The Warwick Connie Mack team had leads in all three games it played in the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs over the weekend, but it only took advantage once. Because of that, its
season came to a close a lot sooner than anybody expected.
Warwick, which finished with the top record in Rhode Island at 12-3-1, lost two games to one to Diamond Baseball Academy. It lost 8-5 in Thursday’s game one, won 13-2 on Friday and bowed
out on Saturday with a 6-4 defeat.
In both losses Warwick held leads of at least two runs, but was unable to finish the job.
“I’ve told you all year long that this team can’t stay focused,” Warwick manager Barry Lama said. “That was the story. The talent level was well above what we’ve accomplished this year.”
The losses came at time when Warwick had been struggling in general. It won its first 11 games of the season before going 4-5 in its final nine, including tournament play.
The early season success may have played a role in the team’s downfall.
“I think what hurt this club more than anything was winning early,” Lama said. “They just kept winning and winning. Even when they played bad they won. We honestly peaked at the wrong time.”
Thursday’s game looked promising at the start, especially with ace Billy Morris on the mound.
Warwick took a 4-2 lead, but slowly the wheels started to come off. Diamond Baseball, which is based in East Greenwich and has several Toll Gate players, tied the game at four, and then took control.
“Once they got over the hump, we just couldn’t turn it on,” Lama said.
The game served as a wake-up call, and Warwick came back strong with Ryan Morris on the mound on Friday.
Morris yielded two runs in the first inning, and then buckled down. He allowed only one hit the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Warwick offense broke out for 13 runs to even the series and set up Saturday’s winner-take-all showdown.
Again, Warwick got out in front.
It took a 4-1 lead behind the pitching of Corey Muto into the fourth inning, but Diamond Baseball erased the deficit quickly.
It scored five times off Muto in the fourth, with the majority of the damage being done on walks.
“Muto pitched great,” Lama said “He had that one inning when he just couldn’t throw strikes.”
Diamond Baseball added a run to pad its lead, but it was still a manageable deficit.
Warwick, however, couldn’t seem to make a dent. It hit the ball hard, yet nothing fell in.
“When we did hit the ball hard, which was quite a bit, we hit line shots to the outfield right at people,” Lama said. “They didn’t have to move, standing in their tracks.”
There were other factors, as pitcher Randy Garcia missed the entire series and catcher Jonathan Salcedo missed the final two games.
Still, Lama thought that if his team had been focused, it would have had enough to still be playing.
“When they did try hard, they did hit the ball hard, but it was right at somebody,” Lama said. “That was my point all year long. I don’t care what sport at what level – you can’t just turn
it on and turn it off.”
The only positive to come out of the early exit was the hope that it might serve as an early motivator for next season, in which the majority of Lama’s team is expected to return.
Four of the team’s top pitchers – both Morris brothers, Garcia and Kevin Hickey – will all be coming back, as will Salcedo.
“I just hope that they learn from this,” Lama said. “And I think they did. They walked out of there and it was pretty quiet. I didn’t have to say anything.”
There were high points along the way, as Warwick had the best record in the entire state during the regular season and finished in second in the District tournament to Waltham, Mass.
At the end of the day, though, it fell short of its goal to win a state championship.
“I feel bad for the kids, because that was an extremely talented bunch of kids,” Lama said. “They were all dejected. They knew that they let this thing slip away.”
Diamond will play Tiverton in a best-of-three semifinal series this week.