With five games left in the regular season, the Warwick Vets baseball team is setting its sights on the playoffs. If the Hurricanes keep getting pitching like this, the picture may come into focus pretty quickly.
On the heels of a shutout by Kevin Hickey on Friday against Barrington, senior Shane Johnson twirled a complete-game, one-hit shutout on Tuesday as the ’Canes beat East Providence 6-0. It was the second straight dominant performance by Johnson, who pitched a one-hitter against Portsmouth last week.
The win moved the ’Canes to 5-8 and into a three-way tie for fourth place in Division I-Central with Pilgrim and Toll Gate.
“We hold the fate in our hands,” said Vets head coach Nolan Landy. “We’ve got to win. These guys are buying into it and they’re excited. And it’s fun to watch these guys pitch. Hickey and Johnson have been phenomenal.”
The ’Canes were 2-7 heading into last Monday’s tilt with Portsmouth, but that game may go down as the one that turned the season around. Johnson was untouchable, striking out 16 in the 3-1 victory.
Vets dropped its next game to Division I-South leader North Kingstown, but even then, the ’Canes were hanging tough, and on Friday, they started really trending upwards. Hickey pitched a four-hit shutout as the ’Canes beat Barrington 6-0.
It was more of the same Tuesday. Johnson struck out 11 and allowed just a third-inning single as Vets posted another 6-0 victory.
“This year, I told Shane I expected a lot from him and Hickey, and he’s delivered,” Landy said. “He’s one of our senior guys and he needs to do that for us to be successful. He’s been working ahead and making guys hit his pitch. It’s obviously working.”
Johnson walked the first batter of Tuesday’s game, but after a passed ball and a sacrifice bunt, Johnson stranded him at third with a strikeout and a groundout. He then worked a quick one-two-three second inning.
In the third, Johnson hit his only rough patch of the day. After a strikeout to start the frame, he walked Sean Geiger and then gave up a base hit to Nicholas DeBarros. With Scott Mello at the plate, Johnson fell behind 3-0 but came back for a strikeout when he painted the corner on the 3-2 pitch. After another walk loaded the bases, Johnson buckled down and struck out Colin Costa to end the inning.
After that, he cruised. Johnson pitched four perfect innings to finish off the complete game. He retired the last 13 batters he faced, striking out seven of them.
“I just throw hard,” Johnson said. “I love to throw fastballs. Most kids can’t hit it, so it really works in my favor.”
That fastball was touching the high-80’s, and though Johnson wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in the win over Portsmouth, the result was just as good.
“Today wasn’t as clean,” Landy said. “He had a lot of full counts. But he made the pitches he had to today.”
And he also had plenty of support. In each of the last two games, it hasn’t just been the pitching that’s shined. The ’Canes are playing good baseball across the board.
On Tuesday, they didn’t make an error and they took advantage of all their scoring chances, giving Johnson more than enough cushion to work with.
He had the cushion right off the bat, too. T.J. Boyajian led off the bottom of the first inning with a triple to deep left field, and he scored when Danny Greaves reached on an error. Johnson then helped himself with a double down the line to score Greaves. A single by Andrew Morrissette brought Johnson home for the 3-0 lead.
The ’Canes then tacked on single runs in the third, fifth and sixth innings. In the third, Hickey reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on a base hit by Pat Delsanto. In the fifth, Morrissette walked and came around on a single by Delsanto and an ensuing error in center field. Vets then made it 6-0 in the sixth when Anthony Lonczak singled, moved to third on a pair of walks and trotted home on a wild pitch.
“We were struggling with that mental part of the game, and now we’re getting the hits in big situations, we’re running the bases right, we’re taking the extra base,” Landy said. “We’re doing the things we need to do to win.”
Boyajian led the offense with two hits, and he was on base four times. Delsanto had two hits, while Johnson, Morrissette and Lonczak had one each.
The ’Canes are now one of five teams in Division I with a 5-8 record. Tuesday’s win was especially big because it kept East Providence, who’s now 3-10, behind them.
“Every win is big but anybody behind you, you’ve got to beat,” Landy said. “This is a huge win. These guys are starting to get it.”
The ’Canes will try to keep the good times rolling when they host Cranston East, who’s just ahead of them with a 6-7 record, on Thursday at 3:45 p.m.
“We tell them, ‘Every day we’ve got to come to play,’” Landy said. “Once we hit Barrington on Friday, we said every one of these games is like a playoff game. It’s in our hands.”