EXETER — For the third consecutive year, the South Kingstown Senior Little League all-stars ended their summer one step shy of a state championship.
Elmwood stood in the way again, just as it did in 2016, battling out of the losers bracket and defeating South Kingstown 17-11 in the first game of the title round July 11 and holding on for a 10-8 victory in the winner-take-all championship game Thursday at the Jim Reeves Sports Complex.
“First of all, I’ve got to give it to Elmwood. They’re a great baseball team,” South Kingstown manager Frank Gallucci said. “One thing that bugs me is it was Elmwood two years ago, too, when the same thing happened to us. But I give them a lot of credit.”
Heading into the championship round, South Kingstown was undefeated on the summer, having swept through to a third straight district championship and breezed through its first two games at the state tournament. In an opening-round matchup with Elmwood, South Kingstown won 11-2, then rolled past Bristol 9-2 for a spot in the championship, where the opponent coming out of the losers bracket would have to win twice. Meanwhile, Elmwood beat Cumberland and Bristol to stay alive, setting up a familiar rematch.
In the 2016 state tournament, South Kingstown won its first two games before Elmwood broke through for a pair of victories. South Kingstown also lost in the finals last year, falling to Johnston.
This time, the strong pitching that defined the first two state tourney games was snowed under by Elmwood’s powerful offense. South Kingstown, with plenty of offense of its own, couldn’t quite keep up.
Elmwood rallied from an early 10-3 deficit in the first game, scoring nine runs over the final two innings to win the slugfest. South Kingstown led again in the second game, but Elmwood came back with a five-run third inning and held off a seventh-inning push to seal the win.
“Our bats went quiet yesterday. You look at all the offense we had put up going into the final round, it was crazy,” Gallucci said. “We have a really good group of guys, we knew their pitching was exhausted and I was very happy with what we had for pitching going into today. The guys warmed up really well.”
Trey Young, Ari Ahava and Ben Brutti each drove in runs as South Kingstown raced to an early lead in the first championship-round game. A four-run second inning and a six-run third staked the all-stars to a 10-3 lead.
But South Kingstown had already gotten a sign that Elmwood could hit. In the bottom of the first inning, Josue Luna smashed a towering, three-run home run to right center field, and there were more fireworks to come.
Elmwood chipped away with three runs in the third, and Jorge Pizarro hit a two-run homer to make it 10-8 in the fourth. A walk and three consecutive singles by Cristofer Lugo, Javan Rivas and Domingo Polanco paved the way for a four-run fifth inning that gave Elmwood the lead. Five runs in the sixth inning made it bigger.
South Kingstown managed only one more run after its big third inning, with Elmwood reliever Dorsey Asencio pitching the final 4.1 innings and keeping South Kingstown from joining in the slugfest.
The second game saw South Kingstown playing from the lead again. Max Cute singled in the first inning and scored on a hard-hit ball by Scott Cromack that was misplayed at second base. Elmwood scored two runs without a hit in the bottom of the first, capitalizing on a hit-by-pitch, a walk and a key two-out error.
South Kingstown was back at it in the third inning, with Cromack working a bases-loaded walk and Tony Lomas driving an RBI single to put his team back in front 4-2. After Elmwood touched up starter Ben Brutti for two more runs in the third inning, the back-and-forth stopped. Elmwood reliever Gabriel Rodriguez pitched three consecutive scoreless innings.
“It shows that they have a lot of depth in arms too,” Gallucci said. “We tried to have good at-bats and run the counts up a little bit, but we went a little quiet with the bats today too.”
In the meantime, Elmwood broke through for five runs in the bottom of the fourth. Pizarro singled, Edward Reyes doubled and Luna reached on a third strike wild pitch, which also allowed Pizarro to score the go-ahead run. An RBI groundout by Asencio brought in another run, and an error made it 7-4. Polanco then blasted a two-run home run to left field that put all the momentum squarely in Elmwood’s dugout. The team added one more run in the fifth when Reyes singled, moved up two bases on a passed ball and scored on a straight steal of home.
Trailing by six runs, South Kingstown rallied in the top of the seventh. Lomas, Ahava and Young worked walks to load the bases with nobody out. Tyler McNamara singled two runs home to make it 10-6, but the comeback lost some juice when a line drive by Cute turned into a double play, as McNamara was caught off first base.
South Kingstown kept coming as Young scored on a single by Owen Caldwell and an ensuing error. Caldwell later raced home on a wild pitch to make it 10-8, but the last-ditch effort stopped there. Reliever Ruben Ogando got a groundout to end the game.
“I’m happy with them. They did a great job,” Gallucci said. “And they battled back at the end, which shows they have the heart.”
Elmwood will represent Rhode Island at the Senior Little League Eastern Regional in West Deptford, New Jersey.
Many of South Kingstown’s players will continue their summers with other teams, having given the Senior League quest another good shot.
“Some of our younger guys, I’m really happy with the way they stepped up. I really tried to get kids into the game,” Gallucci said. “We had a solid core. We had a solid nine and we tried to work the others in. These kids are playing so much baseball. When I finally got them on the field, they were great.”