The Warwick Connie Mack baseball team fell to Cranston in a winner-takes-all game three of their quarterfinal playoff series by a score of 5-0 at Fay Field in Cranston on Tuesday night.
Warwick’s Final Four bid fell short due in large part to Cranston’s Brandon Budlong, who hurled a complete game shutout, registering 11 strikeouts, while allowing just five hits and two walks over seven innings of work.
Warwick had forced a game three by getting a dominant pitching performance of its own from Bobby Lineberger in a 7-0 win on Monday, but the defending champion Bulldogs had a little left in the tank for game three.
Cranston jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the fourth, putting up four unearned runs that proved to be all they would need. Budlong got things started with an RBI single that scored Kyle Whitney, giving himself some run support and making it a 1-0 game. Two more runs came in to score on a throwing error, before second baseman Rob Santos drove in the final run of the inning with a groundout to the right side of the infield.
“Every time we’ve played these guys this year, we’ve gotten off to that kind of start,” Warwick manager Pete Palermo said. “When we give them confidence and get down, it’s tough to come back from that.”
After Cranston tacked on another run in the bottom of the fourth to extend its lead to 5-0, Warwick had its chance to cut into the deficit in the top of the sixth inning. A leadoff walk by Lineberger, followed by back-to-back singles by Alex Lefebvre and Joe Paliotte, set up Warwick to do some damage with the bases loaded and no one out. However, Budlong dug down deep to strand all three base runners, notching two big strikeouts.
“All year long we’ve had trouble getting key hits,” Palermo said. “Tonight we had some chances, but we just couldn’t get that key hit.”
Escaping the sixth inning threat allowed Budlong to come out for the final inning in an attempt to send his team to the semifinals behind a complete game effort. He did just that, retiring all three batters he faced in the seventh, adding two strikeouts in the process.
“He runs the pitch count deep, but when he needs to make a pitch, he makes it,” Cranston manager Dave Ciolfi said. “He did exactly that tonight. He’s the star.”
Warwick dropped game one of the series 7-6 but responded in a big way on Monday at Mickey Stevens. Lineberger struck out seven in a two-hit shutout.
“Bobby pitched very well today,” Palermo said after the win. “He's had quite a few nice games for us. And our defense was a lot more steady today. We hurt ourselves the other day.”
Warwick was opportunistic on offense, taking advantage of five Cranston errors to open up a comfortable lead. Though Warwick struck out 10 times against Cranston starter Taylor Pacific, it got the big hits when it needed them. Andrew Swain went 2-for-3 with two RBI while Lefebvre was 2-for-2 with two runs scored. Stephen Denis, Brendan Rix and Dave Babcock added one hit each, and Paliotte and Devon Gamba scored a run apiece.
The win continued a strong playoff run for Warwick, which upset Slocum in the first round. Ultimately, though, Cranston managed to hold Warwick off.
Cranston, who won last year’s title in its first season in the league, earned the top seed after going undefeated through the regular season. However, the Bulldogs haven’t been the same team in the playoffs, losing a number of key players to a Babe Ruth Regional just in time for their quarterfinal series.
“They were obviously down some players, which was big, but I thought we gave them a good run,” Palermo said. “I think maybe as we get older we can clear up some of those inconsistent games and hopefully it’ll lead to some more wins. But we had a good year overall this year.”
The Bulldogs will now move on to play in the Final Four of the Rhode Island Connie Mack playoffs, where they will look to repeat as state champions. They’ll face Pawtucket in another best-of-three series to determine who will play in the state final. Game one is set for Thursday night at Cranston West.