The state tournament didn’t end the way the Warwick PAL 14-year-old all-star team would have liked, but Warwick certainly proved that it belonged in the conversation with the state’s best.
In a tournament that included defending New England champion Coventry and perennial power Cranston, Warwick lost early to Coventry only to rebound and eliminate Coventry in the loser’s bracket final. Facing Cranston in the championship, Warwick pushed it to the brink before losing a heartbreaker 2-1 in 12 innings on Saturday.
It wasn’t a state title, yet Warwick had every reason to be proud after the way it competed throughout the week.
“We were underdogs going in,” said Warwick manager Bob Denis. “Coventry with what they did last year, they were the favorites going in. And Cranston was probably No. 2. I’m very proud of them.”
Warwick’s comeback trail started with wins over Providence and West Warwick last week in the loser’s bracket, but its reward for those victories was a re-match with Coventry on Friday.
After losing by six runs the first time, Warwick tried to put its best foot forward this time, and though it wasn’t always perfect, it was enough.
Despite falling behind early and seemingly going comatose at the plate through the middle innings, Warwick was able to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in a 6-5 win via, of all things, a walk-off bunt.
Starter Matt Martinez struggled out of the gate to the tune of two walks and three hits allowed in the first inning, which resulted in four runs, immediately putting Warwick behind the eight-ball.
“We had a talk after the first inning, and we said listen, there is no pressure on our part,” Denis said. “They have been here before and we never have, so all the pressure is on them. We said to just play our game and go have fun.”
Denis’s message must have been received loud and clear, as Warwick responded in the bottom of the second with a three-run rally keyed by RBI hits from Matt Woods and Martinez to trim the lead to one. After that inning, however, the offense disappeared as quickly as it came, as Warwick failed to score a run for the next three innings and registered only three base runners in that span.
Coventry tacked on another run in the top of the fourth and Warwick was on the verge of seeing its tournament end. Down 5-3 entering the bottom of the seventh, a bleak outlook only became darker when, after a leadoff walk by Josh Morin, a soft liner over the pitcher’s head was caught on a spectacular over the shoulder catch, leaving Morin halfway to second base when the pitcher whipped the ball to first to double him off and leave Warwick one out away from elimination.
But there was no quit in Warwick, as it stayed with a disciplined approach despite the enormous pressure. Three batters after the disastrous double play, the bases had been loaded on the back of two walks and a single that barely squeaked by the shortstop up the middle of the diamond, leaving the game in the hands of catcher Kyle Denis.
Denis wasted no time in playing the hero, as he boomed a game-tying, two-run double to left center that missed being a walk-off home run by no more than a few feet, clanging off the upper half of the fence.
“I had a tough day at the plate today [before the seventh inning double],” Denis said. “Bases loaded, I was just thinking get the bat on the ball and see what happens.
Now tied and with a man on third and speed at the plate, Denis made the gutsy call to try and bunt in the winning run, a move that caught the Coventry infield by complete surprise. Laying down a text book bunt down the third base line, left fielder Ronny Minear ran hard down the line and beat a throw by a fraction of a second that forced the first baseman to leap in the air to seal the walk-off win.
That advanced Warwick to the finals against Cranston, and Warwick nearly pulled off another upset.
The game was 0-0 through the first six innings, with Warwick’s Dylan Palmiotti dueling Cranston’s Steven Rocchio.
In the top of the seventh, with Rocchio out of the game, Warwick grabbed a 1-0 lead when Sean Blanchard singled, Zach D’Andrea singled, Colin Csoszor walked and Mitch Fielding was hit with a pitch.
Palmiotti remained in for the bottom half with the hope of closing the game out, but Rocchio – the eventual MVP of the tournament – doubled with one out and took third on a passed ball. He came around on an error on a ball hit by Mike Doire, tying the game at one and sending it to extras.
Once there, neither team yielded much.
D’Andrea took the mound for Warwick and he allowed only two baserunners from the eighth to the 11th inning, stranding them both. Warwick put a runner on base in both those innings as well, but couldn’t get a run across either
In the 12th, the game turned. Blanchard led off the top half with a double, and a single gave Warwick first and third. Denis called for a squeeze bunt – the same play that worked against Coventry – and Csoszer laid it down. Cranston got the ball quickly to home, though, and Blanchard was ruled out on a bang-bang play. The next batter struck out, and the side was retired.
“It was a very close call,” Denis said. “It didn’t look to me like he got tagged at home.”
In the bottom half of the inning, Doire singled and Jaimen Albizu walked before D’Andrea retired the next batter. Nick Poulos then hit a groundball to Woods at shortstop who fielded it and stepped on second for one out. But his throw to first in an attempt to get a double play was low and it skipped to the fence, allowing Doire to score the winning run.
“We both had opportunities to win,” Denis said. “It doesn’t always come to that last play of the game.”
It was a tough loss, but Denis stressed just how much his team had accomplished over the duration of the tournament.
“Coming off the Coventry game, winning that, then to play these guys as tight as we did, it was good baseball,” he said.
Denis would also like to thank the parents for the support they provided all tournament long, as well as the players for their commitment to the team.