On a rainy afternoon at McCarthy Field, New England Frozen Lemonade/Shield Post 43 saw its path to a state title get significantly longer.
Top-seeded NEFL fell behind early against No. 8 Navigant Credit Union/Woonsocket Post 85 in the first-round of the double-elimination tournament and never really got back into the game. Navigant pulled off the upset in decisive fashion, winning 9-1 for a spot in the winners’ bracket semifinal. NEFL dropped to the losers’ bracket, where it was scheduled to continue play on Wednesday, after The Beacon’s deadline.
NEFL would have to win six games in a row to capture the title, and the team had Tuesday’s performance to thank for that rough road.
Navigant scored a run in the first and four in the fourth to take a lead that NEFL never got close to erasing. Navigant starter E.J. Torres allowed just three hits in six innings and reliever Jon Flynn pitched three hitless innings to finish off the victory.
“We were pretty much the same as always in terms of energy,” said manager Dave McGuirl. “I think the time off hurt a little bit. I think the time off helps the pitchers. I think it hurts everything else.”
NEFL had beaten Navigant in the regular season, but it was clear early on that this was a whole new ballgame. Navigant touched NEFL starter Kevin Hickey up for three hits and a run in the first inning. In the fourth, an error, a double and three straight two-out hits plated four more runs.
“What are you going to do? I didn’t think Kevin pitched bad in the first two innings – they hit a lot of bloopers, a lot of seeing-eye ground balls,” McGuirl said. “Then after that, they started hitting him too hard. Quite frankly, I didn’t know what to do because I haven’t had a starting pitcher all year get hit like that.”
And the way Torres was pitching, it was a bad time for that kind of outing. NEFL drew three walks in the first three innings but managed just an infield hit in that span. NEFL finally got on the board in the fourth when Mike Giard doubled, took third on a bunt and scored on a wild pitch.
After that, NEFL had just one more hit.
“We didn’t hit,” McGuirl said. “Hitting’s funny. It comes, it goes, even in the Major Leagues. I thought we should have hit that pitcher a lot better than we did. We just didn’t have good at-bats. We didn’t square the ball up on the barrel.”
NEFL thought it might be in good position for a rally when Mike Mallozzi drew a leadoff walk in the sixth that chased Torres. Lee Verrier greeted Flynn with a ground ball, and Navigant made an error when it tried to get the out at second. That gave NEFL two on with nobody out.
But Flynn didn’t falter. He got the first out on a foul pop. Nick McGuirl followed with a groundout. No. 3 hitter Zach Blanchard then stepped in with runners on second and third and fouled off three pitches in an eight-pitch at-bat. Flynn won the battle, though, getting Blanchard to ground out to third.
NEFL never really threatened again, aside from two walks in the ninth, when the Navigant lead had ballooned to eight.
Even then, Flynn got out of the jam with no trouble, inducing a game-ending ground ball to clinch the upset win.
Navigant advanced to play Senerchia Post 74 in the winners’ bracket on Wednesday. NEFL was scheduled to play West Warwick on Wednesday.
With a long journey looming, the post-game message was simple.
“One inning at a time,” McGuirl said.