SMITHFIELD — On a new stage, the streak rolled on.
North Kingstown/Wickford Little League’s 11-year-old all-stars followed up five straight wins in district tournament play with two more at the state tournament this past weekend at Lou Dinobile Field.
NKW beat Barrington 3-2 on Saturday and won the winner’s bracket final 6-1 over Cranston Western on Sunday morning, punching their ticket to the championship round and moving one win away from the state title. They were set to play for the crown on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time.
“Just super proud of this group overall,” manager Dino Ciarniello said. “Keep it going.”
The District 3 champs rode a nine-hit attack and solid pitching to the opening-round win over Barrington. They took a 1-0 lead in the second, broke a 1-1 tie with two runs in the fourth and held off a Barrington rally down the stretch. Jack Diano had two hits and an RBI, and Brandon Venditto also drove in a run. Ethan Schmitt scored two runs. On the mound, Diano struck out seven and allowed one earned run in 4.2 innings. Venditto pitched shutout ball over the final 1.1 frames to finish off the win.
Cranston Western, a perennial powerhouse on the state Little League scene, beat host Smithfield in the first round and awaited in the winner’s bracket final. NKW was up to the challenge. Venditto took the mound again and pitched four no-hit innings. Chris Ciarniello allowed one run on one hit in the final two innings, and by then, NKW had opened up a sizeable lead with a single run in the second inning, two in the third and three in the fifth. Nine different players had hits.
“Another overall team effort,” Ciarniello said. “Guys getting some hits in spots that were pretty critical. I told them, ‘It takes all 13,’ and they certainly showed that today.”
Venditto worked around two walks in the top of the first inning and was otherwise untouchable. He struck out eight and retired the side in order in the second, third and fourth innings. He also handled much of the defensive work, with three of the four balls that were put in play ending up in 1-3 putouts.
“He started to find the zone and we were throwing some off-speed to mix it up,” Ciarniello said. “He was able to find it really well. He settled down and started throwing strikes.”
Venditto was given the lead in the second inning. Nick Martucci led off with a single and came around on a combination of wild pitches and passed balls. In the third, the top of the order started a rally as Venditto walked, Diano singled and Martucci walked, and the bottom of the order finished it. With two outs and Cranston Western aiming to escape the jam, NKW’s substitutes came through in the clutch. Matt Harrison lined a base hit to left on a 1-2 count to score Venditto. Schmitt followed with an infield hit that plated Diano and made it 3-0.
“Huge,” Ciarniello said. “They came up in big spots and delivered.”
With an eye on pitch count limits, NKW went to Ciarniello in the fifth. He picked up where his teammate left off with a perfect frame. The offense provided insurance in the bottom half. Jay Pelletier singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Schmitt, Gabe Saballa singled and later found his way to the plate on a wild rundown, and Bodie Forsell scored on a base hit by Jacob Hamilton.
In the sixth, Joseph Nardolillo ended NKW’s bid for a combined no-hitter with a line drive to left. Two groundouts brought Nardolillo home, but no other batters reached base. A popup to third base ended the game.
NKW didn’t celebrate the win, instead setting its sights on an eighth straight win.
“We take it one game at a time. We’ll tell them, ‘It’s another game,’” Ciarniello said. “They’ve been battle tested all the way through, so I think that’s helped them. It seems like, even when we don’t make some plays, we seem to respond. So we’ll just keep taking it one game, one inning at a time.”