A bitterly cold day, a shuffled lineup and a fourth-inning deficit might have been a recipe for disappointment last season.
The 2014 Warwick Vets baseball team just rolled on.
Battling cold temperatures and a biting wind Tuesday afternoon, the Hurricanes took care of business against Mt. Pleasant, riding solid pitching, opportunistic offense and steady defense to a 9-5 victory. It was their sixth in a row, and they improved to 7-1 on the season.
It was also a reminder of how far they’ve come.
“This kind of game last year, we could have lost this game,” said Vets head coach Nolan Landy. “We went up then we went down, we had a little bit of adversity. We have the maturity this year to bounce back and stick with it on a day like this. They’re a year older and they’re starting to see this is the way to do it.”
It’s certainly working. Vets lost its second game of the season to East Providence and hasn’t lost a league game since. When those teams meet again today as the second half of the season gets into full swing, it’ll be a battle for first place in Division II-Central.
This time last year, Vets was showing the same kind of potential but battling inconsistency. With more of a veteran presence this year, they haven’t hit any of the same bumps. Against the four teams in their division with sub-.500 records, they’ve handled their business, out-scoring them 65-6 in five wins. Against Central and Classical, two teams hot on their heels, the ’Canes found a way to win one-run games.
Last Thursday, Vets rode a complete-game shutout by Danny Greaves to a 1-0 victory over second-place Classical and followed it with a 12-0 win over Juanita Sanchez.
Tuesday’s game marked the beginning of the season’s second half, and the ’Canes didn’t have much trouble starting it strong. After falling behind 3-2 in the top of the fourth, they scored five in the bottom half and never looked back. Greaves and Jeremy Batista finished with one RBI each and junior right-hander Shane Kittila struck out eight in a complete game.
“Rough day to play and we had some guys sick so we had to change the lineup last-minute,” Landy said. “But we battled, we scored runs when we needed to and we pitched well. Overall, it’s a win and that’s what we needed today.”
Kittila had pitched in Friday’s win over Juanita Sanchez but got the ball again when projected starter Austin Lamaire had to miss the game due to illness. Kittila responded, giving up three runs and three hits in the first six innings before battling through a tough seventh inning to finish off the win.
“He threw the ball well,” Landy said. “Four days’ rest and he threw a complete game. I can’t ask for anything more than that. He battled.”
Vets took a 2-0 lead in the third inning thanks to some shaky Mt. Pleasant defense. With two outs Adam Dorsey reached on a throwing error and Stephen Denis walked. Greaves followed with a ground ball to shortstop that got past Ramiel Rodriguez. With the ball in shallow left field, Dorsey rounded third and raced for home. Rodriguez’s throw got away, which allowed Denis to score as well.
Rodriguez redeemed himself with an RBI triple in Mt. Pleasant’s three-run fourth inning, but Vets quickly came up with an answer.
A walk to Chris Reid and a single by Jesse Holland started a five-run burst as Vets sent 10 men to the plate. Batista brought the tying run home with a base hit to center, Holland and Batista scored on errors to put Vets ahead and both Dorsey and Denis raced home on wild pitches.
Vets added two more runs in the fifth, with Holland walking and coming around on an error and Greaves knocking an RBI single to right.
Vets had only five hits but capitalized on eight errors and 10 walks. Batista, Greaves, Kittila, Reid and Holland had the hits for Vets, but every player in the lineup reached base at least once.
“We’ve been stressing productive at-bats in situations where we have runners on base,” Landy said. “Less than two outs, driving guys in and moving guys over, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Mt. Pleasant scored two runs in the seventh after a one-out error and two singles, but Kittila buckled down, ending the game with a pair of ground balls. Reid handled the first one at second base, and Holland got to a ball up the middle from his shortstop spot and fired to first for the final out.
The victory means Vets is now tied for the second-best record in all of Division II. North Smithfield, the only unbeaten team in the division, is the lone team with a better mark.
The ’Canes will have a chance to make their biggest statement yet with today’s rematch against East Providence. It’s scheduled for 3:45 p.m. at Pierce Field in East Providence.
“We owe them one,” Landy said. “We’ve talked about it. It’s a big game for us.”