WEST WARWICK – Shortstop Will Andino just couldn't stop staring at the prize.
The Woonsocket High junior-to-be stood in front of home plate at McCarthy Field late Sunday afternoon embracing the Anthony J. Lombardi, Jr. Trophy, one given to the Rhode Island American Legion Tournament champion, and spinning the baseball attached to it.
When he returned to his first-base dugout with the rest of his Navigant/Fairmount Post 85 teammates, someone asked him his thoughts regarding the monument. His response: “It means glory. That's what I'm thinking. This is a gift from God. If it wasn't for Him, we wouldn't be here.”
Offered second baseman E.J. Torres: “You know what that says here? Maine, here we come!”
Navigant culminated an incredulous tourney run on Sunday – disposing of Senerchia Post 74, 6-4, in a contest it had to win – by claiming a 9-4 verdict in the “winner-take-all” title tilt and pulled off a dramatic sweep of the squad that had yet to lose.
With that last triumph, Post 85 claimed the Ocean State championship and an automatic bid to the American Legion Northeast Regional event in Old Orchard Beach, Me. That tourney – with clubs representing the six New England states, New York and the host squad – begins on Thursday.
It did so, for the most part, on a splendid, nine-inning, complete-game outing by Woonsocket junior-to-be Jon Flynn. The righty scattered eight hits and three walks (with a hit batsman) while fanning four to snatch his first win of the season.
“I knew before the first game that, if we won, I'd get the ball (for the second),” grinned Flynn after a post-game meeting with co-coaches Buster Perrault and Jim Gauthier, not to mention John Parente, the R.I. American Legion Senior Division's Department of Baseball chairman. “Mr. Perrault told me he was going to use me in the sixth inning of the first one, but then our pitcher came up big, so he didn't have to.
“Honestly, I didn't feel any pressure; I trusted my team, my defense, because they're always behind me,” he added. “With the offense, I knew I could rely on the guys because they've been hitting the ball all year.
“This is my first win of the season, and it feels great, but it wasn't just me. I want to give it up for my team. They went out and scored six runs in the first, and they made me feel comfortable out there.”
Torres, who mustered the victory in the initial tilt, garnered the Most Valuable Player plaque for his spectacular play, and for good reason. In Game 1, he hurled 6 1/3 frames of seven-hit ball. He allowed four runs (three earned) and four walks while striking out a quintet.
In the championship contest, the second baseman/leadoff batter went 1-for-3 with a double and two runs scored.
Still, he had plenty of help. Kory Lawrence, a fellow Villa Novan, finished 2-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored; Brandon Perrico 3-for-5 with a two-bagger, RBI and run; Brandon Rainville 2-for-4 with two runs; and Andino, easily the defensive star of the twinbill at short, 1-for-4 with a sacrifice bunt, RBI and run.
“Flynnie was phenomenal,” stated Gauthier after the trophy presentation. “That was one gutsy performance. During the first one, we just told him to relax as he sat at the end of the bench, and he seemingly did.
“I've got to tell you, we've got confidence in this team; we always have,” he continued. “We had to get them to play to their potential, and – in the end – they did. A few weeks ago, we lost a doubleheader to Upper Deck (Post 86/14 of Cumberland/Lincoln), and I think that's when the kids finally woke up. We had beaten them the night before.
“We laid into them a little and told them, 'If you want to beat teams like this, you've got to come ready to play. You've got to focus, and not make these little errors, mentally or physically.”
Flynn opened the game getting three quick outs, and Navigant responded with a “six-spot” in the back half of the first, sending 11 to the plate in the process. Torres led off with an opposite-field double off of righty starter Matt Murphy, and Andino's single (he later moved to second when the ball bounced past Gary Geisser) plated him. Andino tagged to third on Tyler Geffert's fly to right and beat out the throw to the plate.
Murphy then hit Rainville, and Senerchia skipper Chris Sheehan replaced Murphy with southpaw Bobb Lineberger.
He didn't fare much better, as he hit Rainville, who robbed second, and Perrico's hit to center moved Rainville to third. Perrico took second on defensive indifference, and Andreas Brackett roped a single to left, plating Rainville. Lawrence followed with a hit up the middle to score Perrico and Brackett, then took second on the throw home.
Post 74 then went to a third hurler, lefty Mike McCaffrey, who yielded Kevin Reyes a hit to center to score Lawrence. McCaffrey walked Torres, but fanned Andino for the final out.
Flynn allowed only a walk over the first three innings, but ran into a bit of trouble in the fourth. Rob Henry led off with a walk, took second when the righty hit Ed Markowski and third on Rich Bacon's fielder's choice. P.J. Murray scored him with a softly-lined single to left, but Navigant mustered its second twin killing in minutes to get out of the jam.
Senerchia notched another in the fifth when Gian Martellini stroked a one-out double to deep left, reached third on Lou Umberto's fielder's choice and scored when Geisser took first on a grounder to third; then sliced the gap to 6-4 with a pair in the sixth.
Henry hustled to second on Flynn's throwing error to first, took third on Bacon's single to center and scored when outfielder Kevin Reyes let it roll past him. Bacon later came in on Murray's hit down the left-field line.
In the bottom half, Navigant (19-13) posted a trio to virtually close it – and ink its way to Maine. Torres led off with a walk, took second on Andino's sacrifice bunt, raced to third on a wild pitch (from fourth reliever Sam Boulanger) and scored on Geffert's opposite-field single to right. Rainville poked a hit to the same spot, and Perrico drove in Geffert with a single before Brackett walked and Lawrence plated Rainville with the ninth and final run.
Defensively, Andino made a diving grab of Henry's sinking liner to close the seventh, then snared another rope off of Bacon's bat for the first out of the eighth.
Martellini doubled to start the ninth, but Flynn whiffed Umberto and Geisser before forcing Markowski to line to center.
When Reyes caught it, he raised both arms to the sky, and his infielders ran in to hug Flynn, still on the hill.
“The thing with Jon, his low fastball was amazing; they couldn't touch it,” noted catcher Matt Bare, a Cumberland High senior. “His curve was on and off, but – when it was on – it worked really good. They couldn't touch it.
“You know, this is the first time I've ever been on this team, and it's been a great run for us; this is insane,” he added. “I just realized, when I woke up (Sunday, at 10 a.m., only two hours before the initial tilt's start), that we were playing for the state championship.
“I just laid there, and I had a great feeling about this. I thought we were going to win. I was thinking we had solid pitching going into both games. Turns out, I was right.”
In the aforementioned dugout afterward, Parente congratulated the Woonsocket troops.
“That's an unbelievable feat you guys just pulled off,” he told them. “That's the first time in a long time a team has won two straight, coming out of the losers' bracket, to win the state title. For a No. 8 seed to do that, it's incredible.”
He paused, then mentioned, “Now I just want you to do one thing: Go out and win the whole thing.”
Quiet applause followed. The kids knew there's one more task at hand.