WEST WARWICK — As the eighth seed in this R.I. American Legion Tournament, that after finishing the league campaign at a mediocre 11-11, Navigant Post 85 wasn't expected to do much, especially after suffering a disastrous 14-1 loss to North Providence Post 29 in the first game of a best-of-three preliminary set last Friday.
Navigant, however, responded with 6-3 and 9-0 victories over the Senators this past weekend, and gained a bit of confidence entering the double-elimination portion of the tourney.
That “Us Against the World” mentality more than showed under the fickle skies at McCarthy Field on Tuesday afternoon. Determined Post 85 not only utilized a pair of sterling pitching efforts from E.J. Torres and Jon Flynn, but also bashed 15 hits while sailing to a 9-1 victory over top-seeded New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 before a rain-soaked crowd of about 60.
The righty Torres lasted six-plus innings and scattered just three hits and four walks while whiffing a quartet. As for Flynn, he hurled three stellar frames of no-hit, two-walk, two strikeout ball.
Offensively, six of Navigant's nine batters registered at least two hits, and all but one mustered a single. Brandon Rainville led the charge, going 3-for-5 with an RBI and three runs scored, while Tyler Geffert finished 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and three RBI and Kevin Reyes 2-for-3 with an RBI and run.
Aaron Catarina (2-for-4, double, two runs), Matt Bare (1-for-4, two RBI, two runs), Andreas Brackett (2-for-5, double, run) and Will Andino (2-for-4, RBI) also helped Navigant improve to 14-12 overall and 4-2 in the tourney.
With the triumph, Navigant earned a spot in a winners' bracket game slated for today back at McCarthy. If Hurd Chevrolet defeats R&R Construction of Newport, it would play at 4 p.m.; it not, it would take the turf at 7.
“E.J. pitched his heart out,” noted elated skipper Jim Gauthier, who co-coaches the club with Buster Perreault. “We've had three great pitching performances in a row, and we hope it continues. If someone had told me beforehand he'd pitch a three-hitter through six, I wouldn't have been surprised. He's that type of kid, someone you can rely on when things get tough.
“If he's throwing strikes, he'll get it done,” he added. “But I thought the key here was that we were clutch with two strikes. I mean, we had eight hits with two strikes on us, and six of them were for RBI. Tyler had a great day at the plate, but we had others come up big, too.”
Stated Perreault: “I think the big thing was we didn't really have time to practice all year long because of the success of the high school teams (Woonsocket, Mount St. Charles, North Smithfield all making post-season runs). We were either playing games, or – if we had a day off – we wanted the kids to have it.
“As soon as the regular season ended, we got back to Renaud Field and practiced; we got back to fundamentals, hitting off the tee, doing infield and outfield. That's what it takes – practice.”
Navigant notched a run right from the start, Catarina clubbing a one-out double to left and scoring on Brandon Perrico's two-out, bloop hit to left.
It looked as if NEFL may knot it in the back half after Nick McGuirl reached on a fielder's choice and took second on a wild pitch, but Torres got Zach Blanchard to foul out to first and fanned clean-up hitter Branden Hoxsie.
In the second, Andino poked a single to right, hustled to second on Reyes' hit to left and stole third, though righty starter Kevin Hickey struck out Catarina to end the frame.
Torres got out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the bottom half, forcing T.J. Boyajian to pop out to second, and his offense took care of him in the fourth with a four-run flurry.
After Kory (“Skip”) Lawrence lined out to center to start it, Brandon Rainville reached on an infield hit, then raced home on Bare's double to the left-center gap. Andino whiffed for the second out, but Reyes punched a ground single to left to plate Bare, then took second when left fielder Hoxsie bobbled the ball. Catarina then singled up the middle, and both he and Reyes scored on Geffert's to deep left.
NEFL – which had captured 18 of its 22 regular-season tilts to win the South Division – shaved the lead to 5-1 in the bottom of the fourth, courtesy of designated hitter Mike Giard's one-out double to center. He took third on Mike Mallozzi's sacrifice bunt, then scored on a wild offering.
Brackett, however, led off the fifth with a two-bagger to deep left, tagged to third when Lawrence flew out to right and scored on Rainville's hit to left. He then robbed second, moved to third when Hickey's pickoff attempt flew into center and came in on Bare's sacrifice fly to left.
Post 43 manager Dave McGuirl opted to replace Hickey after the fifth with southpaw Andrew Bracken, who got his first six outs with ease, but he ran into trouble in the eighth. Rainville initiated the two-run rally with an infield hit, and Bare reached first when he bunted, and catcher Lee Verrier's low throw to first ended up in right field, allowing Rainville to take third.
Bare moved to second on defensive indifference, and Andino plated Rainville with a single to left. Reyes then drew a bases-loaded walk, but – with the bags still juiced – Bracken whiffed both Catarina and Geffert.
With two down in the ninth, Flynn walked both Verrier and Boyajian, but forced Nick McGuirl to fly out to second to end the contest.
“If I was surprised by anything, it was our success rate of hitting with two strikes,” Gauthier said. “I think the kids could sense that their team didn't really respect us, given our regular-season record. This was a great, great win, but now we have more to play.”