Since the stakes have gotten higher, the games have gotten more difficult for the Bishop Hendricken baseball team. Sunday’s Division I semifinal game against Cranston West was among the toughest the Hawks have played all year.
Hendricken still pulled it out.
The top-seeded Hawks stranded 10 runners through the first seven innings but finally came through in the bottom of the eighth when Ryan Rotondo’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded brought home pinch runner Jake Sendley with the winning run in a walk-off, 4-3 victory over the Falcons at West Warwick’s McCarthy Stadium.
Hendricken leads the best-of-three series 1-0, and had a chance to close out the series on Monday night. The results of that game were unavailable at press time. A third game, if necessary, will be played tonight at 7 p.m. at McCarthy.
Because of Sunday, the two-time defending champions are on the verge of playing for the title again.
“It was a great win for us,” said Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway.
It was far from easy.
While the offense struggled to get the big hit – and seemed like it never would – relief pitcher Christian Travers had to battle out of jam after jam, keeping the score tied at three through the later innings.
West scored twice in the fifth inning to knot the score and had runners on second and third with one out, but failed to take the lead after Dan Smith flew out to shallow left and Armand Vaziri hit a slow roller to third, where third baseman John Toppa fielded cleanly coming in and made an off-balance throw to first to get the out.
“Defensively we made the plays,” Holloway said. “Toppa made a great play at third base, throwing the guy out. We made the plays down the stretch when the game was on the line.”
In the sixth, Travers walked Kemi Idowu to open the frame, and Idowu took second on a sacrifice bunt by Michael Cuddemi. But Travers bore down, getting a lineout from Steve Piscopiello for the second out and then striking out pinch hitter Matt Shapiro to get out of the jam.
In the seventh, Travers faced a similar situation when Matt Lonardo led off with a bunt single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Gershom Rainone.
Facing the No. 3 hitter Travis Collins, Travers struck him out on four pitches, then struck out Austin Alzate to retire the side.
“He’s done a great job all year for us,” Holloway said of Travers. “He’s been the reliever late in the games, and he’s done a great job.”
For West, not getting the go-ahead run across in any of those three innings was devastating.
“We came up short,” said West head coach Rob Malo. “There’s nothing else to say. We did the right things we needed to do for the most part, but we were one run short.”
Yet, even with the Falcons failing to convert, Hendricken couldn’t seize control. It stranded two runners in the first, before scoring three in the second on an RBI infield single by Kevin Sutyla and a two-run single by Rotondo, but then stranded two more in the third, one more in the fourth and three more in the sixth.
“I didn’t think it wasn’t our day – I thought we were going to win – but we were making it harder on ourselves,” Holloway said. “You just can’t let teams hang around. We always preach that.”
The sixth inning was Hendricken’s best chance to jump in front, as it loaded the bases with nobody out thanks to a walk from Brady Chant, a bunt single by Andrew Ciacciarelli and a walk from Kevin Sutyla.
Facing Cuddemi, who came on to begin the fifth in place of Smith, the starter, John Willette followed with a groundball to third base that Collins fielded and threw home for the first out.
The next batter, Rotondo, hit a pop-up to left field that looked like it would drop in for a hit over the drawn-in infield, but freshman Steve Piscopiello dove for the ball after running toward the infield full speed and somehow made the catch for the second out. Toppa then grounded out to third, as the Hawks came up empty.
At that point, Hendricken was just hoping it would get another chance.
“I always have faith in my teammates,” Rotondo said. “I always have a lot of confidence. Sometimes things don’t go your way, but I always have faith.”
West worked around a one-out hit batsman in the seventh inning to send the game into extras, where Travers sent the Falcons down 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth.
In the bottom half, Ciacciarelli walked and Sutyla reached on an error by catcher Sam Franco, who threw wide of first after Sutyla laid down a sacrifice bunt. That put runners on first and third, and Malo elected to intentionally walk Willette to load the bases and set up a force at home.
Rotondo made that move irrelevant. On the first pitch he saw, he lifted a fly ball to Piscopiello in left, who caught it and threw home well after Sendley scored with the winning run.
“With the bases loaded I knew that he was going to have to come to me,” Rotondo said. “I’m usually a first-pitch hitter, and I knew I would just have to get it to the outfield and a run would score.”
Mike Webb started the game on the mound for Hendricken, his first start of the year, and he gave up three runs – two earned – over 4.1 innings. West scored the first run of the game off Webb in the second without the benefit of a hit, as Smith walked, went to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly by Idowu.
Hendricken came back with two in the second against Smith – who labored all game but gave up just the three runs in four innings – and the score remained 3-1 in favor of the Hawks until the fifth, when West tied the score on an RBI double by Rainone and an RBI single by Collins.
Both teams were helped by the double play ball, as West had two on with one-out in the top of the fourth before grounding into a double play, while Hendricken had the same situation before grounding into an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the fourth. The Hawks also grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fifth.
“We had our opportunities and didn’t capitalize on them and didn’t take advantage,” Holloway said. “Luckily we got another shot in the eighth inning and we were able to produce a run.”
West had six hits on the day and Hendricken ended up with seven. Each team committed three errors.
In the other Division I semifinal, second-seeded La Salle beat No. 3 Cumberland 6-4 on Sunday in the first game of their series.