Hendricken baseball coach Ed Holloway viewed Monday’s showdown with second-place La Salle as just another game.
And the Hawks did just what they always do.
Hendricken scratched across three runs in the first inning and, with strong defense behind him, Mike King went the distance as the Hawks won 4-1.
It was a classic example of the Hawks’ pitching and defense formula, one that hasn’t let them down yet. They improved to 13-0 with the victory, while La Salle dropped to 11-2. La Salle’s only losses are to the Hawks.
“Like I told the guys, the pressure was really on them,” Holloway said. “I told them, ‘We have a game lead and they have to beat us.’ We just needed to play good defense behind Mike and get clutch hits. That’s what we were able to do.”
King scattered six hits and struck out six. He’s now 6-0 on the season, with complete games in each of his starts.
Monday’s victory was his second of the year against the Rams.
“This was big-time,” King said. “We’ve had a lot of close games, but they’re the only ones close to us in the standings. Plus, they’re our rival. We wanted to stay up for this game. The defense stayed strong. They made very good plays for me, and we came out swinging and got on top of them.”
King and La Salle ace Caleb Gardner gave the big game a fitting pitching match-up, but the Hawks took full advantage when Gardner scuffled out of the gates. The right-hander walked two batters and hit two batters in a 45-pitch first inning. Coupled with base hits by Rob Henry and Nick Boland, it was enough to stake the Hawks to a 3-0 lead.
Henry led off the big inning with a base hit, Ed Markowski drew a walk and King was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out. With Gian Martellini at the plate, Gardner uncorked a wild pitch and Henry raced home with the first run. Martellini then knocked in Markowski with a sacrifice fly.
After John Toppa was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and third, the Rams got an out at home on a ground ball by Billy Keegan. But Boland made sure the Hawks weren’t done, battling through an eight-pitch at-bat before looping a base hit to left. Toppa scored to make it 3-0.
Gardner had struggled – and the Hawks hadn’t let him off the hook.
“We had some good at-bats,” Holloway said. “Even though we may not have gotten the big hits, we had good at-bats. We were fouling balls off, taking pitches. It was a good effort.”
Gardner eventually got out of the inning with a strikeout while the bases were loaded, but the damage was done.
And armed with a lead, the Hawks could go to work.
The Rams pushed a run across in the second thanks to three infield hits, but King ended the threat with a strikeout. From there, King remained in control – and the defense seemed to step in any time he wavered.
La Salle had picked up some momentum with its second-inning rally and two scoreless innings by Gardner, but King squashed it with a one-two-three third inning that took just seven pitches.
In the fourth, C.J. Dandaneau led off with a base hit, but on the next pitch, King got Christopher Ballirano to ground into a 4-6-3 double play turned by Matt Murphy and Lou Umberto.
The Rams got another leadoff hit in the sixth, and Connor Weathers followed with a walk, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. Before the first pitch of the next at-bat, King whirled around and threw to Umberto at second, who tagged Alex Howard for the pick-off. The Rams got nothing else in that frame.
“Lou and I practice that all the time,” King said. “It’s just one of those plays where we have good chemistry. I know exactly when he’s going to go and we give each other the eye before. Lou got a little space and took it.”
The Hawks added an insurance run in the fifth when Markowski singled, moved to second on a passed ball, took third on a groundout and scored on a bad-hop infield hit by Martellini.
In the end, the Hawks didn’t need the extra offense. La Salle got a leadoff single for the third straight inning in the sixth, but Murphy and Umberto followed with another 4-6-3 double play.
“Pitcher’s best friend,” Holloway said. “The two double plays and the pickoff were huge.”
After the double play, King struck out the next batter, then cruised through a one-two-three seventh to finish the job.
King needed just 89 pitches for the complete game. Behind him, the defense didn’t make an error.
“We came up big,” Holloway said. “When you’ve got a guy like Mike on the mound pitching and you play defense on top of that, it makes it really hard for the opposing teams. It was a good effort for us all-around.”
The performance continued a run of dominant pitching and defense. The Hawks have allowed just 11 runs in 13 games, lowest in the state. The next-closest team is South Kingstown, who has given up 27 runs.
“It’s been incredible,” Holloway said. “Mike has been the best pitcher in the state. We lost two great starting pitchers from last year, but that’s why we do summer ball. Mike McCaffrey and Dillon Manfredi had great summers last year. It’s their varsity season before this varsity season. That’s our theory and it worked great for them.”
The Hawks were scheduled to be back in action Wednesday against North Providence, with results unavailable at press time. They’ll host St. Raphael on Saturday at 1 p.m., before closing out the season with three games next week.
“It’s really one game at a time,” Holloway said. “We can’t look past anybody.”