Since losing to La Salle on May 6 – its first regular-season loss since 2012 – the Bishop Hendricken baseball team has won six games in a row. And in at least one facet, the Hawks have left no doubt.
With Mike McCaffrey tossing a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory over Cranston West on Sunday afternoon, the Hawks have pitched shutouts in five of their last six games. Sunday’s win improved them to 15-1, with two games left in the regular season.
“We’ve been pitching well and we’ve been playing defense,” said Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway. “That combination is big for this team. We told them yesterday, ‘It can’t just be pitching and it can’t just be defense. It’s got to be pitching and defense.’ We don’t have a Mike King type who’s going to strike out 12, 13 a game. Our pitchers are going to throw to contact, so we have to throw strikes. And when the ball’s in play, we have to play good defense. It has to be the two together.”
Pitching and defense have been steady all year for the Hawks, who have allowed by far the fewest runs in Division I. They’ve given up 28. La Salle is next at 40.
But the recent string has brought things to an even higher level. The Hawks followed up the loss to La Salle with a 10-0 win over North Providence, as Anthony Cofone and Kyle Barbato combined on the shutout. After they battled for a 5-3 victory over Woonsocket, the shutout streak began in earnest. They beat St. Raphael 6-0 behind Barbato, Christian Travers and Sam Boulanger, then topped North Providence 10-0 on a complete game from Anthony Graziano. They beat Cranston East 6-0 on Wednesday.
The Falcons represented a different kind of opponent. North Providence, St. Raphael and Cranston East are the bottom three teams in Division I-North. Cranston West came into Sunday with a 9-6 record but were still no match.
“Cranston West is a good team,” Holloway said. “It was a good win for us, heading into the last week.”
McCaffrey took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and ended up allowing three hits. He struck out five, finishing off the complete game with consecutive strikeouts in the seventh.
“Some games this year, his pitch count has gone a little high so he hasn’t pitched into the seventh inning,” Holloway said. “He’s aware of it, and he’s been trying to keep the pitch count down. This was big – it saves our bullpen for the last week. It was a good effort on his part. It helped us a lot.”
The Hawks gave McCaffrey plenty of support, too, thanks to an opportunistic offense. West made five errors, and the Hawks made all of them hurt by scoring six unearned runs. Gian Martellini had two hits and three RBI to lead the charge.
“They made a few errors and we did a good job scoring after those,” Holloway said. “Sam [Boulanger] had a clutch hit, Gian had big two-out hit. That’s what we’ve talked about – it’s always a goal for us. We did a good job today.”
John Willette reached on a dropped fly ball in the first and scored on a Martellini single. Boulanger knocked in Brady Chant in the second after Chant had reached on an error.
The Hawks then broke the game open with three in the third without the benefit of a hit. Martellini scored on an error in center field, Toppa came home on a throwing error during a double steal and Chant scored on a wild pitch.
Hendricken added a run in the fifth on a Toppa single and an error on a ground ball from Dan Miller. In the sixth, Martellini smacked a two-out, two-run triple to make it 8-0.
On the other side, McCaffrey had no trouble making the lead stand up. He retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced, with only a walk mixed in. An error allowed a base runner in the fourth, but McCaffrey got three quick outs then worked a scoreless fifth.
In the sixth, with a runner on first after a walk, Travis Collins broke up the no-hitter with a base hit to right. Jimmy Diehl followed with an infield hit to load the bases and put West in position to make some noise. It was still a 6-0 game at the time.
But McCaffrey buckled down. The junior right-hander struck out Dan Smith on three pitches to end the inning.
“That’s what you’ve got to do,” Holloway said. “You’ve got to be tough when you’re in a tight situation. He came up big there.”
McCaffrey allowed a one-out single to Armand Vaziri in the seventh but struck out Nik San Antonio and Sam Franco to finish off the victory.
Hendricken has clinched the top seed from Division I-North. As of Sunday, second-place Cumberland was three games back in the loss column, and the Hawks only had two games remaining.
They were set to play Johnston on Monday, with results unavailable at press time. On Wednesday, they’ll finish the regular season with a 4 p.m. home game against Woonsocket.
“We talked yesterday at practice about needing to play better as we go toward the playoffs,” Holloway said. “We played very well today.”