WEST WARWICK -- As a light drizzle started to find its way to McCarthy Field, the tides of the American Legion ‘Final Eight’ winners’ bracket final changed on one pitch.
With Upper Deck Post 86/14 holding a 3-1 lead in the top of the sixth inning, Navigant Credit Union’s E.J. Torres stepped in the box with the bases loaded and two outs. Facing a full count, Torres blasted an opposite-field double to left field.
That hit emptied the bases and gave Navigant a 4-3 lead, one that Post 85 would improve all the way to a 12-3 final.
“E.J. went with the pitch,” said Navigant manager Jim Gauthier. “We were preaching that all night. He went with the pitch and hit it in the gap. We got some speed on the bases and we emptied the bases on that.”
“That was certainly the turning point of the game to put them back up by one,” said Upper Deck manager Steve Reynolds. “They’re a good ball team and we just didn’t take care of our business.
“They executed. Obviously, we gave Navigant way too many chances and they capitalized on that. Good teams do capitalize on other teams’ mistakes. We had that one bad inning and there’s nothing more we can say about it.”
The tournament continues today back at McCarthy, as Upper Deck will play Senerchia Post 74 at 3 p.m. in a losers’ bracket game, while Navigant, the only undefeated team left, will take on Gershkoff Auto Body-Auburn Post 20 at 6 p.m.
Upper Deck got the lead by putting forth a strong first inning off Navigant starter Brandon Rainville. Doug Harrison’s double deep to left plated Brody Santilli, and Harrison later came around the bases on a Dylan Boisclair single. Three innings later, Boisclair scored Upper Deck’s third run of the night.
Upper Deck starter Justin Conti was throwing well until Torres’ clutch hit, but the Upper Deck bullpen and extremely poor defense really opened up the stables to Navigant’s lopsided triumph.
“We didn’t give up tonight,” said Gauthier. “Conti kept us off balance for five innings. I think he threw a heck of a game for Upper Deck.
“Once we went ahead, we could just tell that they were getting down. We’ve been watching their pitching all week and they were kind of running low on pitchers, so once we got into their bullpen, we just ate them up.”
A delayed steal and an error by Sam Brito keyed Navigant’s fifth run of the game in the seventh. In the eighth, Torres rounded home after leading off the frame with a two-base outfield error.
By the time the ninth inning rolled around, things got real ugly. Navigant scored six times in the inning off two relievers on three hits and three errors by the Upper Deck defense.
“It felt nice,” said Gauthier of the error-plagued ninth. “It took a big load off us. We were actually warming up our ace, Kory Lawrence, up to close it out, but we didn’t have to use him thankfully.”
Brandon Rainville went back out for the ninth, but only made it as far as the first batter, whom he struck out after 115 pitches, five strikeouts, two walks, and six hits.
“Brandon was fabulous,” said Gauthier. “He pitched his heart out. It was a gutsy performance. He didn’t want to come out of the game but we gave him a pitch count and he hit it.”