WEST WARWICK — It took Navigant Credit Union Post 85 a few minutes to adjust to a rare 10 a.m. game on Tuesday. But once the Woonsocket-based team got on track, it was well on its way to an impressive win in its opening game of the ‘Final Eight’ Senior Division playoffs.
Down by a 3-0 score before the fans at McCarthy Field could ease into their seats, Post 85 used a pair of rallies in the third and fifth innings and a strong outing from pitcher Kory Lawrence to surge past Senerchia Post 74, 10-5, in a rematch of last season’s state finals.
The defending state champions, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, return to action tonight back at McCarthy with a 7 p.m. winners’ bracket contest against the winner of last night’s late game between No. 8 seed East Bay-Riverside Post 10 and top-seeded New England Frozen Lemonade-Shields Post 43.
“We control our own destiny,” noted Post 85 manager Jim Gauthier. “We’ve been lucky to have a week off, and we have everyone [ready to pitch]. We’re just going to try keep winning and play the best we can.”
Lawrence overcame a horrid start – allowing the first five batters he faced to reach base, and the first three to score on a three-run homer by Matt King – to wind up delivering a splendid eight-inning, 129-pitch outing that saw him give up just five hits, one over his final 7 1/3 innings of work.
Lawrence, who completed his freshman season with the Community College of Rhode Island baseball team, only struck out three batters and walked five, but he also induced 14 groundouts and seemed to get stronger as the contest progressed.
“He didn’t want to come out,” Gauthier said of Lawrence. “In the seventh inning, we told him that was it, but he said, ‘No, let me go the eighth,’ so we let him go. He did decent. He pitched his heart out.
“He’s one of the guys that are leaving (after the season), so he wants to win. We have six guys who know this is their last year. They know what the taste was like (to win the championship) last year and they don’t want to lose it.”
Fifth-seeded Post 74 (17-8), which handed Navigant (17-6) its most lopsided defeat of the season, 13-1, in their lone regular-season meeting back on June 25, appeared to be on its way to another big victory in its opening swings.
Rob Henry led off the contest by poking an opposite-field double along the right-field line that was nearly gloved by a diving attempt from right fielder Aaron Catarina.
After Matt Murphy got plunked in his helmet by a pitch, King followed with his home run, as he lofted an outside pitch to right that found its way around the right-field pole.
Senerchia had a chance to add to its lead when Gian Martellini laced a sharp base hit to left and Nick Boland followed with a walk, but Lawrence (who threw 29 pitches in the inning) and Post 85 were able to wiggle off the hook and avoid any further damage.
“[Senerchia] hit him,” Gauthier said of Lawrence. “He left everything up the first couple of innings, but [his pitches] came down.”
Senerchia increased its lead to 4-0 in the third with an unearned run that was made possible by a walk and back-to-back infield errors, but Navigant made its move in the bottom of the inning.
With one out, No. 9 batter Brendan Chartier drew a walk, and after he went to second on a wild pitch by pitcher Tony Graziano, Catarina and Brandon Rainville legged out infield hits, with Catarina’s grounder to the left side of the infield driving in Chartier.
Tyler Geffert then doubled into the gap in left-center to drive in Catarina (his team-leading 22nd run batted in of the season), but Rainville was cut down at home on a perfect relay from Henry in center field to shortstop John Willette to catcher Sam Boulanger.
Nevertheless, Post 85 managed to tie the score thanks to a pair of clutch two-out hits, a run-scoring single to left by Matt Bare that knocked in Geffert and an RBI double over the head of the right fielder by Victor Hunt that allowed Bare to score all the way from first.
Navigant finally took the lead in the fifth on a base hit to right by Hunt that came after Rainville and Geffert kicked off the inning with walks and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Bare.
Geffert motored into third on Hunt’s hit, and after Hunt stole second without a throw, Will Andino made it a 7-4 ballgame by chopping a two-run single to right.
Post 85 tacked on some more insurance in the eighth and scored its first run when Andino laced his third base hit of the game up the middle and sprinted home on a double to right by E.J. Torres that one-hopped the fence in right.
Andreas Brackett also dropped a run-scoring double down the left-field line, and Catarina roped a line single to center to plate Brackett.
Senerchia scored its final run in the ninth off reliever Jon Flynn on a one-out triple to right by Henry (his third hit of the game) that was soon followed by a run-scoring groundout by Murphy.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24