WEST WARWICK — Upper Deck Post 86/14 was only looking for some insurance runs while holding a 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday night.
Yet when it was all said and done, one walk and one error by R&R Construction opened the floodgates for a big rally and a comfortable 9-3 win in the winner’s bracket semifinals of the American Legion “Final Eight” Tournament at McCarthy Field.
R&R ace pitcher Eddie Hole was working with authority through seven innings, allowing just two hits since the first inning. That was, until the eighth.
Already at 98 pitches, Hole got behind leadoff hitter Sam Brito and gave up a single to left to the Upper Deck second baseman. Dante Baldelli then dropped a sacrifice bunt, and Hole fielded it and lofted a throw past second base into the outfield.
“Sacrifices are what we have to do to be successful,” said Upper Deck manager Steve Reynolds. “We're not a real big hitting team, so we have to take the runs as they come. I would say we are definitely a smallball team.”
Anthony Serina took the mound to try and preserve the one-run deficit. However, the rally went on before a Serina pitch could be tossed, as the new pitcher balked on a pickoff attempt, moving Brito and Baldelli into scoring position.
After an intentional walk to Matt Billington loaded the bases, Justin Conti hit an RBI single to left to score Brito, and the next batter, Brody Santilli, topped his teammate with a two-run single of his own, putting Upper Deck up 7-3.
To add insult to the carnage, new right fielder Khalil Moon, who entered the game when Hole exited it, dropped what would have been the first out of the eighth on a routine fly, giving Upper Deck another run. When the breakthrough eighth concluded for Upper Deck, they led by six runs.
Following a strong eighth inning of relief from Doug Harrison, Santilli came in for the ninth. He gave up a leadoff double to Khalil Moon, but settled down to retire the next three batters he faced.
Upper Deck’s win was bookended by offensive outbursts in its first and last at-bats. The first inning was runs galore for Upper Deck. Santilli and Tyler Calabro ignited the four-run first with back-to-back opposite field singles. Harrison’s sacrifice fly to right field plated Santilli, and the next batter, Christian Spader, blooped a base hit to center to drive in Calabro.
Dylan Boisclair, like Santilli and Calabra, went opposite field with a hit that one-hopped the left-center field fence and drove in Spader. All four of Upper Deck's first-inning hits came with two strikes off Hole, who came into the game with a 1.72 ERA in 36.2 innings pitched. Boisclair later scored on an infield error.
“It was nice to jump out, no question about it,” said Reynolds. “R & R is a real good team, and to be able to jump out on a team like that early was good. It put a lot of pressure on them. I think we kind of coasted there through the middle innings, but we came back and responded with five in the eighth inning.”
R&R came back with runs in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings off Upper Deck starter Eric Murray, who ended the night by going seven strong innings on 87 pitches, allowing five hits and five walks, and striking out two batters.
“Tonight was an excellent outing by Eric,” said Reynolds. “He threw strikes when he had to. It was a real gutty performance.
“Nine innings is a big difference,” added Reynolds of the tournament’s format change from seven to nine innings. “Our starters have been going deep for us, you know seven innings, eight innings. You really need that out of a nine-inning game.”
Upper Deck Post 86/14 will now take on Navigant Credit Union Post 85 in the winner's bracket finale tonight at 7 p.m. back at McCarthy Field. Upper Deck lost to Navigant two out of three times during the regular season.
“Navigant, as far as I'm concerned, is the team to beat in this tournament,” said Reynolds. “We have to continue getting some good pitching, and we have played two games here by playing some really good defense. We'll have to continue to do that and play smart baseball to continue winning.”