Last season, the Pilgrim baseball team missed the Division I playoffs for the first time since 2003.
One year later, the Pats were back, but La Salle and Portsmouth made sure they didn’t stay very long.
Playing in the four-team, double-elimination Region 4 Tournament, Pilgrim lost a hard-fought 2-1 game to the third-seeded Rams on Wednesday, then saw its season come to a close on Friday in an 11-4 loss to No. 2 Portsmouth.
The Pats, a No. 7 seed, were disappointed to be going home, yet a year after a tumultuous season that left them with a coaching change and no playoff berth, the campaign was still a positive experience.
“I think (it was a success),” said first-year head coach Scott Bailey. “Based on inexperience, based on what happened with this program last year. It hurt to leave the program when I left, and it hurt even more to watch what happened last year. It’s one of the best public school programs in the state, and these kids turned it around.”
Pilgrim nearly pulled off a substantial upset in its first game, taking the Rams down to the wire. Junior ace Elijah Dressel threw four innings, giving up just one run, while Mike Broccoli pitched the next two and allowed just a run of his own.
“It was a tight ballgame,” Bailey said. “Elijah, he’s one of the best pitchers in the state. Just his numbers – he’s got a .86 ERA.”
The Pats actually out-hit the Rams 5-4, but couldn’t push a run across against La Salle ace C.J. Dandeneau, who struck out 13 batters over six scoreless innings of work.
Pilgrim was able to grab a run off reliever Doug Harrison in the seventh, but its rally came up just short, setting up an elimination game in Portsmouth.
The Pats lost twice during the regular season to Portsmouth, and the third time didn’t turn out any better.
Pilgrim actually had 10 hits and five extra-base hits, but walks, a few costly errors and the inability to get a key hit cost the Pats in the end.
“It seems like the two games we played in Portsmouth we make the most mental mistakes and physical mistakes in the field,” Bailey said. “But they’re a good team, a scrappy team and we knew it was going to be a good ballgame. We can’t make those mistakes.”
The game got off on the right foot for Pilgrim, as Chris Duchesneau – the No. 2 hitter – launched a long solo home run to left field off of Portsmouth starter Alex Kirby to put the Pats up 1-0 early on.
“He made some adjustments over the past week and he hit the ball at La Salle,” Bailey said of Duchesneau. “He had two hard-hit balls. He had a hard-hit ball today. He’s got the talent. He can do it.”
Errors, though, caught up to Pilgrim immediately. It made a costly one with two on and no outs in the first inning, leading to two unearned runs and driving up the pitch count of starter Stephen Noti.
The Pats tied the score in the top of the second on an RBI double by Joe Paliotte, but Noti ran into trouble in the third and Pilgrim never recovered.
He issued three walks in the frame – including one with the bases loaded – while giving up four more runs and exiting the game with one out. Pilgrim also made an error in the inning, helping Portsmouth break out. Ian Smith, William Hathaway and Conor Struckman all had RBI for Portsmouth.
“We were very confident,” Bailey said. “Noti’s been great. He tweaked his knee a little bit, so he was leaving the ball up a little out there on the mound. He couldn’t plant his foot, but he battled through it.”
Pilgrim got one back in the second when Chris Ray led off with a double and scored on Bryant Palermo’s double, but the Pats left the bases loaded without scoring another run. Reliever Nick Cipriani struck out Broccoli to end the threat.
The Pats also loaded the bases in the fifth with one out and didn’t score, and they stranded two men in the sixth and one more in the seventh.
“It’s frustrating to not come up with the big hit,” Bailey said. “But they battled. The kids did a good job.”
Meanwhile, Portsmouth tacked on a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Struckman, and it scored four more times in the sixth off Duchesneau, with Pilgrim committing yet another error and issuing three walks.
Cipriani worked around a two-out walk to finish the game in the seventh.
Immediately after the game, Pilgrim started focusing on the future. While it will lose Noti, Paliotte, Palermo and Ryan Morris to graduation, plus Brendan Rix and Andrew Swain, the Pats will have experience all over the diamond returning.
If this season’s purpose was to recover from last season, next year is for taking the next step.
“One thing we have going for us is that they’re all going to be back on the field next year,” Bailey said. “We’re a young team and they got a ton of experience. We have a great pitching staff coming back. Basically, we have first base open and left field open.”
Portsmouth advanced to take on La Salle in an elimination game on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time. The winner of that game will play Johnston in the region finals.