The Bishop Hendricken baseball team hadn't been playing its best the last few weeks, and its first-round playoff draw was tougher than you'd expect for the No. 2 overall seed. No. 15 East Greenwich may have gone 8-10 in the regular season, but the Avengers also have quite a few players back from a team that made the final four last year.
Mix those factors together and you've got the makings of an upset.
The Hawks didn't let it happen.
Riding steady performances on the mound, in the field and at the plate, the Hawks slowly but surely put the Avengers away in Tuesday's playoff opener, winning 7-2 to advance to the second round in the double-elimination regional.
“East Greenwich is a good team,” said Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway. “I thought we had the toughest match-up (of the top seeds). We had to be ready to play because they're a good team. We were able to do it.”
The Hawks advanced to host No. 7 Portsmouth today at 4 p.m. The Patriots rolled over defending state champion Cranston West 10-0 on Tuesday.
While it figures to be another tough test, the Hawks will at least head into it with momentum, something they didn't have when the playoffs began. Hendricken lost its season finale in surprising fashion to Cranston East last week.
“We've been struggling,” Holloway said. “We really haven't been playing that well. I thought today was our best game in a while.”
That was true from the start. After starter Tom Pannone worked around a walk to pitch a scoreless top of the first, the Hawks came out swinging and put up two runs in the bottom of the inning. Rich Bacon and Billy Walker had singles before a ground-rule double by Reed Gamache that scored Bacon. Walker came home on an infield hit by Mike King, staking the Hawks to a 2-0 lead.
“It's important to score first and put pressure on the other team,” Holloway said. “I was glad to see that. We came out and got a couple there in the first inning.”
The Hawks finished the inning with four hits, but from there, East Greenwich starter Jake Moss settled in, allowing just five hits the rest of the way.
Thankfully for the Hawks, there were key hits in the mix – and plenty of opportunities.
In the third, Gamache walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and came around on a throwing error by third baseman Ryan Gavin.
The Hawks then took full advantage of a shaky fifth inning by the Avengers. Walker reached on an error to start the frame and Bobby Indeglia looped a single just over first base to put two on. Gamache moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt before East Greenwich intentionally walked King to load the bases.
Jarek Krajewski then brought Walker home with a sacrifice fly. P.J. Murray followed with a low line drive that Gavin couldn’t handle at third, which allowed Indeglia to score. Bacon then brought King home with a single, giving the Hawks the 6-0 lead.
“This is the best game we've played in a while,” Holloway said. “We played small-ball, we moved guys around, we got clutch hits and we took advantage of some errors on their part.”
On the mound, Pannone kept the Hawks in control. The senior lefty struck out five and scattered four hits in six shutout innings. He allowed a one-out double and hit a batter in his final inning but buckled down to finish the frame with two strikeouts.
“Tommy's the key,” Holloway said. “He shuts them down. It was a hot day but he was throwing hard. He had his share of strikeouts. I thought he did a good job.”
Walker added to Hendricken’s lead with a solo home run to left in the bottom of the sixth, and the Hawks then held off a charge from the Avengers in the seventh. Indeglia relieved Pannone and got two quick outs before running into some trouble. He hit two batters and allowed a base hit ahead of a two-run single by Dave Hopkins. But the senior righty stayed in control and struck out Kevin Mason looking to end the game.
With that, the Hawks were clear of the Avengers – and happy about it.
“I don't want to say East Greenwich underachieved,” Holloway said. “I don't know why they were 8-10, but you look at their players, and they're really good. They're dangerous. We talked about that the last couple of days, how we had a tough match-up in the first game. The kids were focused today. You could see it in BP. They came here with a purpose and they played their best game in a couple of weeks.”
The Hawks finished with nine hits, getting at least one from seven of the nine batters in the lineup. Walker went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI to lead the way, while Bacon went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI. Indeglia, Gamache, Murray and Lou Umberto also had hits.
Hendricken shined defensively as well. Murray made a bare-handed grab on a ground ball that took a wild hop at first base, while Umberto and Bacon made several tough plays at second base and shortstop. The Hawks didn’t commit an error.
Hendricken will now take on Portsmouth, which went 10-8 in the regular season. The Hawks and Patriots have not played each other this year.
If the Hawks win today, the team that comes out of the losers’ bracket would have to beat them twice to win the regional.
“We need a good pitching performance,” Holloway said. “That's the name of the game. We've got to pitch the ball and catch it. We played good ball today. It was a good performance and we hope to build on it and keep it going when we play Thursday.”