A first-round bye is the only thing that has come easy for the Narragansett Lions in the Connie Mack playoffs.
The defending state champions lost their first game of a quarterfinal series with Chariho, but won two do-or-die games to stay alive. On Tuesday, Narragansett ended up right back in a win-or-go-home position after a 4-2 loss to Cranston in game one of a best-of-three semifinal series, despite a dominant, 15-strikeout performance by Harry Loud. Game two was scheduled for Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time.
“Way too familiar,” head coach Matt Crook said with a laugh.
Narragansett lost 9-3 to Chariho in its first quarterfinal-round game. To some extent, it might have been better if the Lions weren’t coming off a first-round bye.
“We definitely had some rust,” Crook said. “First game after nine days off. Everything was just a little off.”
With its season on the line Saturday morning at Old Mountain Field, Narragansett got strong pitching from Ryan Gamelin and a five-run third inning en route to a 6-3 win.
Gamelin took a shutout into the fourth inning before Chariho scratched one across. Gamelin followed with a scoreless fifth. Chariho scored two more in the sixth, but Gamelin stranded two runners on base when he ended the inning with a strikeout, his seventh of the game.
Eric Lindley pitched the seventh, working around a one-out double to preserve the lead.
Gamelin helped himself with a two-run single in the third inning. Eddie Blessing, Jamie Cunningham and Jason Fera knocked in one run each as the Lions broke the game open. They added a run in the fourth when Colin LeClerc singled and later came around on an error.
In game three Sunday at Sprague Field, Chariho took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but Narragansett starting pitcher Matt Rocchio didn’t allow another run. And soon enough, he was pitching with a growing lead. The Lions tied the game in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by Cunningham. A sacrifice fly by Cunningham gave Narragansett a 2-1 cushion, and Gamelin delivered an RBI fielder’s choice in the fourth.
In the sixth inning, the lead really ballooned. Narragansett scored nine runs to turn a close game into a blowout. They sent 15 batters to the plate. Gamelin, Rocchio, Lindley, Colin Masseur, Phil Ruhle and Lucas Crook all drove in runs. The Lions ended up cruising to a 12-1 win.
“I knew that we had much better pitching in store,” Matt Crook said. “I knew the later the game got, the better our chances were. We were having real good at-bats and we broke through. Their pitcher got tired.”
The victory set up a championship rematch in the semifinals with the Cranston Bulldogs, whom Narragansett beat for the title last year.
Game one on Tuesday at Sprague Field featured terrific pitching on both sides. Loud went the full seven innings, with 15 of the 21 outs he recorded coming via the strikeout. Unfortunately for Narragansett, Cranston managed to score three runs in the first inning – two with the help of an error – and another in the fourth. The Lions were shut-out by Randy Vargas until the seventh inning, when a rally fell short.
“We were giving ourselves a chance,” Crook said. “We just couldn’t get anybody past second base, couldn’t get any two-out hits. He was a good pitcher and he pitched well.”
Vargas helped his own cause when he reached on an infield single to lead off the game. While Loud came back with his first two strikeouts, Vargas took second and third on stolen bases, then scored on a double by Caleb Joubert.
Narragansett was on the verge of escaping the inning there, but an error on a ground ball to second base kept the rally going. Nate Lanigan made it hurt with an RBI double and Jake San Antonio followed with an RBI single for the 3-0 lead.
“Harry had a little bit of a shaky first inning, and it was worse because of one bad error,” Crook said. “He should have got out of the inning with one run. Then it ends up being a 2-2 game other than that.”
Loud responded with four innings of no-hit ball, though Cranston pushed a run across in the fourth on a walk, a stolen base and wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly by San Antonio. Loud struck out two in the second inning, one in the third and two in the fourth before punching out the side in the fifth inning. He added one more strikeout in the sixth and then fanned the side again in the seventh.
“He settled down and did a really good job,” Crook said. “He was feeling it tonight.”
But Narragansett couldn’t make him a winner. Vargas allowed just two hits, both infield singles, through his first six innings of work. Narragansett had traffic on the bases thanks to three walks but didn’t get a runner past second base until the seventh inning.
Cunningham started the comeback push with a double and Gamelin walked. Loud knocked an RBI double to and Lindley plated a run on a groundout, but reliever Noah Rennick stranded a runner on second, ending the game with a strikeout.
The teams were set to head to Cranston on Wednesday, with Narragansett hoping for a return trip to Sprague Field in game three on Thursday.