WEST WARWICK — Two lopsided games in the opening round of the American Legion playoffs gave way to a pair of close, well-played games in the final four.
Unfortunately for South Kingstown Post 39, the good games had worse endings.
Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 edged Post 39 3-2 Monday at McCarthy Field, and New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 did the same Tuesday, ending Post 39’s summer.
“What are you going to do?” manager Pete Podedworny said. “It’s baseball. I can’t sing their praises enough. They played two great games.”
Seeded fifth, Post 39 swept past West Warwick Post Two in a best-of-three, first-round series. It won a 17-2 game in the opener, capitalizing on West Warwick’s depleted pitching staff and getting a strong performance on the mound from Dylan McCormick. In game two Friday at Sprague Field, Post 39 was held hitless for three innings before a stunning rally brought home nine runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Matt Gage and Scott Camp each had two RBI to lead the way. The game ended after five innings when the West Warwick catcher was ejected for a comment to the umpire, leaving the team with only eight players - not enough to finish the game.
The wins were a welcome sight for Post 39 after it entered the playoffs with four losses in its last five regular-season games.
“It was just what this group of guys needed,” Podedworny said after the win.
Post 39 continued to play well in the final four but couldn’t come up with victories. Top-seeded Gershkoff limited Post 39 to two runs Monday despite getting out-hit. That made a tough-luck loser out of McCormick, who gave up three runs in a complete-game effort.
“We had bases loaded,” Podedworny said. “We had more hits than they did. We just couldn’t get the runs across.”
NEFL followed the same script as Gersh-
koff, riding a strong performance by pitcher Riley Beard and getting just enough offense to prevail. Beard, a 2018 graduate of North Kingstown High School, scattered eight hits and struck out three. NEFL’s roster hails mostly from Warwick but includes a few Skippers.
“Sometimes, you’re just out of sync with the bats,” Podedworny said. “I’ll give [Beard] credit - he did a nice job against a good hitting team. We just didn’t put strings of hits together. I think we should have done a better job against him, but I’ll give him all the credit. He kept us from putting those strings of hits together.”
Post 39 struck first with a run in the third inning. James Pederson and Jared Hayes each doubled, with Pederson racing home on the hit by Hayes.
NEFL answered with two runs in the home half, both of which were tough to swallow for Post 39. A ground ball off the bat of North Kingstown’s Kevin Cox took a wild hop over the second baseman and allowed Max Prescott to score. On another ground ball, pitcher Kevin Kanaczet tried to get an out at third, but Cox successfully navigated a rundown to get safely back to second base. A walk sent Cox to third and a groundout brought him home.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes and it’s heartbreaking,” Podedworny said. “It’s a tough way to have a run scored against you, especially when it’s so close.”
Post 39 tied the game in the fourth when Kyle Abbott was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, but Beard escaped further trouble. NEFL went back in front on a two-out, RBI single by Josh Coleman in the fifth. Kanaczet didn’t allow anything else, but the 3-2 lead stood up.
Post 39 threatened in the seventh on a single by Hayes and a bunt hit by Zac Zyons, but a double play short-circuited the comeback. Beard ended the game with a strikeout.
The loss ended a strong season for Post 39, which integrated players from its full area for the first time and found success with the approach.
“We accomplished more than I thought we were going to, only because you’re trying to blend that group of kids together on one team,” Podedworny said. “For a lot of those kids, they’re all brand new to each other. But the dugout was fine. The kids all got along. There were no issues. Everybody pulled for each other, and I look forward to next year.”
Podedworny was particularly proud of veterans McCormick, Camp, Hayes and Gage, all of whom completed their final year of legion ball.
“The maturity and the leadership those guys showed was my favorite part of the whole season,” Podedworny said.