It’s almost playoff time, and the Bishop Hendricken baseball team is firing on all cylinders.
The Hawks won their seventh straight game on Monday since their only loss of the season, crushing Johnston 12-3. Hendricken hammered out 18 hits, took a 10-0 lead through three innings, and Kyle Barbato pitched 2.2 innings of scoreless relief to silence any hopes of a Panthers’ comeback.
The Hawks improved to 16-1 on the season and they’ll be the top seed out of Division I-North when the playoffs begin on May 28. They were scheduled to close out the regular season Wednesday at home against Woonsocket.
“We played well,” said Hendricken head coach Ed Holloway. “We had a good effort. Barbato did a really nice job for us. They’re a good team. Their record is deceiving. They’re a better team than their record indicates. We’re happy to get the win going into the playoffs.”
While Hendricken has given up only six runs in its last seven games, with five shutouts mixed in, it was the bats that were the story on Monday.
Eight of the nine starters had at least one hit for the Hawks, with six players having multi-hit games. Catcher Gian Martellini set the pace by going 4-for-4 with two doubles, five RBI and a walk. Shortstop and leadoff hitter John Willette was 3-for-4 with a home run, a double, a walk and an RBI.
Both of those players are from Johnston.
“Tonight, two of them did really well,” Holloway said. “It’s good to have them have success against their home town.”
John Toppa, Andrew Ciacciarelli, Ryan Rotondo and Sam Boulanger each had two hits apiece. Dante Baldelli and Christian Aybar both had one.
“There’s no weak spots in their lineup,” said Johnston head coach Steve DeMeo. “They just keep coming and coming, even when they make a sub. Against them, you’ve got to make every play.”
Hendricken’s offense showed up right from the start. Facing Johnston pitcher Nick Cabral, Willette singled to open the game and Toppa doubled two batters later. Two runs then came in on a single by Martellini. An outfield error on Martellini’s ball advanced him to second, a balk moved him to third and a groundout by Baldelli scored him for Hendricken’s third run.
In the second, the Hawks kept it up. After a double play eliminated the first two men of the inning, Willette hit a solo home run to left field to start the scoring. After that, Rotondo singled, Toppa walked and Martellini knocked in another run with a double to make it 5-0. That was the end of the day for Cabral, who was replaced on the mound by Jared Podmaska.
Podmaska escaped the jam, but the Panthers were in a bad spot.
“We’ve been pretty good all year getting ahead of the other team,” Holloway said. “We just need to keep it going for the playoffs.”
Johnston stranded a runner in the first and two in the second against Hendricken starter Anthony Graziano, and the Hawks extended their lead in the top of the third.
Ciacciarelli led off with a double, and after the next two men were retired, Aybar lifted a ball down the left field line that three Johnston players converged on. Nobody called it, and it fell in between them, scoring Ciacciarelli and keeping the inning going.
A walk to Willette put two runners on, and Rotondo scored them both with a triple to right-centerfield, making it 8-0. RBI singles by Toppa and Martellini made it 10-0.
“You give them four outs, five outs, it comes back and haunts you,” DeMeo said. “The big play was that ball that fell between three guys on the leftfield line. We end up giving up three, four runs there. We could have gotten out of that inning.”
Graziano was pulled from the game due to injury after giving up a leadoff single in the third to Ryan McKeon, and Brandon Kenyon came on to pitch. He was given a rude greeting, as he gave up a hard liner that Baldelli had to slide to catch in center, then singles to Steve Pennacchia, Joe Bongiovanni and Zach Coro, scoring two runs to make it 10-2.
The next inning, after new Johnston pitcher Coro kept the Hawks from adding to their lead, Kenyon got the leadoff batter but then hit one and allowed a single before giving way to Barbato.
The junior came in and allowed a single to Alex Tenerella to load the bases with one out, but then got James Picchi to pop out to center and got a groundout from Bongiovanni to escape the inning unscathed.
“One thing about the guys, they don’t quit,” DeMeo said. “Couple hits there, couple plays you make, you’re right in there.”
Barbato finished his day with two perfect innings, striking out two batters in the process. Rotondo pitched the seventh and allowed Johnston’s third run to score on a sacrifice fly by Bongiovanni.
Hendricken’s final two runs came on a two-run double off the base of the left field wall by Martellini.
Those were the only runs that Coro gave up, as he pitched the final four innings and allowed just four hits while striking out six. He got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the sixth by striking out Brady Chant, Boulanger and Aybar in succession.
“I thought the three kids who pitched, pitched real good,” DeMeo said. “Especially Zach. Zach pitched very well.”
Johnston’s record is now 7-9.
Hendricken’s playoff opponents in the four-team regional tournament it will host are yet to be determined.