When the Warwick National 12-year-old all-stars weathered an early storm in Monday’s District 3 winners’ bracket final, they became the first team all summer to avoid getting buried by Coventry American.
National just couldn’t dig all the way out.
Facing a Coventry team that had won by mercy rule and scored at least 13 runs in each of its games, National gave up five runs in a bad first inning before steadily chipping away at the lead. Ultimately, the comeback fell just short as Coventry American held on for the 7-5 victory and a spot in the district championship.
National will play on Friday in the losers’ bracket final. That’s not where they wanted to be, but there was some solace in the way they played on Monday.
“Coventry American is a very good team,” said National manager Kurt Blanchard. “They’ve mercy-ruled every team they’ve played. Our guys came out and got knocked down but they responded. It was a good battle. The kids stayed up and stayed positive. I’m proud of them.”
National had gotten to the winners’ bracket final with a win over Wickford, a victory that many considered an upset. After seeing National, Coventry American manager Mark Barter was just happy to avoid another upset.
“We knew coming in that Warwick National was going to be tough,” Barter said. “They’ve had an impressive run, and they’re in the winners’ bracket for a reason. Now we know why. It’s a good team.”
Coventry put National on its heels early with the big first inning. Nick D’Ambra led off the game with a single. After National starter Zach D’Andrea struck out the next batter, Jarrad Grossguth and Kyle Brown both laced hard grounders to shortstop that National couldn’t come up with.
Manny Bjorklund followed with a two-run single and Will Janikies reached on a fielder’s choice before Quentin Dearden smashed a three-run homer over the left-field fence for the 5-0 lead.
“We had a couple of errors that were kind of critical to us,” Blanchard said. “We allowed runners to get on and they capitalized on it. We knew if we allowed runners on, this team could come up with the big hits. That’s what happened in the first inning.”
Bjorklund, a hard-throwing right-hander, took the mound for Coventry American and continued the onslaught in the bottom of the first. He struck out two in a one-two-three inning.
Coventry then added a run in the second. With runners on second and third, Grossguth hit a ground ball back to the mound. D’Andrea fielded and threw to first for an out, but when National tried to get the runner going back to second, D’Ambra raced home to make it 6-0.
From there, though, National made sure it wouldn’t become just another Coventry victim.
Kyle Denis doubled to lead off the second and eventually came around when Jakob Gierhart reached safely on a dropped third strike. In the third, Ronnie Minear walked, Sean Blanchard singled and Denis brought a run home with a base hit up the middle. Blanchard then scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-3.
“He’s a very good pitcher, probably one of the hardest pitchers we’ve faced all year,” Blanchard said of Bjorklund. “He was hitting his spots. Our guys started to catch up to him and started to make things happen.”
While D’Andrea started to find his groove against the powerful Coventry lineup, National threatened again in the fourth. D’Andrea reached on an error and Minear legged out an infield hit. But when D’Andrea tried to take third on the play, he was thrown out. Bjorklund then ended the inning with a strikeout.
“Manny pitched well enough to keep us in it,” Barter said. “We tell the kids, ‘If you make a mistake, keep your head up. Just move on and don’t make the same mistake twice.’ Fortunately, we did that. We threw the ball around too much, something we haven’t done at all, but we survived.”
Coventry tacked on a run in the fifth when Dearden legged out an RBI infield hit, but National still had life.
Grossguth relieved Bjorklund and finished off a one-two-three fifth, but National got a one-out walk from Jakob Gierhart in the sixth. He broke for second on a passed ball and when the throw sailed into the outfield, Gierhart hustled all the way around to make it a 7-4 game.
D’Andrea then reached second on an error. He came around on a pair of wild pitches, making it 7-5.
“We kept battling,” Blanchard said.
But Grossguth settled in from there, striking out the next two batters to finish off the win.
“I thought they responded pretty well, given the fact that we hadn’t had a battle,” Barter said. “I’m proud of my guys. They hung tough. That game could have easily turned. You could feel the momentum swinging their way. One more inning, who knows what would have happened?”
National didn’t get the chance for another inning, but despite the loss, there were no complaints about the effort. Playing Coventry so close should only help National as it tries to stay alive.
“I expected a good game here tonight,” Blanchard said. “These guys have been upbeat. The previous wins have built that confidence right along. Having this battle against these guys and putting them back on their heels like this is definitely a confidence boost. We’ll go into the losers’ bracket final and see what we can do.”
National will face the winner of Wednesday’s game between East Greenwich and Wickford. Results were unavailable at press time.