With one game left to decide the Connie Mack state championship series on Tuesday, Flood Auto Group felt good about its chances with ace Mike McCaffrey on the mound.
And McCaffrey pitched like an ace.
Cranston Bulldogs’ hurler Anthony Cofone just pitched a little bit better.
McCaffrey yielded two runs in the first inning, but allowed nothing more the rest of the way. But his counterpart, Cofone, gave up just one seventh-inning run and then held on for a 2-1 victory and the state title.
The victory was Cranston’s second in two days, as Flood took a 1-0 series lead on Sunday with a 3-2 win before the Bulldogs came back to win 3-1 on Monday and then clinched the crown on Tuesday.
Flood had won the previous two state titles.
“These kids, they just come to play,” Cranston manager Dave Ciolfi said. “They don’t care what the score is, who they’re playing – they just come to play. So everything worked out great.”
The tone was set on Tuesday in the top of the first inning, where Flood threatened immediately against Cofone, who had pitched an inning in relief the day before. After the first two men were retired, Billy Keegan singled and Brady Chant hit a long double to center field. Keegan was waved around, but Tyler Donahay started a quick relay that ended with Keegan out at the plate by a wide margin, ending the inning.
It proved to be a big play.
“First thing, we had that chance,” Flood manager Bryan Leahey said. “I knew they were a competitive team and I knew we wouldn’t get too many opportunities with how competitive they’ve been, so I took a chance. It worked out for them.”
In the bottom of the inning, Cranston was still riding high from the play at the plate. Anthony Crudale let off with a single and Mike Castillo laid down a perfect bunt single to put two on.
McCaffrey came back to strike out Brian Franco, but a passed ball moved Crudale to third and an RBI groundout by Donahay brought him in for a 1-0 lead.
The next man up was Andrew Ciacciarelli, and he ripped a double into left field, plating Castillo to put the Bulldogs up 2-0.
“The big inning was the first inning, when we got up on them,” Ciolfi said. “Then it took a couple of things away from them, and when it did that I said, ‘Okay, we’ve got a good chance to win this game.’”
From there on out, the game was the definition of a pitcher’s duel.
McCaffrey threw a complete game, allowing two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and no walks, although he did hit a man. Cofone also went the distance, allowing six hits with seven strikeouts and four walks.
McCaffrey dominated with his curveball, as he didn’t allow a hit after the first inning until Bobby Santos legged out an infield single in the fifth.
“He’s just a phenomenal pitcher,” Leahey said. “Phenomenal. He just wants that ball. Last week in the semifinals, he pitched two times on short rest. I looked at him and pulled him out and he was ready to kill me for it.”
The problem for Flood was that Cofone – who attends Bishop Hendricken – was matching him pitch for pitch.
He allowed a one-out single in the second, but that was quickly erased on a double play. In the third, he worked around another one-out single to easily get through the frame.
The fourth inning was a little more difficult. Flood got a leadoff walk from Keegan, but two pitches later he was picked off first base by Cranston catcher Tyler Galligan.
Cofone then gave up a single to Chant and he walked Jake Sendley to put two on with one out.
But Cofone bore down, retiring Eric Edwards on a groundball to third before striking out Joe DeGiulio looking on a 12-to-6 curveball to retire the side.
In the fifth, after giving up a leadoff double to Christian Habershaw, Cofone retired the next two men, issued a walk and then struck out Keegan on a 3-2 fastball.
“You can’t say enough about him,” Ciolfi said of Cofone. “We wanted to pull him in the fifth inning, and he said ‘Let me go out there again coach, let me go out there again.’”
Cofone again came up big in the sixth, walking Chant to start the inning before getting three straight outs to keep Flood scoreless.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Bulldogs threatened to blow the game wide open, but McCaffrey refused to let it happen.
Consecutive errors to open the inning put Cranston’s Travis Collins and Crudale on base with nobody out. A bunt single from Castillo loaded the bases – still with no outs – with Cranston’s 3-4-5 hitters coming to the plate.
McCaffrey wasn’t fazed, striking out Franco on three pitches, getting a lineout to right field from Donahay that Kevin Sutyla caught diving in toward the infield and then striking out Ciacciarelli on three pitches to keep the score 2-0.
“He’s just a competitor,” Leahey said. “Especially with that bases loaded and nobody out, he stepped up huge for us. He’s going to be a tremendous asset to the varsity program.”
In the top of the seventh, Flood pushed Cofone to the limit. With one out, Ryan Rotondo singled. Ron Gaynor followed that with a groundout for the second out of the inning, bringing Sutyla to the plate. He grounded a ball to second base, but an error allowed him to reach and Rotondo to score, cutting the deficit in half at 2-1.
Keegan, the No. 3 hitter, stepped in, but on the first pitch he flew out to left field for the final out.
“Hat’s off to the kids,” Leahey said. “They kept fighting up there to the very last guy. There is nobody else I’d rather have up in that situation other then Keegan. You win some and lose some.”
Cranston, meanwhile, in its first year as a program, could celebrate a title.
“The kids got along great, we had interchangeable parts, and we just kept playing,” Ciolfi said.
And for Flood, the season was a success as well. Using players who are predominantly rising sophomores and juniors, Flood was younger then most of the teams it played, and it still came within one game of winning the championship.
It got standout performances from pitchers Dan Thadeio in game one, Kyle Barbato in game two and another from McCaffrey in game three.
As a team comprised solely of players from Bishop Hendricken, it was also able to aid the development of many of the players who could contribute for the varsity program next spring.
“They battled until the very end,” Leahey said. “I told them, ‘We’re more about the development. If we make it here, we make it here. Otherwise, the goal is to try to improve you as a baseball player and an all-around athlete, get you to the varsity.’”