NORTH KINGSTOWN — The budding rivalry between North Kingstown/Wickford Little League and Warwick Continental/American will get another chapter.
Last summer, the 10-year-old all-stars from those leagues played three times in the District 3 tournament, with WCA ultimately prevailing in a two-game championship round.
With similar groups on the field in the 11-year-old bracket this year, WCA won an early-round matchup, but NKW has since won three straight games in the elimination bracket. A 7-0 victory over Coventry Tuesday night clinched NKW’s trip to the finals, where WCA awaits.
“We had that early loss and we’ve turned it around since then,” manager Dino Ciarniello said. “We’re playing pretty good baseball right now. We just want to keep that going. I think they’re playing with a lot of confidence in all facets – defense, offense and pitching. Really proud of how they’ve come along.”
NKW will visit WCA tonight at 6:30 at D’Abrosca Field, at the Crowne Plaza complex in Warwick. WCA can claim the district title with one victory. NKW must win twice, on Thursday and again Saturday to take the championship.
The first meeting in this year’s tournament was all WCA, as it won 9-2 on June 30, but NKW has been much better since then.
“The first game, we didn’t play well defensively so we never really got into a rhythm,” Ciarniello said. “It was a bad day for us and we’ve responded since then. That’s a credit to them, to be able to bounce back.”
While WCA beat Coventry for a spot in the title round, NKW’s road to the rematch began with an 11-1 victory over East Greenwich and a dramatic 4-3 win over Narragansett. On Tuesday, Coventry provided the last hurdle and NKW had no trouble clearing it, riding shutout pitching by Brandon Venditto and Chris Ciarniello and a five-run second inning to the win.
Venditto went 4.2 innings and allowed three hits, all of which were singles. He walked two batters in the first inning, then didn’t issue another free pass. He struck out only two, instead letting his defense help the cause. NKW recorded nine ground ball outs in Venditto’s time on the mound and didn’t make an error.
“They were solid all around,” Dino Ciarniello said. “Those are the plays you need to make. You can’t give teams extra outs. We didn’t walk many and we didn’t give them many extra outs.”
Chris Ciarniello came on for the final out of the fifth inning then worked around a leadoff error for a scoreless final frame.
Both Venditto and Ciarniello pitched with a lead for most of their time on the mound. Coventry pitcher Leah Lapham retired the first five batters of the game before Gabe Saballa drew a walk with two outs in the second inning. Ethan Schmitt and Bodie Forsell followed with walks and Jacob Hamilton was hit by a pitch to force in a run. With the bases still loaded, Venditto cleared them on a double to deep left field, making it 4-0. Jack Diano then plated Venditto with a base hit for the 5-0 lead.
NKW added two runs in the fourth inning on another Venditto double, a Ciarniello single and RBI singles by Nick Martucci and Jay Pelletier.
With a third straight win in the books, NKW is right back where it wants to be.
“I just hope we keep on playing good baseball,” Dino Ciarniello said.
And a familiar foe awaits.
“They’re very solid. They’re good defensively. They’ve got good hitters. It’s going to be a battle,” Ciarniello said. “We’ve just got to continue to play this way and cover all three phases. Hopefully, we come out ahead.”