WOONSOCKET — Perhaps 10 minutes after the Lincoln All-Stars had clinched its second straight appearance in the championship final of the R.I. Little League District IV Major Division (11-12) Tournament – courtesy of a 10-3 victory over Cumberland National at Bernon’s Ayotte Field on Friday night – manager Matt Netto expressed some dissatisfaction.
He had one viable reason: His contingent had grabbed a 9-0 cushion after the top of the second frame, but notched only one after that. Lincoln had been on the verge of delivering Cumberland National a 10-run “mercy-rule” punchout, though it never occurred.
“When I talked to them afterward, I told the kids that we didn’t score after the top of the third. We stepped off the gas pedal, and – luckily – we had strong enough pitching to hold us,” Netto stated. “My message was, ‘We’ve still got some work to do. We need to stay in the game and stay disciplined and focused, no matter what the score is.’”
If that seemed a hard-nosed synopsis of the triumph over Cumberland National, it may have been, but it’s all a matter of perspective. Lincoln hasn’t claimed a District IV crown since 2009, and Netto and Co. desperately want to rekindle some of the glory previous All-Star squads have experienced, including a pair of Little League World Series appearances.
On this night, before easily 300 fans lining the fences surrounding the Bernon park, the massive Steve Andrews certainly did his part. At the bat, he finished 2-for-3 with a dinger, three RBI and a run scored, and also made more than a few superlative plays in the field.
Other offensive stalwarts included Dave Bordieri (2-for-3, homer, RBI, three runs); Blake Zaniol (1-for-2, double, two RBI); Connor Benbenek (1-for-4, two RBI); and Braedon Carney (1-for-2, RBI).
On the hill, southpaw starter Kyle Marrapese hurled two innings of no-hit ball while surrendering an unearned run and two walks while whiffing a quartet; and righty reliever Bordieri went the next three while yielding just two hits and collecting three strikeouts.
Perhaps the only glitch came in the bottom of the sixth, when catcher Jackson Shevlin drilled a two-run, opposite-field blast to right.
All that did was temporarily postpone Lincoln’s win.
With the verdict, Lincoln not only remained undefeated at 5-0 in district action, but earned a title battle against the victor of Burrillville and Cumberland American at its home Randy Hien Field at 7:30 p.m., Sunday. The one who triumphs will gain a bid to New England regionals in Bristol, Conn. next week.
Cumberland National’s crew closed their tourney at 3-2 overall.
CN ace lefty Zach Fogell, the eventual losing pitcher in a crushing 1-0 loss to Burrillville earlier in the week (he had left the scoreless game with a no-hitter), allowed leadoff Aaron Desousa and Bordieri to walk, and Andrews lifted a 2-1 pitch high into the left-field air. It eventually carried just over the fence, 200 feet away, and Lincoln snared a 3-0 cushion.
Left fielder Ben Hale had tried to snag the fly, leaping above the fence, and skipper John Shevlin and an assistant had spent time with him, tending to an apparent arm injury. (He did not return).
Fogell then hit Marrapese with an offering, though got Benbenek to ground out to the hill for the first out. Dom Cunha followed with a hit to right-center and took second on the throw home, and Zaniol’s bloop double down the line in left – one surrounded by three CN fielders – dropped to plate both.
While rushing out to an early 5-0 advantage, Lincoln sent nine to the plate.
“In the first, that was just a floater down the left-field line; it just cleared the fence,” the elder Shevlin noted. “The other kid (Zaniol) hit that seeing-eye ball to short left, and – boom! – we were down five.”
Netto’s bunch tallied another four in the top of the second. With one down, Bordieri whacked a hit to left, Andrews did the same to right-center and Marrapese reached on a fielding miscue to juice the bags. Benbenek responded with a two-run single up the middle, one that pushed Marrapese to third, and the latter scored on a passed ball.
Carney’s two-out bloop hit to short drove home Benbenek, and Lincoln had secured a 9-0 cushion.
CN managed its initial run in the bottom half; the younger Shevlin walked, and courtesy runner Lukas Eaton moved to second when Hale’s replacement, Jason Vartanian, did the same, and took third when Evan Marcet roped a grounder to second baseman Zaniol. He fired a throw to shortstop Bordieri to get Vartanian, but Andrews failed to cleanly field the throw. That allowed Eaton to race in with ease.
