The Warwick Continental 9/10-year-old all-stars had to wait an extra day to celebrate.
But maybe that made it sweeter.
Continental went undefeated on its run to the finals of the District 3 tournament but lost to Wickford 5-0 on Saturday, which forced a winner-take-all championship on Sunday.
Undeterred, the Continental stars came back from a one-run deficit with eight runs in the second inning and held off a late charge from Wickford to capture the district championship with a 9-7 victory.
“It’s always hard for kids to come back and get the last win,” said Continental coach Dennis Cehelsky. “I said to them yesterday, ‘Do you know how many kids don’t get the opportunity to play in a championship?’ I just asked them to leave it on the field, not to say, ‘I wish I ran harder when I was on the bases.’ Just leave it on the field and try really hard.”
That’s exactly what Continental did.
Wickford scratched a run across on a wild pitch in the top of the first, but Continental starter Will Waggoner avoided further trouble and kept it a 1-0 game.
Continental then loaded the bases in the bottom of the first but came up empty when Wickford’s Tristan Curran worked his way out of the jam.
The next time Continental loaded the bases, Wickford didn’t get off so easy.
In the bottom of the second, Derek Razza lined a one-out single to center, Max Machioni followed with a base hit and Nick Cehelsky was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Then the floodgates opened.
Razza beat a throw home on a ground ball by Waggoner for Continental’s first run. Max Prescott then singled home Max Machioni for the 2-1 lead. Michael Machioni reached on an error that scored another run, and Andrew Ekroth followed with a two-run single. An infield hit by Robbie Petrarca loaded the bases again for Cameron Riley, who plated the sixth run with a sacrifice fly. Razza then smacked a two-run single to right.
When Wickford finally escaped, Continental had pounded six hits and put eight runs on the board for the 8-1 lead.
“I told them right before the inning that this was the time,” Dennis Cehelsky said. “I said, ‘If we want to put the pressure on them, we need to do it this inning or the next. Let’s make a move.’”
It turned out to be the decisive move. Continental added another run in the third on an RBI single by Prescott. After that, Wickford made a run, but Continental always found a way to stay in front.
Wickford scored four in the fourth, with two coming on a deep double from Mike Halloran. It was the kind of hit that can spark a momentum surge, but Nick Cehelsky relieved Waggoner at that point and got out of the jam without allowing anything else.
The defense helped the cause. Continental got the second out of the inning on a tough grab by Mike Murphy, who had come off the bench to play second. Murphy almost collided with Prescott as they chased a popup, but Murphy somehow made the catch. Murphy also fielded a ground ball and threw a strike to first for the third out.
Wickford got to Cehelsky in the fifth on a two-run triple and threatened again in the sixth. Halloran led off with a single, and after Cehelsky got two quick outs, Thomas Oates kept Wickford alive with a base hit to right.
But with the tying runs on base, Cehelsky buckled down and induced a ground ball from Will Corey. Cehelsky hopped off the mound, fielded the ball cleanly and threw to Waggoner at first for the final out.
Continental could finally celebrate.
“The kids played as a team,” Dennis Cehelsky said. “They stayed focused. I have to credit this team. I can’t say it’s always this kid or always that kid. It’s been all 13 of them.”
And that’s been a perfect recipe.
Continental will now move into the four-team, double-elimination state tournament, which will be hosted by Silver Lake/Olneyville Little League in Providence. The tournament begins on Saturday, and Continental is scheduled to play the 6 p.m., game against District 1 champion Cranston Western.
The winner of the 9/10 state tournament will qualify for the East Region Invitational, which is hosted by Cranston Western and features champions from 11 states. That tournament begins July 30.