The Warwick Continental 9/10-year-old all-star team didn’t always put its best foot forward in the Rhode Island state tournament, but it never took the easy way out either.
Continental lost its first game of the tournament on Saturday 14-4 to Portsmouth, and could have folded, but bounced back with a dramatic 5-4 win over Cumberland National on Monday before being eliminated thanks to another loss to Portsmouth, this one 10-5, on Tuesday.
Yet, even in the second Portsmouth loss, Continental never folded. Down 10-0 and one out away from being mercy-ruled in the fourth inning, Continental clawed its way back and made it close before falling a little bit short.
Even though it wasn’t a win, and Continental won’t be raising a state championship banner, there’s a lot of pride in how the team played.
“They didn’t give up,” Continental manager Mike Gannon said. “They were one out away from being 10-runned and mercy-ruled in four innings.”
The lasting memory of the tournament came in the Cumberland game, when Continental looked like it would lose its second straight game and not notch a single win in the very tournament it was hosting.
On the heels of the first Portsmouth loss, Continental battled with Cumberland thanks to strong starting pitching from Mason Provoyeur for four innings, with some help from Jeremy Ashman.
Tied at two, though, Continental squandered a chance to take the lead in the fifth inning and then watched Cumberland load the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth.
Jack Gannon came in to pitch, struck the first batter out and then retired the next two. It was an emotional moment, as Continental stayed alive.
“That was one of the highlights of the tournament for sure,” Mike Gannon said. “Getting out of a bases loaded jam in Little League is not an easy thing.”
Continental didn’t waste its new life, as it scored three times in the top of the seventh and then held off a furious Cumberland rally with Dylan Aunchman on the mound to get the win. Cumberland had the tying run on second base with one out, but couldn’t get it across.
That win advanced Continental to the loser’s bracket final opposite Portsmouth, and Continental was determined to put a better foot forward then it did in the first match-up.
Initially, that didn’t happen, as Portsmouth took a 10-0 lead on the strength of an eight-run second inning.
But Jack Gannon, the starting pitcher, settled down and Portsmouth didn’t score another run off him or Jeremy Ashman, who came on in the fifth.
And in the fourth, Continental finally got on the board, with a big double from Caden Haley knocking in a run and three more eventually coming around on hits from Tyler Amore and Alex Maker.
Continental added another run, but couldn’t get any closer. It left the bases loaded in both the fifth and the sixth innings, narrowly missing out on a couple of game-changing rallies.
“10-0 certainly isn’t great, but we played better than we did in the first game,” Mike Gannon said. “Our best, for sure not. But you know, it’s not like Portsmouth isn’t a good team.”
Portsmouth advanced to the state finals, where it will meet Cranston Western on Friday at 7 p.m. at Continental. Portsmouth will have to beat Western twice to win the title, while Western will only have to win once. Western is 2-0 so far, and has outscored its opponents 24-5.
Continental, meanwhile, will head home after a summer to remember. It captured the District 3 title, and then followed that with its solid showing at states.
“I couldn’t ask for more,” Gannon said. “The reality of it is that every team is going to end the season with a loss except one. The friendship, the memories they have will far outweigh the loss last night. That’s for sure. Way more highs than lows.”
It was quite a run.
“This group of boys dedicated half of their summer to this team,” Gannon said. “I’d like to thank each of them along with their parents and my coaches. I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.”
Team members are Tyler Amore, Jeremy Ashman, Dylan Aunchman, Tyrell Bernal, Nathan Dunn, Kaden Ethier, Jack Gannon, Caden Haley, Alex Maker, Greyson Pasquina, Mason Provoyeur, Aaron Sherlock and Amedeo Ucci. Assistant coaches were Mike Ethier and John Amore.