With everything on the line, the Bishop Hendricken baseball team did a perfect job summing up its entire season in just two games.
And the end result was one that the Hawks had their sights on right from the first day they stepped on the field.
Playing in the Pawtucket Red Sox-Amica Insurance Division I state title series at McCoy Stadium, second-seeded Hendricken overwhelmed No. 4 South Kingstown 12-2 via the 10-run mercy rule in game one on Wednesday before coming back on Thursday and battling to a 5-0 victory. The wins gave the Hawks a 2-0 sweep of the series, and a spot atop the Rhode Island high school baseball landscape as state champions.
Just like it had all season long, Hendricken hit better, pitched better and played better defense than its opponent, as the Rebels were no match for the Hawks’ balance all over the diamond.
And with a near-identical team to the one that fell short of even reaching the Final Four last season amidst lofty expectations, it was an extra special feeling for Hendricken to be back in the winner’s circle as state champs for the fourth time in the past five years.
“It’s unbelievable,” said senior Tom Pannone, the series MVP. “We’ve wanted this all year. We got it in 10th grade, we didn’t get it last year, and then we finally got back here and won it. It’s just amazing.”
Pannone was at the center of it all, as he hit the only home run of the series in game one – a solo shot to right field – and then dazzled on the mound in game two.
With a chance to clinch the title for his team, Pannone – who was recently selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft – pitched a complete game one-hitter, as he allowed only a first inning, two-out single to T.J. Lynch. He struck out 13 batters, while walking four and hitting two.
At the plate, South Kingstown chose to put him on base rather than let him do any damage, as the Rebels intentionally walked him three times.
It was a dominant performance from perhaps the state’s best player on unquestionably the state’s biggest stage.
“He had 14 strikeouts in an earlier game and I don’t know what he had tonight, but he had a great year for us,” Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway said. “We have a great group of seniors, and I think he’s the best player in the state. We needed him to come up big for us all year, and he has.”
But Pannone was far from the only one to get the job done for the Hawks when it mattered most.
There was also Reed Gamache, the senior third baseman who had been suspended for the first game of the series because of an altercation in the second game of Hendricken’s semifinal series with Coventry.
Back in the lineup for game two, Gamache delivered the biggest hit of the series when he cleared the bases in the fourth inning off South Kingstown reliever Thomas Kazounis with a three-run triple to left-center field. That turned a 2-0 Hawks lead into a 5-0 advantage, and with the way Pannone was pitching, it all but clinched the title for Hendricken.
“I think he was motivated to play a big game,” Holloway said of Gamache. “We had opportunities in the first three or four innings and we couldn’t get a clutch hit. We left a lot of guys on base, and for Reed to come up with that was huge.”
And then, there was Hendricken’s fielding, which was nearly flawless throughout the entire series. Though the Hawks made two errors in game one, the miscues weren’t costly, and they played error free ball in game two.
“I think this might be the best defensive team that we’ve had,” Holloway said. “We’ve had great infield defense this year, and outfield. We’re strong defensively. We know we’re not going to give up a lot of unearned runs.”
They also made the difficult plays. Senior right fielder Bobby Indeglia saved a hit in the third inning of game two on a terrific diving catch as he came in toward the infield, and he kept a runner off base in the fifth when he caught a ball running hard to his right that nearly hit the turf in between him and center fielder Rob Henry.
“Tommy was pitching a hell of a game,” Indeglia said. “The one diving in, I just got a good jump on it. The one I came across, the center fielder got a bad jump on and I had to help him out a little.”
Indeglia was a force on the mound as well, as he pitched all five innings of the mercy-rule shortened game one, allowing two runs – one earned – on four hits while striking out five.
For the series, Pannone and Indeglia were the only two pitchers Hendricken used, and they allowed a combined total of one earned run on five hits in 12 innings.
The Hawks, who went 16-2 during the regular season, allowed only 29 runs in those 18 games – by far the fewest in the state.
“All year we’ve relied on our pitching,” Indeglia said. “We pitched so good. Our two games we lost, we lost by one run. Our pitching did it all year. I think all of our ERA’s might be under one.”
The Hawks’ offense scored 17 runs on 20 hits in the series, which was also indicative of its regular season performance, where it scored 141 runs, the second-most in the state.
There was no shortage in Wednesday’s game, as Hendricken racked South Kingstown ace Josh Tombs for six runs in just three innings, and then continued to pile on against two Rebels relievers.
Besides Pannone’s home run, the Hawks also got big performances from senior Rich Bacon, who had three RBI, senior Justin Finan, who went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI and junior Matt Murphy, who went 3-for-4 with a double and five RBI while playing in place of the suspended Gamache.
In game two, it was more a struggle, but the Hawks still got the job done.
They stranded two runners in the first against South Kingstown starter Sean Healy, but got on the board in the second when Lou Umberto singled in Mike King – who went 2-for-3 in his return from a one-game suspension – to give Hendricken a 1-0 lead.
Then in the fourth, the Hawks broke out in a big way.
After Healy retired the first batter of the inning, Bacon singled and Pannone was intentionally walked. Billy Walker flew out, before Indeglia walked to load the bases and bring up Finan. Finan walked on just four pitches, bringing home Hendricken’s second run and driving Healy from the game.
In came Kazounis, and five pitches into his outing, Gamache greeted him with his three-run triple to left, which proved to be the knockout blow.
“I was just trying to keep my hands still,” Gamache said. “Pretty much throughout the playoffs my hands were moving, I was just trying to keep them still. He threw me a pitch I could hit.”
From there, Pannone finished the job. He worked around a two-out walk in the bottom of the fourth, then stranded two runners in the sixth. In the seventh, he walked leadoff man Nathan Lessard, and then walked Christopher Collins with two outs, but clinched the title immediately afterwards with a three-pitch strikeout of Andrew Benford.
“I had something going,” Pannone said. “I was just fired up. I love hitting and I got walked three times. But after that I just came out and I felt pumped up, I had a lot of adrenaline going and I felt great on the mound.”
The final out set off a celebration that seemed like it was a long time coming, especially after the disappointment of last season.
“It’s a great feeling,” Holloway said. “We didn’t make it last year and we were disappointed in that. To come back, for the seniors, I’m really happy for them.”
The championship was Hendricken’s 11th in the last 16 years.
And now, the program will say goodbye to 11 seniors, five of whom have been a part of two championship teams. The Hawks will graduate most of their infield, as first baseman P.J. Murray, shortstop Bacon, third baseman Gamache and catcher Walker are all moving on to play college baseball, as is Indeglia. Pannone is in line to play college ball as well, or he could sign a professional contract.
Five other seniors – Jerre Dean, Pat Brindamour, Finan, Mike Thomas and C.J. Maderios – will also be lost to graduation.
“This senior class, it was a great class,” Holloway said. “To win it was just special.”