best 19-3 during the regular season. “If somebody had said at the beginning of the season that we’re going to be in the championship game, with all we had to deal with, I would have definitely signed up right then and there.
“We lost the game, but we’re not walking off the field feeling like losers.”
Cumberland nearly grabbed an early lead in the bottom of the first in Game Two. O’Dell singled with one out and attempted to score from first base on Joe Yankee’s booming double to right field, but a 9-4-2 relay cut down O’Dell at the plate.
A pair of fielding errors opened the door for Gershkoff’s three-run top of the third. O’Dell relieved starter Tyler Santaniello with the bases loaded and no outs. Steve Beneduce’s blooper to right scored Conor Fahey, but Post 14 right fielder Christian Spader threw out Beneduce at second. Matt Pagano then worked a bases-loaded walk and Matt McCool added a run-scoring infield single.
It was Cumberland that benefitted from two Gershkoff defensive miscues in the bottom of the inning. Matt Sorkin led off with a single against Gershkoff starter Jake Ciolfi, took second thanks to third baseman Rob Madonna’s fielding error and scored on first baseman Fahey’s errant forceout throw to second.
Post 14’s Joe Landi began the bottom of the fifth with a double to right, later advancing to third on an error by Gershkoff right fielder Pagano. With two outs, Santaniello laced a single to center that trimmed Gershkoff’s advantage to 3-2.
Gershkoff threatened to extends its lead in the top of the seventh. Dawber elected to intentionally walk Diehl – a 23rd-round pick of the New York Mets in June’s MLB draft – with two outs, putting runners on first and third for Pagano, whom O’Dell fanned to end the threat.
Cumberland had a chance to tie the score in the bottom of the seventh, courtesy of Yankee’s two-out triple to right, but Ciolfi got Santaniello to pop out to third.
Both Ciolfi and O’Dell exceeded 100 pitches in their Game Two outings. Gershkoff’s left-hander scattered 10 hits over 9 1/3 innings of work, while O’Dell – who also worked an inning in Game One – yielded five hits and five walks with eight strikeouts across eight frames.
“I was running on the heat of the day,” said O’Dell, who’d been used primarily as a reliever with Post 14 and didn’t throw more than six innings in a game for Lincoln High School this spring.
“That’s the most I’ve ever pitched before,” he said. “I haven’t pitched more than one inning in a good two months, but it’s one of those things where you know you can’t come out. I had to stay in there for the team. I went out there and did the best I could.”
Said Dawber of the University of Rhode Island-bound O’Dell, “He was masterful. He’s clearly a superior talent.”
With Post 14 fighting to extend its season in the bottom of the ninth, Landi smacked a one-out double to left. O’Dell skied a fly ball to left for the second out, but Yankee followed with an RBI single to right that tie the score at 3.
Gershkoff forged in front in the top of the 10th, when first baseman Yankee couldn’t gather third baseman Santaniello’s off-the-mark throw on Tony Mattiello’s two-out ground ball. The error allowed Matt McCool to score the go-ahead run on a close play at the plate. Yankee was ejected by the first-base umpire for arguing the call at first, claiming he had kept contact with the bag while lunging for the ball.
“I thought the ball beat the runner,” Dawber said. “That play switched the whole inning around and eventually cost us the game. But no official’s call or one play is really decisive in a 10-inning game. We’ll take responsibility for this loss. They beat us, they won, they deserve to win – simple as that.”
John Razzino added an RBI double to left to give Gershkoff a 5-3 edge.
Cumberland put the tying runs on base in the bottom of the 10th, but Gershkoff reliever Kyle Tracy retired Joe Hamilton on a flyout to left and Sorkin on a groundout back to the mound to conclude the contest.
Santaniello drove in three runs in Game One, as Post 14 built a 4-0 cushion through five innings before withstanding Gershkoff’s comeback bid to hold on for a one-run triumph.
Facing O’Dell to start the bottom of the ninth, Fahey walked, took second base on a wild pitch and claimed third on Yankee’s throwing error after the first baseman fielded a bunt by Tyler Collins. Fahey raced home for what would have been the tying run, but Post 14 left fielder Kyle Jackson gunned him down at the plate for the inning’s first out.
O’Dell responded by getting Razzino to fly out and fanning Beneduce to conclude Game One, setting up a winner-take-all affair that would conclude in painful fashion for Cumberland.
Said O’Dell, “You have to play a doubleheader for the state championship, you win the first game and you come literally an out away from winning the second game of the state championship, and it’s heartbreaking.”
Given Lincoln High’s unexpected early exit from the state playoffs in May, O’Dell and his several Post 14 teammates who also played for Lincoln viewed the Legion state tournament as an opportunity for redemption.
And while O’Dell has one season of Legion eligibility remaining, he left the field on Sunday knowing that change is on the horizon.
“Obviously I’ll be going off to URI next year with new teammates, and none of these guys are coming with me,” O’Dell said. “I still have another year left, but this is probably the last time for a while that I would be playing with these kids. The whole thing’s just tough. If I could block this whole thing out from my memory for a good month, I would. But obviously it’s going to be there.
“It sucks, because we went through this whole thing as a team, and the end result wasn’t what we worked for.”
Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 003 000 000 2 – 5-5-5
Cumberland Post 14 001 010 001 0 – 3-10-6
Jake Ciolfi, Kyle Tracy (10) and Jeff Diehl. Tyler Santaniello, Ryan O’Dell (3) and Alex Howard, Joe Hamilton (9).
Cumberland Post 14 002 020 000 – 4-10-1
Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 000 003 000 – 3-5-0
Zach Perry, Joe Hamilton (5), Joe Landi (7), Ryan O’Dell (9) and Ryan O’Dell, Alex Howard (5). Bob D’Arezzo and Jeff Diehl.