On May 30, I went over to La Salle Academy to watch the Toll Gate softball team play the Rams in the single-elimination portion of the Division I playoffs.
Full disclosure: I was there for one reason only – I figured Toll Gate would lose. We had plenty of other teams we could have covered that day, but we didn’t want to miss our last chance to write about the Titans before their season came to an end. We banked on other teams winning and keeping their seasons alive, and we banked on Toll Gate losing and packing up their equipment for the summer.
Count me among those who never seem to learn. When the playoffs come around, so do the Titans.
Toll Gate won that game 2-1, a No. 12 seed knocking off a No. 5 seed. The Titans went on to win two more playoff games before finally getting knocked out by Bay View this past Sunday, ending their season with a fourth place finish.
The victory over La Salle was an upset on paper, but it really wasn’t an upset in retrospect. Simply put, no matter what happens in the regular season, Toll Gate takes it up a notch in the postseason like no other team in the state.
The numbers don’t lie. Over the last three years, the Titans have won more D-I playoff games than any team besides Lincoln.
Pretty incredible right? Toll Gate has won eight playoff games since 2011, and Lincoln has won 10. The Lions, of course, haven’t lost a game in two years and are on the verge of a second consecutive championship. They’ve gone 50-2 over the last three years.
Toll Gate, on the other hand, is a shade under .500 in the last three years.
But no one, besides Lincoln, has been better than the Titans.
The Titans went 10-8 in 2011 and came in fifth place in the state. In 2012, they went 8-10 and came in third. This year, it was a 7-9 mark and the fourth-place finish.
It’s a remarkable run of flipping the switch when it matters, especially when contrasted with other Division I teams.
North Kingstown has been the second-best team in the regular season over the past three years, with a 37-15 record. Postseason wins? Four.
Then there’s Cumberland, which has gone 35-17. It’s only won six postseason games, and each of those came during its title season of 2011. Bay View has gone 33-19, Coventry has gone 33-20, and each of them has only won seven times in the playoffs (although they were scheduled to play each other in the loser’s bracket final on Wednesday, so one of them will reach eight and tie Toll Gate). Cranston West owns a 33-19 record, and also owns exactly half as many playoff wins as the Titans.
The only team that is even remotely similar to Toll Gate in terms of regular season mediocrity and postseason success is Mount St. Charles, which has gone 23-29 over the last three years and has five wins in the playoffs.
But even the Mounties aren’t as good at turning it on in the playoffs as the Titans are. Toll Gate makes the regular season look irrelevant.
Not only has Toll Gate caught fire for deep playoff runs each of the last three years, but it started them all out under intense pressure in the first round.
This year, it beat La Salle in that single elimination game. Last year, the 11th-seeded Titans beat sixth-seeded Cumberland 4-2 in eight innings. In 2011, they outlasted East Providence 3-2 in eight innings.
A loss in any of those games and Toll Gate would have gone home immediately, as just another playoff casualty going with the flow.
To take it even further, only three teams with a .500 record or worse have been one of the final four teams standing in Division I since 2001.
The first was Mount, which made it that far as a 9-9 No. 9 seed in 2011.
The other two? Toll Gate at 8-10 last year as a No. 11 seed, and Toll Gate at 7-9 this year as a No. 12 seed.
Of the last 52 teams to make the Final Four, Toll Gate is the only team to get there with a sub .500 record, and it’s done it twice – in the last two years.
Teams with high expectations keep rolling into the playoffs and getting bounced – sometimes at the hands of Toll Gate – while the Titans keep flying under the radar until you look up and they’re suddenly playing at Rhode Island College as one of the final teams in the mix.
It’s a rarity in high school sports that teams can turn it on and off like Toll Gate can. But the Titans have proven, if nothing else over these past three years, that they’re a rare group.
Next year, I’ll remember to go somewhere else for that first game.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.