This wasn’t the way the New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 envisioned its postseason run.
It wasn’t exactly the way Senerchia Post 74 envisioned it either – but at least Senerchia is still alive.
After each team dropped their opening games of the Final Eight at West Warwick’s McCarthy Field on Tuesday, they squared off against each other on Wednesday in an elimination game that was barely competitive. Senerchia jumped out to a 7-0 lead after just two innings and pitcher Matt Murphy did the rest in a complete game 8-3 victory.
Senerchia, the No. 5 seed, is now one of six teams remaining in the state and will face the loser of Wednesday night’s game between No. 3 R&R Construction and No. 2 Upper Deck – Post 86/14. Because of its opening game loss, Senerchia will now need to win four more consecutive games – one today, one on Friday and two on Saturday – to win the state championship.
“They beat us two out of three in the regular season,” Senerchia manager Chris Sheehan said of NEFL. “They’re definitely a good team. We knew we had to be on our ‘A’ game. I can’t say enough about Murphy on the mound. His pitch count was up there, but he really gutted it out.”
NEFL, the No. 1 seed, was sent home after another disappointing postseason. For the second straight year, it had the best record in the state during the regular season, only to come up short in the playoffs. It lost its first game of the tournament 3-1 to East Bay/Riverside Post 10.
Last season, it lost its opening game but battled back to win its next three before being eliminated. This season, after winning 18 of 21 games in the regular season and receiving a bye into the Final Eight, it was two-and-out when it mattered most.
“It just seems like the one seed in American Legion baseball just doesn’t work out,” NEFL manager Dave McGuirl said. “It’s not just me – no matter who is the one seed, they never seem to fare well in the playoffs.”
It was all about the first two innings on Wednesday. Senerchia, the visitors, sent eight men up to bat and came away with three runs before NEFL had even had its turn at the plate. It loaded the bases with nobody out courtesy of an error and two walks by NEFL starter Andrew Bracken, and scored its first two runs on a wild pitch and a passed ball. The third run came home on a triple to center field by Brady Chant.
“I think the pitchers were very nervous,” McGuirl said. “The team was very tight. I don’t know, I just couldn’t loosen them up. They were just very nervous and tense to start the game.”
An inning later, NEFL committed two more errors – it made a total of five in the game – and was forced to pull Bracken out of the game after just three batters in the frame. He departed with one out and runners on second and third following a Rob Henry walk and a Murphy single.
NEFL ace Ryan Charette came in to settle things down, but before he even threw a pitch he committed an error on a pickoff throw to first, allowing Henry to score. When Charette did throw a pitch, Senerchia’s Mike King hit the first one for a double to left field, knocking in a fifth run. Gian Martellini followed that with a double, scoring King, and Martellini came around on another error to make it 7-0.
Senerchia scored all seven runs on just three hits.
“That was huge,” Sheehan said. “I was a little disappointed that we kind of let up after that. The kid Charette came in and did a great job after that, but that’s a huge lead to jump out to. It really gave Murph a cushion.”
Charette hung tough after that, allowing just a walk over the next four innings, and surrendering one run the rest of the way. At one point, starting with a groundout in the fourth inning, he retired seven consecutive batters.
But there was nothing NEFL could do to overcome its bad start. It tried to battle back against Murphy, and did put a few runs on the board, but couldn’t get over the hump.
In the third, Mike Mallozzi ripped a two-run double to left field, scoring Ben Mann and T.J. Boyajian, and Boyajian scored again in the fifth after he was hit by a pitch, stole second, took third on a balk and came around on a groundout to second by Branden Hoxsie. Murphy, though, and his defense, kept the damage under control.
“(The seven runs) definitely helped, but they kept grinding at bats from the beginning of the game,” Murphy said. “I’m lucky they didn’t get any more runs.”
In the seventh, Senerchia padded its lead with another run, this one courtesy of a King RBI double to right, scoring Murphy. King was later thrown out at the plate on a single by Martellini – preventing an even bigger inning – but another run certainly helped the cause.
King, the Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year during the high school season, is 4-for-9 so far in the Final Eight, with a home run, two doubles and five RBI.
NEFL did have a few opportunities to get back in the game, but never took advantage. It put the first two men on base in the fourth via a walk and an infield single, only to have Danny Greaves caught stealing at third base on a ball that skipped away from Senerchia catcher Nick Boland.
“Danny, he’s young, just made a mistake,” McGuirl said. “He took off. As a third base coach, he’s at second base, he just takes off. Just a mental error. He thought the ball got away from the catcher a little more than it did.”
In the sixth, after a one-out walk by Greaves, Senerchia turned a 4-6-3 double play to retire the side. NEFL then stranded a runner in the seventh before stranding one more in the eighth and going down in order in the ninth.
“Defense was great,” Murphy said. “We had no errors – that’s how you win a ballgame.”
Murphy was brilliant for Senerchia, allowing just four hits and the three runs while striking out 10 and walking five. He threw in excess of 150 pitches. In a tournament in which the team plays every day, using only one pitcher for the entire game was important for Senerchia as it tries to conserve pitching for the rest of the week.
“Through three I didn’t expect to go the whole way,” Murphy said. “At the beginning, I was trying to do too much. I was trying to overthrow, strike everyone out. At the end, I just slowed everything down. I wasn’t trying to throw as hard, and it seemed to work. I was getting guys out.”
Charette ended up pitching 7.2 innings for NEFL, allowing only two earned runs.
For the tournament, NEFL scored just four runs, which turned out to be its downfall. In its opener, NEFL matched up with East Bay/Riverside Post 10, a team it had just swept in a three-game set near the end of the regular season. The playoff rematch was a different story. East Bay starter Danny O’Brien tossed a complete game, six-hitter to lift his team to a 3-1 victory.
NEFL starter James Meizoso was almost as good, striking out nine in a complete game, but East Bay scratched three runs across and that was enough. East Bay scored its first run on a bases-loaded walk, its second run on a rundown gone awry, and its third on an infield hit that barely got past the pitcher’s mound.
“We needed to get that one,” McGuirl said of Tuesday’s game. “And that’s a good team, (Senerchia). The kid Murphy did a good job.”
Senerchia lost its first game of the tournament to Navigant Credit Union Woonsocket-Post 85 10-5 after blowing a 4-0 lead in the third inning. King hit a three-run home run in the first inning and scored on an error in the third, but six hits in the third inning for Navigant led to four runs and a tie game. Navigant scored three more in the fifth and three more times in the eighth to finish the job. Anthony Graziano took the loss for Senerchia, while Navigant’s Kory Lawrence earned the win with eight innings of work.
Senerchia’s game today will be played at 1 p.m., with Jake Newberry as the likely starter. If it wins, it would play on Friday at 4 p.m., and if it wins that one it will play on Saturday at 1 p.m., with an if-necessary game to be played immediately following that one.
“We’re just going to have to focus on conserving pitching,” Murphy said. “It’s a strategy. It’s a chess match. We hit the ball well today, so hopefully we can do that the next few games.”