Mother Nature added a little drama to Bishop Hendricken’s Division I semifinal series with Cranston West, but it didn’t change the script.
The Hawks are heading back to McCoy Stadium.
After an extra-inning victory in game one, Hendricken led 3-1 in Monday’s game two before heavy rain forced the game to be suspended in the fourth inning. Cranston West was in the midst of a rally when play was halted, and the Hawks didn’t let it continue when the game resumed Tuesday. Leading 3-1, the Hawks escaped the inherited jam, tacked on three more runs and cruised to a 6-1 victory and a semifinal sweep.
The two-time defending champion Hawks will shoot for a third straight title beginning Tuesday at McCoy Stadium, where they’ll match up with La Salle in a best-of-three series. The Rams swept Cumberland in the semifinals.
Hendricken knew it would have its hands full as it tried to get back to McCoy. Hendricken and Cranston West have combined for the last 11 state championships, and West was riding the momentum from a surprise run through its regional.
After the Hawks’ victory in game one, they built a 3-0 lead in game two but were watching it get washed away with the rain on Monday night. Cranston West had pushed one run across and had runners on second and third, with Steve Piscopiello ahead 3-0 in the count, when play was suspended.
The game picked up at that point Tuesday, but the rally did not.
Gus Culpo came on in relief and got the Hawks out of trouble. He also pitched a scoreless fifth, before Hendricken added three insurance runs. Christian Travers tossed two hitless innings to finish off the win.
“The big thing was keeping them from scoring in that inning,” said Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway. “If they had scored there, it’s tough. It wasn’t the first inning today but it felt like the first inning. We always say the team that scores first wins 75 percent of the time. We wanted to keep them from scoring. Gus did a good job there. We didn’t give them any momentum.”
Culpo is a senior right-hander, but he had made exactly one varsity appearance thanks to Tommy John surgery that wiped out last year and most of this one. With his swing-and-miss stuff, though, the Hawks didn’t hesitate to go to him.
Culpo worked to a full count then got Piscopiello to pop out to center, not deep enough to score the run. He then jumped ahead of Sam Franco 0-2 and induced a ground ball to shortstop. John Willette fielded and fired to first to abruptly end the threat.
“It was a tough situation, second and third, 3-0 count on the batter,” Holloway said. “We had different options but we thought Gus had the best chance to strike people out in that situation, so that’s what we decided to do, go with a power pitcher. He did a great job. That was huge.”
West was visibly deflated.
“We had them on the ropes [Monday] and then we lost to Mother Nature,” said West head coach Rob Malo. “Our philosophy tonight was that we needed to keep that rally going and score those runs, but it didn’t work out for us.”
West pitcher Myles Levy returned to the mound after starting Monday and cruised through a scoreless fifth, but the Falcons again came up empty in the bottom half. After a one-out walk to Gersham Rainone, Travis Collins singled. A fly-out by Kemi Idowu allowed Rainone to take third with two outs.
With Armand Vaziri in a 1-2 count, West sent Collins from first in an effort to draw a throw and steal a run. Culpo obliged, but as soon as Rainone broke for home, second baseman Ryan Rotondo fired to the plate and Gian Martellini made a sweeping tag on a sliding Rainone for the third out.
“It’s tough when you know the situation and you’ve got 12, 13 hours to think about it,” Malo said. “I must have played it over 500 times. At that point, I felt we needed to get something going. Maybe it was too soon for a gamble, but we wanted to make something happen. That’s how it goes.”
The Hawks then padded their lead in the sixth. The Falcons made two consecutive errors to open the frame and saw Andrew Ciacciarelli reach on a bunt to load the bases with nobody out. Sam Boulanger brought a run home with a groundout, Kevin Sutyla scored on a wild pitch and Willette smacked an RBI single to center – his third RBI of the game – to make it 6-1.
“You put the ball in play and you have a chance to make things happen,” Holloway said. “We put a couple of bunts down that they didn’t handle and that gave us a chance for a big inning. That was huge. It gave us some breathing room.”
Austin Alzate relieved Levy and didn’t allow another run, but the Falcons couldn’t get anything going at the plate. Travers replaced Culpo and worked a perfect sixth. In the seventh, he hit Matt Lonardo with a pitch with two outs to give West a brief glimmer of hope, but then got a groundout to end the game.
“I think maybe the play in the fifth took the wind out of our sails, because we came out and had a bad inning,” Malo said. “We really didn’t hit the ball again after that.”
Before the rains came on Monday, Hendricken led 3-1 thanks to two runs in the second and one in the fourth. Sutyla walked and Ciacciarelli singled to start the second before a sacrifice fly by Willette and an RBI single by Rotondo. Levy escaped further damage when he got Martellini to fly out.
Hendricken tacked on its third run in the fourth on an RBI triple to deep center by Willette that plated Sutyla, who had walked.
Hendricken starter Anthony Cofone allowed one hit in each of the first three innings but worked around all of them. In the fourth, he issued a leadoff walk to Idowu. Vaziri grounded into a force at second but reached first. Nik SanAntonio followed with a base hit to left and Mitch Carvalho walked to load the bases. With heavy rain falling, Vaziri raced home on a wild pitch, and the game was suspended soon after.
But the prime position did West no good on Tuesday, as Hendricken punched its ticket to McCoy.
The Hawks and Rams will each have nearly a week to line their pitching up and prep for the championship series, which begins with a 6:30 p.m. game on Tuesday.
The championship meeting will be just the second title match-up between the Hawks and Rams in the last 30 years. The only other one came in 2008, when the Hawks beat La Salle in one game for the title when the final rounds of the tournament were double-elimination.
“We’ve got great respect for La Salle. Geoff Marcone is a great coach and that’s a good program,” Holloway said. “We’re going up there to play our best. We want a great series, and people in Rhode Island get to see two of the state’s great programs. We’re going to have to play our best ball to be in there, and I’m sure they feel the same way. I think it’ll be a great series.”