CRANSTON -- Just minutes before the start of the Lincoln All-Stars’ tilt on Sunday night, manager Matt Netto confirmed his biggest worry about facing the best from King Philip of Bristol.
“They play with a lot of passion,” he said as he watched his squad’s final warm-ups. “They came from behind (Saturday during a 10-5 opening triumph over Coventry American); they were only down, 2-1, but they showed me they were a tough, gritty team.”
It didn’t take long for Lincoln to squelch that emotion in the R.I. Little League Major Division (11-12) Tournament winners’ bracket semifinal at Cranston Western’s Michael P. Varrato Field.
It clubbed three first-frame dingers en route to a 6-0 lead, and coasted to an easier-than-expected 11-0 “mercy-rule” victory over approximately 400 fans. Braedon Carney led the charge, earning Offensive Player of the Game honors after finishing 2-for-2 with a homer and three RBI; and Dominic Cunha went 2-for-2 with a blast, three RBI and two runs scored.
With the triumph, one that umpires deemed over after Bristol’s scoreless top half of the fourth due to the 10-run mercy rule, Netto’s crew not only remained unbeaten in tourney play (at 8-0), but also sealed a berth in the winner’s bracket final against the victor of Cranston Western and Bristol on Thursday night at 6:30.
CWLL and KP will decide who will take on Lincoln at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday at this same site.
Despite his awesome offensive performance, Cunha wasn’t half bad on the hill. In four full frames, he scattered just three hits and a walk while fanning five. That gave the tournament organizing committee a clear choice for Defensive Player of the Game laurels.
“Dom has been in this kind of situation many times before,” Netto stated after the verdict. “As a 10- and 11-year-old in the state tournament, he pitched very well, so – in this – he wasn’t very nervous. He knew what his job was, and he executed that job to perfection.”
Noted assistant Marty Gaughan Sr.: “We used to put him in fireman-type situations since he was eight years old. He’d be put in positions to close out games, so he knows all about facing the pressure. He was calm out there, and he pitched lights out.”
As for the offensive prowess exhibited by the District IV champions, Netto seemed hardly stunned, not by Aaron DeSousa’s 2-for-3 outing with a “tater,” RBI and two runs scored, or backstop Connor Benbenek’s 1-for-2 tilt, with two runs notched.
“With these guys, as long as they disciplined with their approaches at the plate, as long as they’re looking for strikes and hitting them, nothing surprises me anymore,” he grinned.
It was DeSousa who opened the back half of the first, drilling a 3-1 fastball from diminutive righty starter Cam Santerre about 235 feet over the center-field fence. With one down, Steve Andrews mustered a walk, Kyle Marrapese was hit by a pitch and Benbenek punched a ground single up the middle to load the bags.
Blake Zaniol then reached on a fielder’s choice, one that plated courtesy runner Tyler Santilli, and Carney followed with a hellacious, 250-foot blast to straight-away center to give Lincoln a 5-0 cushion.
Cunha needed mere seconds to dive an opposite-field homer over the left-field wall to extend the lead – and force the coaching staff to pull Santerre in favor of Matty DeFelice.
He got Zarek Larisa to ground out to third to end the frame.
Bristol didn’t fold, however. In the top of the second, Justin Gervais whacked a leadoff hit, as did Nick Simeone. Cunha then struck Zac DaCosta with an offering to fill the bases, but the former calmly struck out the side to squelch the threat.
In the third, he virtually did the same after Santerre led off with a triple to deep center. He whiffed Shawn Garrity and Trey Moran before Gervais popped out to first baseman Andrews.
Lincoln closed with five runs in the back half. Benbenek reached on an infield miscue, strolled to second when DeFelice walked Nathan Kumar and Carney beat out a hit to right.
With the bases jammed, Cunha delivered a two-run single down the right-field line, and Patrick Gribbin pinch-ran for him before Marty Gaughan Jr. beat out a bunt single to juice the bags once more.
DeSousa then grounded to second, DaCosta throwing out Carney at the plate. But, when Dave Bordieri roped a grounder to third baseman Jack Serbst (who made a spectacular stop and toss to first to get him), first baseman Moran bounced his return past catcher Simeone, and Gaughan and DeSousa scored with ease.
“Like I said, Bristol is an emotional team; they play with a lot of confidence,” Netto stated. “They were playing to honor Cory Burke. He’s been an All-Star for them for the past three years (he didn’t play this season), and he’s one of the most inspirational kids I’ve ever seen. During the off-season, he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.
“That kid is fantastic, and his team wanted to win for him, so we were battling that, too,” he continued. “They came out firing. They’re a really tough team to face. Their coach (Cory Santerre) knows what he’s doing, and he’s a great guy. If we do play them again, it’s going to be really tough.”