LINCOLN — The last time Lincoln native Dom Cunha wore Upper Deck Post 14/86’s red, white and black uniform, the Wheaton sophomore pitcher joked he was a little shorter and a lot heavier.
He was also a state and New England champion, something he hopes to repeat in his final summer playing with the friends he grew up with on both sides of the Blackstone River.
Based on Cunha’s first two appearances on the mound, and Upper Deck’s performances in the first week of the season, that seems like an attainable goal.
“I definitely think we can make it back to North Carolina [for the World Series],” Cunha said after he needed just 77 pitches to fire a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts in a 5-0 victory over Warwick’s New England Frozen Lemonade at Chet Nichols Field Wednesday night. “The biggest thing being a younger kid on that team [in 2016] is watching the kids who were in college or high school seniors and how they carried themselves and how they lead.
“Now, kids like me [Drew] Szafranski and Steve [Andrews], who have been through that, taking what we learned and helping these kids.”
Cunha isn’t just leading in the dugout, he’s leading on the mound because through his first two starts of the summer, he’s been difficult to hit. The 2018 Lincoln All-State righty struck out 13 batters in five innings of work last week against Cranston’s Gershkoff/Auburn. Wednesday, NEFL simply had no answers for his overpowering fastball and his sharp breaking ball.
Hendricken standout Blake Roberge lined a single to right field to start the second inning. It would be the visitors’ final base runner. Cunha struck out the next two batters with fastballs before inducing a ground out to Andrews at first base to end the threat. Cunha struck out at least two batters in six of the seven innings.
“My mindset is for the first two or three innings is to throw fastballs and see if they can hit it,” said Cunha, who indicated he rejoined the team to play one more season with lifelong friend and former La Salle catcher Braedon Carney. “I’ll start mixing in changeups curveballs and sliders after that. The biggest thing with my curveball now is throwing it from the same arm slot as my fastball and not dropping my elbow.”
Cunha appeared in 10 games and pitched to a 3.20 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 19.2 innings in his first campaign at Wheaton. He didn’t pick up a win all season, but he’s already 2-0 for an Upper Deck team loaded with talent all over the field.
Even though Aaron DeSousa, Nick Croteau, Joey Molis and Reuben Hancock didn’t play in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, UD coach Matt Allard still rolled out a lineup with collegiate-level players. The biggest name of the group is Hendricken graduate and Lincoln resident David Bordieri, who is headed to D-I Fairleigh Dickinson in the fall.
The shortstop was 1-for-3 with a run scored against his high school teammate, Roberge. Carney led the offense with two hits, two runs scored and an RBI, while Andrews and Cumberland graduate CJ Davock each scored a run.
“The kids are having great at-bats and getting deep into counts,” Allard said. “The pitcher they threw today is probably All-State, so the kids had good at-bats with some timely hitting. Steve was great today and Bordieri also hit the ball well. I feel like we could put out two different lineups every game and we would be very competitive.”
After Cunha and Roberge pitched clean opening innings, Upper Deck grabbed the only run it would need in the second when Carney singled to left and moved into scoring position on a Davock infield single. A two-out walk to Kyle DeLuca loaded the bases, and Cumberland’s Shane Calabro walked to score Carney.
Roberge gave up three runs in the third inning, but most of the damage came back of three NEFL errors. Bordieri reached on an infield hit to start the inning and then Andrews reached base on an error. Carney scored Bordieri with a single before a Tyler McNulty infield single led to two runs on an errent throw to first base.
Upper Deck added an insurance run in the fifth inning when Davock reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on a two-out single by DeLuca to left field.
Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello
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Blake Roberge and Jeremiah Mullane; Dom Cunha and Braedon Carney.