One night after starter Shane Johnson led the New England Frozen Lemonade junior legion team to a 3-2 victory over Cranston/Auburn Post 20 in the semifinal round of the state playoffs, Pat DelSanto looked like he was ready to follow in Johnson’s footsteps.
But after three scoreless innings, the wheels came off in the fourth, as Cranston scored five runs off Delsanto and reliever Travis Babcock to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 lead. NEFL threatened from there on out, but never got all the way back, dropping the second game of the series 5-3 at Warwick Vets.
The deciding game of the series was scheduled for Wednesday, with the results unavailable at press time.
“We just had the one inning,” NEFL manager Larry Shelton said. “They hit the ball when they had to.”
Johnson had thrown a complete game on Monday, striking out 11 batters in NEFL’s 3-2 win.
It was just the second defeat of the season for Cranston at any point, as it went 17-1 during the regular season and then had a bye in the preliminary round of the playoffs. NEFL has handed Cranston both of those losses.
In the first three frames, Cranston looked destined for its third loss and a premature end to its playoff run.
DelSanto retired the first six hitters he faced, striking out two of them. In the third, he got past the first two batters before allowing a two-out single and a walk, but he buckled down to get Steve Bucci on a pop out to end the inning.
The fourth, though, wasn’t as smooth.
Staked with a 1-0 lead after NEFL’s Lee Verrier laced an RBI single the inning before, DelSanto walked No. 3 hitter Sean Hayden, allowed a double to Tyler Donahay and a single to Joe Nicolace, which scored Hayden.
Just like that, the game was tied, and Shelton brought in Babcock to relieve DelSanto.
“Patrick got a little bit tired,” Shelton said. “He lost it a little bit.”
Babcock walked the first batter he faced, Garrett Demers, and then allowed a sharp single to Billy Clarkin, which drove in Cranston’s second run.
After Babcock induced a groundout from Rob DeCosta, Nick Ferry came to the plate and delivered the biggest blow. He smacked a ball to right-center field, clearing the bases for a three-run double. That made the score 5-1.
“They had some key hits and you’ve got to give them credit,” Shelton said.
NEFL came right back in the fourth off Donahay, the Cranston starter. Babcock singled, Kyle Waters reached on an error and Luke Verrier walked to load the bases with just one out.
Donahay hit Bryan O’Mara five pitches later, bringing home NEFL’s second run and ending Donahay’s night.
DeCosta entered the game and promptly hit Mike Mallozzi, bringing home NEFL’s third run.
But Shawn Clayton popped out and Anthony Lonczak struck out to end the threat and leave the bases loaded.
That was the story of the game for NEFL, which besides the fourth inning, left two runners on base in the first, had a runner thrown out at the plate in the second, left two runners on in the fifth, left the bases loaded in the sixth and stranded a runner in the seventh.
“We left 14 runners on base, left the bases loaded three times,” Shelton said. “We had tons of chances. It’s just one of those games. It’s baseball. Sometimes you get a ground ball that scores a run. We had, I think, four pop-ups with the bases loaded. It happens.”
Babcock settled down on the mound to retire nine of the final 12 batters he faced, and he struck out five in four innings of work.
On the other side, DeCosta continually worked into jams, but found a way to get out of them each and every time. He pitched the remainder of the game.
Still, it was clear to Shelton that NEFL has the ability to beat Cranston.
And the loss wasn’t the end of the road
“I said, ‘Hey, look. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll take your talent against any team in the league,” Shelton said. “You’ve just got to play hard. Go out there, play smart and if the ball falls in you’ll get the breaks.’”
The winner of the series will move on to the finals, where it will take on No. 2 seeded West Warwick Post 2, which swept Barone Construction during their semifinal series.
That series will take place on Friday and Saturday, with a third game on Sunday if necessary.