Fogell mustered two quick outs in the third, but allowed Bordieri to pound his second homer of the All-Star campaign to deep center (it traveled at least 225 feet). When Andrews walked, Coach Shevlin replaced Fogell (after 81 deliveries) with righty Jay Diedrich, who promptly whiffed Marrapese to end the frame.
CN threatened in the bottom of the third while facing Bordieri. No. 9 batter Cole Cayer ripping a leadoff, ground single up the middle, and he took second when Diedrich reached on an infield error, but he was thrown out trying to gain third. Bordieri then hit Fogell, but the backstop Shevlin fouled out to third to halt the threat.
That’s when the contest became more or less a chess match. While Bordieri was superb, so was Diedrich, who went the final 3 1/3; he allowed just a hit and struck out four the rest of the way.
Righty Zarek Larisa came on in the sixth for Lincoln, and he walked Fogell before Shevlin crushed an opposite-field “tater” well over the right-field fence. Larisa fanned Vartanian, walked Marcet and whiffed Jackson Bright before issuing a free bag to Tyler Kolek.
He iced the win when Cayer grounded back to the hill.
“I told you after the loss to Burrillville that we’d be back, we wouldn’t dwell on it,” Manager Shevlin stated. “Our kids just didn’t quit, they kept battling. They could’ve just rolled over, and it could’ve been a ‘mercy-rule’ victory for Lincoln, but the kids kept plugging ... I thought Diedrich came in and really spun his magic. It was a tough situation to put him in, but he kept the hitters off-balance. He really battled.
“They could have thrown in the towel after being down nine in the second, but they didn’t; they kept their heads up, and that’s why I’m so proud of all of these guys.”
Stated Netto: “The best thing about this was our approach at the plate. The plan we had was to swing at only strikes. We knew (Fogell) had an outstanding curveball, and I told the kids not to waste strikes by swinging at pitches out of the zone. The one Andrews hit, it was outside, and he just went with it. He stuck to his fundamentals. Before every at-bat, I ask him, ‘What do you want to do here?’ And he said, ‘Just a hit.’
“I was also proud of the fact he played first base, left and third; he’s six-foot, 195 (pounds), but he’s so versatile,” he added. “Bordieri pitched outstandingly well. He’s a student of the game, and he’s one of the smartest players we have out there. He just knows the game of baseball. He mixed up his pitches, his breakers were very sharp, and he picked the corners with the fastball.
“Now we play the winner of Burrillville and Cumberland American. We lost the district championship last year to Burrillville, 1-0. It hurt to lose by that margin. Like I said, we have some work left.”
Cumberland American’s All-Stars rode an outstanding complete-game five-hitter from Adam Bagley and a 3-for-4 performance by Joe Leonard to roll to an 8-2 triumph over previously-unbeaten Burrillville in a R.I. Little League District IV Major Division Tournament semifinal at Ayotte Field on Friday night.
With the victory, CALL (4-1 in tourney action) earned a berth in the championship tilt opposite Lincoln, which registered a 10-3 win over Cumberland National earlier in the evening. That game will be played at Randy Hien Field behind Lonsdale Elementary School at 7:30 p.m., Sunday.
Burrillville actually had gained a 1-0 cushion in the back half of the first inning. Jake Gelinas (2-for-3) led the frame with an infield hit, and he moved to third when Kyle Pelletier ripped a single. On an outfield throwing error, Gelinas scored, but it came with a price, as Pelletier later was injured sliding into the plate.
Skipper Bob Gelinas stated his catcher was rushed to a local hospital.
CALL took the lead with three runs in the third, though Cam Stringfellow’s two-out solo homer in the fourth pulled Burrillville to within one at 3-2.
Leonard’s two-run dinger in the fifth cushioned Cumberland American’s advantage to 5-2, and the home squad added three more in the sixth to ice it.
Bagley struck out nine in his outing, and didn’t yield a walk. Leonard finished that homer, a double and three RBI with two runs scored.
Keith Doucette took the loss for Burrillville, which closed district play at 4-1.