LINCOLN — The Burrillville All-Stars may have taken a quick exit at this R.I. Little League Major Division Tournament, that after suffering an 11-9 losers' bracket elimination loss to Cranston Western late Sunday afternoon, but skipper Mike Cabral nevertheless mustered a smile afterward.
He had every reason, as his crew entered the top half of the sixth frame trailing 11-4, but manufactured five runs while causing their opponent's coaching staff fits.
In the end, Cabral's son, Jason, foul-tipped his third strike into catcher Nick Lawton's for the final out, but the elder Cabral raved about his squad's “never-say-die” demeanor.
“I'm proud of the kids,” he said before his players accepted their third runner-up trophies on the first-base line at Randy Hien Field. “We told the kids (after the fifth inning and during the last-inning flurry) that we had to get back to the top of the order, and we did. We just fell one or two hits short, perhaps, of tying or winning.
“It's too bad,” he added, “but the kids really battled. Like I said, I'm proud.”
With the victory, Cranston Western, which dropped a 4-1 decision to Coventry in Saturday's initial contest, earned the right to continue play at these state championships. It will face the loser of the Coventry-Barrington game at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday.
Burrillville, the same squad that sailed through the District IV tourney with a 6-0 record, took its second consecutive loss, though it was of no fault of the younger Cabral. The righty starter pitched four-plus innings and yielded nine hits and only three walks while whiffing eight; he also was victimized by five errors.
“Jay was on, no question,” Cabral the manager/dad noted. “There were some plays that should've been made but weren't, and you can't give a team like that extra outs. If you make errors out there, they raise the pitch count. It can cost a pitcher 10 or more (tosses), because the more batters you have to face, the higher the count goes.
“Jay faced more batters than he should've, and that hurt him.”
In all, Cabral threw 88 pitches, three more than the 85 mandate created by Little League Baseball, Inc. officials in Williamsport, Pa. (When the guy on the hill reaches 85, he's allowed to continue to throw to the batter he's facing).
Trailing 11-4 in the sixth, Cabral reached on an infield single off of reliever Jake Mellor, and batterymate Tyler Richards poked a bloop hit to center before Josh Dichiaro laced a single in the same direction to load the bags.
Mellor then hit Matt Shiffman with a pitch to plate Cabral, and Justin Krieg walked to score Richards; that's when Cranston Western mentor Gary Bucci replaced Mellor with Steve Rocchio. Immediately, he threw a wild pitch to score Dichiaro, and Shiffman hustled home on another wild offering, though the diminutive but crafty Jeff Pichie popped out to third for the initial out.
Sam Hetu followed with a walk, and he took second while Krieg scored on a passed ball to slice the deficit to 11-9.
Harry Dumais struck out swinging, but No. 9 batter Matt Gagne drew a base-on-balls to place the game-tying run at first. Just as his father had hoped, Cabral came to the plate with the chance to knot it, but Lawton's glove proved to be Cranston Western's saving grace.
“A win is a win, but I'm very disappointed with how we performed down the stretch,” Bucci stated afterward. “I was in the dugout thinking, 'What are you guys doing? We were up 11-4 – let's get this thing over with!' I will say you've got to give it to Burrillville. I thought the stake was in, but they kept battling. I tip my hat to them.”
The District III champions garnered a pair in the bottom of the first, though both runs were unearned. After center fielder Pichie made an outstanding running catch of a line drive off of Jaimen Albizu's bat to open the frame, Steve Piscopiello reached on an infield miscue, but Cabral fanned Mellor for the second out.
Lawton then ripped a single down the right-field line, but the throw to third sailed over Shiffman's head, and Piscopiello scored with ease on the error. Jake Procaccianti followed with a ground single up the middle, and that plated Lawton.
Burrillville, however, answered with three in the top of the third; starting righthander Cam Harris walked leadoff batter Bryan Rivers, and he moved to second on Cabral's single, though the latter was out on Richards' fielder's choice. Richards then robbed second to place both in scoring position, and Dichiaro walloped a 3-1 pitch at least 225 feet over the 217-foot sign in straightaway center for the 3-2 cushion.
Undaunted, Cranston Western retook the lead after notching two in the bottom half. Piscopiello walked and moved to second on a wild pitch, though Cabral got two quick outs. Procaccianti then drilled an RBI double down the right-field stripe, and he raced in on the off-line, outfield toss.
Bucci's bunch added five more in the fourth, and an unlikely trio provided the spark. Nick Poulos reached on a bloop hit to right, pinch-hitter Steve Jacques beat out a bunt and the former scored on Tom Napolitano's opposite-field single to right.
Albizu then tripled home Jacques and Napolitano, and Piscopiello pounded Cabral's delivery at least 240 feet, not quite 25 over the center-field fence. With it, Cranston Western held what seemed an insurmountable 9-3 lead.
The District IV titlists managed a run in the fifth after Shiffman reached on an infield error and took third on back-to-back walks to Krieg and Pichie. Harris' replacement, Mike Doire, threw his first pitch in the dirt, allowing Shiffman to score, but then struck out Hetu.
Doire also issued a free bag to Harry Dumais to reload the bases, and Bucci opted to go with Mellor, who fanned Bryan Rivers on three pitches and close the mini-flurry.
Cranston Western added two more in the bottom of the fifth after Cabral walked the first two batters, Harris and Rocchio. That spelled his termination due to pitch count, and Shiffman took over the mound duties, though he opened with a low toss, Harris taking second.
Nick Dionizo then reached on a fielder's choice out, one that sent Harris to third, and – after he took second on defensive indifference – Harris scored on a wild pitch. Seconds later, Dionizo came in on backstop Richard's errant throw after yet another wild pitch.
Facing adversity, Burrillville mounted a surge, one that fell just short of a relative miracle.
“Our kids did a great job coming back,” Cabral sighed. “They just wouldn't give in. They fought tooth-and-nail till the last out.”