The Bishop Hendricken baseball team is one win away from completing one of the best seasons in program history.
On the strength of a dominant performance from senior Mike King and four runs in the first three innings, the Hawks got out in front and stayed there en route to a 5-1 victory on Wednesday night over North Kingstown in the first game of the state championship series at McCoy Stadium.
Five different players knocked in runs for Hendricken, which will now to try finish off its second consecutive state title – and fourth in the last five years – today when it takes on the Skippers in game two of the series, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at McCoy.
“The kids are confident,” Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway said. “The goal is to win, and they really don’t feel the pressure to be honest. They just come to play, and they expect to play well. So far, so good.”
King was his usual dominant self, as the Gatorade Player of the Year allowed only one run on four hits while striking out six in a complete game effort. He threw just 91 pitches to earn the win. He faced more than three batters in an inning just twice – the third, in which he escaped a bases loaded, two-out jam by getting Tyler Lamarre to pop out to left field, and the seventh, in which he allowed a two-out single to Liam Darcy but avoided any further issues.
Other than that, it was smooth sailing.
“In the middle I just missed spots, left it up, walked a kid,” King said. “We fought through it. One run’s not bad, and we still won the inning.”
Offensively, Hendricken wasted no time getting him some support. The Hawks’ first three batters got hits off North Kingstown ace Dom Grillo, with Rob Henry reaching on an infield single, Ed Markowski reaching on a bunt single and John Toppa knocking in the first run of the game with a double to left-center.
King followed that with a sacrifice fly to center, putting Hendricken up 2-0.
“We try and score first in every game, that’s our goal, just to put pressure on the other team,” Holloway said. “It’s really beneficial when Mike’s on the mound, because obviously he’s one of the best pitchers in the state.”
The Hawks added to their cushion in the second when Nick Boland doubled, Jarek Krajewski singled and Matt Murphy brought home Boland with a sacrifice fly. Though Hendricken ended up stranding two runners in the frame, the offense had done more than enough with its ace on the mound.
King retired the first six batters of the game before surrendering a double to Darcy to open the third. He retired the next batter on a groundout, but a single and an infield error on a potential double play ball – which would have ended the inning – brought in North Kingstown’s only run.
A base-running error by the Skippers provided the second out and Lamarre’s pop-out ended the threat.
“I don’t know what happened in the third,” Holloway said “Maybe because the leadoff guy got on and he went from the stretch. But then he came right back after that third inning. He was really nice and fluid the whole game except for that third inning.”
In the fourth, King gave up a one-out single to Brian Cox, but the next batter flew out and Cox lost track of the outs. He was all the way to third base by the time the ball was thrown back in, and he was easily doubled off first to retire the side.
“We’re going to need to play a lot better than that if we’re going to beat a team of that caliber,” North Kingstown head coach Kevin Gormley said.
Hendricken made it 4-1 in the bottom of the third inning. Toppa walked and North Kingstown shortstop Chris Hess threw wide of second on a tailor-made double play ball off the bat of King. That put runners on second and third, and Gian Martellini knocked Toppa home with a sacrifice fly.
The Hawks grabbed their final run in the seventh off North Kingstown reliever Nick Mongeon, as Lou Umberto walked with two outs, Henry singled to left and Markowski singled to center, scoring Umberto.
Hendricken finished the game with nine hits. More impressively, they did it against Grillo, a pitcher who hasn’t lost since April 8. He gave up four runs – three earned – on seven hits over six innings of work. He struck out three.
“I thought he was up early, he didn’t have great command early, and they hit him,” Gormley said of Grillo. “They did a good job putting the ball in play and then we made some errors behind him.”
King set the side down in order in the fifth, then struck out the side in the sixth on just 15 pitches. In the seventh, after Darcy’s two-out single, he got Jake Mansfield to pop up to Martellini, the catcher, to end the game.
Markowski had three hits on the night, while Henry had two hits for the Hawks. Darcy had a pair of hits for the Skippers.
North Kingstown, which is in its fifth final since 2005 but has no championships to show for it, will now be forced to win today to stave off elimination and force a winner-take-all game three, which would be Friday at 6:30 p.m. at McCoy.
“I hope they’re mature enough to figure that out,” Gormley said. “We’ve had a solid year, but I’ve got no answers. I’ve got no magic ball for them. They’ve got to figure it out for themselves at this point. If they don’t play better than they did, we’re going to go home tomorrow.”
But beating the Hawks once – never mind twice – is no easy task. With the win on Wednesday, Hendricken improved its overall record, including playoffs, to 24-1.
Mike McCaffrey will be on the mound for the Hawks today, with Dillon Manfredi slated to get the start in a game three.
“I was saying to coach, because yesterday he was a little on the fence with starting me, I said, ‘It’s been almost impossible to beat us once this entire season,” King said. “‘It’s pretty impossible to beat us twice.’ By winning the first one, we’re able to get the second and third. It’s going to be a fight because they’re a great team, but we’ve got Mike tomorrow and Dillon on Friday. We feel pretty good.”