BRISTOL — Milliseconds after southpaw Brendan Wright had fielded an easy grounder and thrown to first baseman Jayden Struble for the final out on Thursday evening, Cumberland American's All-Stars came from all directions to celebrate mere feet in front of home plate.
Not surprisingly, the one on the bottom of the pile happened to be second baseman Johnny Belisle, one of the more vociferous members of this splendid contingent.
His father and skipper, Dave Belisle, usually has a lot to say about how well his club raps the ball. This time around, after perhaps a five-minute meeting in right field, he walked slowly to just inside first base, grinning widely, and raved about his defense.
He had all sorts of reason: His squad had just sealed a solid 10-5 verdict over Wickford's best – oh, and they were good – in the R.I. Major Division (10-11) Tournament title tilt to snag its second state championship over the last four years.
It did so before an enthusiastic crowd of approximately 200 fans at the King Philip Little League's Roger W. Pigeon Field.
“Man, what a summer!” the elder Belisle stated after CALL had rolled through the District IV and state events with a perfect 10-0 mark. “You know, I knew I had something special right from the get-go. I coached these kids in rec league, and I knew they had the heart.
“When practices started on June 15th, I could tell by the way they fielded the ball, their attitudes, the smiles on their faces and their will to succeed, that they would go on to accomplish great things,” he added. “They truly wanted to be there at every practice; no one ever missed. We were a 12-man team, and every one of those kids practiced like they wanted to win, and they did again (Thursday).”
What made this triumph most memorable wasn't as much the hitting – and CALL closed with 12, including two homers – but the defense. Thanks to backstop Trey Bourque, shortstop C.J. Davock and third baseman Addison Kopack, the District IV titleists recorded two phenomenal twin killings.
Seriously, the offense was terrific, as Tyler Provost finished 3-for-3 with a dinger, three RBI and two runs scored, and Mason Matos 2-for-2 with another blast. Other key contributors included Nick Croteau, who went 2-for-3 with two runs; Bourque 1-for-4 with an RBI; Struble 1-for-3 with two RBI and a run; Sean Meers 1-for-2 with a run; and Trey Thibeault 1-for-2 with a RBI.
As for the defense, that started with righty Croteau, who yielded six hits and five walks while whiffing a trio in his initial 5 2/3 innings of work and snared the win. The only reason Manager Belisle had to pull him with just an out left? He had reached the Little League pitch limit of 85.
“We had those two double plays, and the first was huge because it gained us an extra out, but it also helped Nick's pitch count,” Belisle noted long after his kids had trotted the state title banner around the outskirts of Pigeon Field. “I'd say our fielding saved Nick at least 10-15 pitches. He went virtually the whole game against a really good hitting team in Wickford.
“We knew they could hit, and we spent a lot of time working on defense in practice,” he continued. “We knew they were going to put the ball in play.”
The good news for the Americans: They took immediate advantage of a wild pitch in the first (yes, it does make sense). After Croteau fanned Nick Sacchetti to start the frame, he walked Tom Lanoway before delivering a low toss to Bourque. His catcher threw to shortstop Davock, and – with Lanoway hustling to third – he rifled a shot to third baseman Kopack, who promptly applied the tag.
Eventual losing hurler Cam Lindberg then grounded to short to end the frame.
CALL grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second after Provost roped a leadoff single to center and took second on an outfield miscue. Meers' hit to about the same spot pushed him to third, and Provost came in on eventual losing pitcher Cam Lindberg's wild delivery.
With Meers at second on that pitch, Thibeault ripped an opposite-field single down the first-base line to plate him.
Wickford, however, responded in kind in the top of the third. Geoff Coyne drew a one-out walk, and Sacchetti singled him to second. With two down, Lindberg whacked a hit to center, one that got past center fielder Provost, and that plated Coyne.
Brett Maloney then drew another free bag to fill them, and Brendan Kearns (2-for-3) followed with a two-run hit to the left-center gap.
Meg Gormley's bloop single down the right-field line scored Maloney, but Croteau struck out Tyler Sutton to squelch the rally. Still, the District III champions held a 4-2 advantage.
It didn't take long for CALL to erase it. In the bottom half, Davock whacked a one-out hit to left and Struble walked before Provost crushed Lindberg's 2-1 fastball over the 202-foot sign in center, one that went for a three-run “tater.” It also may have injured a tree trunk in its way.
Already up 5-4, Belisle's crew added four more in the fourth, and the flurry began when Matos walloped a solo dinger over the fence in right-center. After that, Croteau walked, took second on a wild offering and scored on Bourque's lined hit up the middle. Davock followed with a single to left, and Struble scored both on a two-bagger to right.
That gave CALL a 9-4 cushion.
Wickford tightened the gap a bit in the fifth after Maloney drew a one-out walk, took second on a passed ball and hustled in on Kearns' bad-hop hit past Struble. With Gormley in the batter's box, however, Croteau's low pitch got past Bourque, and Kearns tried to stretch it into an extra bag.
Just like the opening frame, Davock took Bourque's throw, and he heaved it to Kopack for yet another 2-6-5 twin killing.
CALL posted its last run when Croteau reached on a single to center, raced to second on Bourque's fielder's choice and scored after Davock took second on an infield error.
“When it comes to Tyler (Provost), I had a funny feeling he was going to hit one out,” Belisle grinned. “He's been hitting everything on the nose. He's been so locked in at practice. And Mason, I call him one of my super subs. He didn't start a game, but he's been hitting the ball well.
“He just loves his role – going out and playing good defense, then going to the plate ready to hit.”
When Croteau started in Cumberland's opener against Johnston, he walked five in the first inning, though his teammates picked him up in an eventual 15-10 victory.
“I was really happy to be pitching in the state championship (game), and I knew I had to do well, not walk as many,” he said. “I felt amazing once we had the lead. We did give it up, but we came back, and that made me feel more comfortable.”
Offered batterymate Bourque: “I thought Nick did a good job. He was throwing his curveball down and away, and he used the fastball early in the count and attacked the strike zone. I knew he wanted to get ahead of the hitters, and he did a really good job of that.”
When asked if he was surprised at how well he and his teammates had played, he just smiled, “Oh, I can believe it! All of our hard work paid off. It's really satisfying because we went to the district finals and won that, then we came to states and played well again. It feels super!”