Last Wednesday, Flood Auto Group was one strike away from seeing its season come to an end. Four days later, Flood was one win away from a third consecutive Connie Mack state championship.
After dropping game one of its semifinal series last week, Flood put a seventh-inning rally together in game two and won game three for a berth in the championship series. Then on Sunday night, Flood took a one-game lead in the best-of-three title series with a 3-2 victory over the Cranston Bulldogs at Fay Field.
Game two was scheduled for Monday, with results unavailable at press time. Regardless, it’s been quite a ride for the Flood squad.
“These guys are hungry,” said manager Bryan Leahey. “Every year, we drill it into their heads, ‘You’ve got to be hungry. You’ve got to want it. You’ve got the Hendricken target on you year in and year out. Rise to the challenge.’ These guys have definitely done it. They’ve come through.”
Flood found itself on the brink last week, when it lost game one of the semis to the Slocum Baseball Club of North Kingstown. The next day, things didn’t go much better and Flood trailed by three in the seventh inning. But walks and some key hits turned it all around and gave Flood a thrilling 6-5 victory.
“The big one was game two,” Leahey said. “We had a runner on first and two outs in the seventh, down by three. Four times, we were down to our final strike. The kids worked a couple of walks and we got some big hits. They stayed with it and they worked hard.”
From there, Flood never looked back, taking an early lead and rolling to the 7-2 victory in game three.
The win set up a meeting with Cranston, who’s in its inaugural season of Connie Mack baseball. The Bulldogs finished just ahead of Flood in the regular season standings, and they’ve also shown a flair for the dramatic in the playoffs. Cranston was in an 0-1 hole in its semifinal series against Diamond, but came back with 5-2 and 4-3 victories.
“We knew it would be a battle,” Leahey said. “They’re the No. 1 seed, we’re the No. 2. We battled in the regular season. When you get to the championship, you know it’s going to be tough.”
And it was. Flood scored early and then took a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning. Cranston made a charge, but reliever Matt Colucci got Flood out of a jam to seal the one-run victory.
Flood was in the driver’s seat early on. Ryan Rotondo doubled in the third and scored on an RBI single by Ron Gaynor. A base hit by Billy Keegan and an RBI single by Brady Chant scored Gaynor.
“That’s huge,” Leahey said. “We got some big hits with guys on base, and we had some great at-bats, guys with two strikes on them coming up with big hits. We’ve stayed true to our gameplan all season long, and we put it into action today just like we wanted to.”
Flood didn’t get much else against Cranston starter Dan McDonough – but also didn’t need much.
Dan Thadeio, who was the hard-luck loser in game one of the semifinals, was dominant again for Flood. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and a shutout into the seventh. Thadeio struck out three.
“He’s been one of those go-to guys all year,” Leahey said. “He’s one of the smartest kids in his class so you know he’s thinking out there. He knows how to attack guys. A lot of times, he had those guys guessing.”
Thadeio also responded on the rare occasions when things got tough. In the fifth, with two outs and a runner on second, Cranston’s Mike Castillo grounded out to shortstop. But after a conference by the umpires, it was determined that Keegan’s foot was off the first base bag. Flood was already in the dugout and had to come back out with runners on first and third.
Thadeio was undeterred. He induced a pop-up from Dan Miller and caught it for the final out of the inning.
“That’s just the type of kid he is,” Leahey said. “We always tell these guys, ‘Regroup, you’re in the game for a reason.’ He stepped up the way he has to.”
Flood added an insurance run in the sixth when Jake Sendley walked, took second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a groundout and scored on an infield hit by Rob Fredette.
That run proved to be crucial.
Cranston’s Anthony Crudale led off the seventh with a walk. Thadeio got Jeff Ragosta to hit a ground ball to third, but Sendley’s throw to second was off-target and everybody was safe. Brian Franco followed with a bloop single over second base to load the bases.
Thadeio stayed in the game, but Tyler Donahay grounded the next pitch through the right side to score Crudale, making it a 3-1 game.
That was it for Thadeio, who gave way to Colucci.
And the rising sophomore got the job done.
Andrew Ciacciarelli hit a sacrifice fly to bring another run home, but Colucci got Castillo to hit a grounder to short. Flood almost turned two, but settled for the force at second.
That left runners on first and third with two outs for Miller. Colucci jumped ahead 0-2, while Castillo stole second to put the winning run in scoring position. Miller fouled off the next pitch, before Colucci painted the outside corner and struck Miller out looking to end the game.
“I had absolute and complete faith in Colucci and he came in and did the exact job,” Leahey said. “That’s why we have him. That’s one thing we preach to these guys all year long – if you’re out there, rise to the challenge.”
The victory gave Flood the inside track, but the way the Connie Mack playoffs have gone this year, nothing will come easy. From the quarterfinals on, every series has gone to three games.
Flood was just happy to get things started on the right foot.
“We wanted to make sure our guys were locked in and ready to go,” Leahey said. “First game, you always want to come away with that one, especially when you’re starting on the road.”