It was not an ideal time for an undefeated team to suffer its first loss, but the Bishop Hendricken baseball team made sure it didn’t take a second one.
After a win in the first game of their Division I semifinal series on Friday, the Hawks were pushed to a game three when Johnston won 5-4 in nine innings on Saturday. In a decisive game three on Sunday at McCarthy Stadium, the Hawks fell behind in the first inning but surged from there, getting home runs from Nick Boland and Ed Markowski and a solid pitching performance from Dillon Manfredi en route to a 5-2 victory and a spot in the state championship series.
The Hawks will take on North Kingstown in a three-game series that begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. at McCoy stadium.
It’s the second straight trip to McCoy for the Hawks. After taking the long way, they’re especially happy to be there.
“After yesterday, we knew what we had to do,” Boland said. “We knew we had to win this game. It just fueled us to the victory.”
The Hawks seemed poised for a sweep when they cruised to an 8-0 win over Johnston on Friday. But the Panthers – who went 7-11 in the regular season but were undefeated in the playoffs – delivered some postseason magic again, walking off with a victory on Saturday.
In game three, they picked up where they left off. Ryan McKeon led off the game with a double and came around on a sacrifice fly. It was a rude welcome for Manfredi, Hendricken’s No. 3 starter who hadn’t yet pitched in the playoffs.
“Not good,” Manfredi said of the thoughts crossing his mind.
But Manfredi limited the damage – and the Hawks went to work. In the second inning, Mike King led off with a deep fly ball. Johnston center-fielder Zach Coro came in on it but the wind caught it and the ball sailed over his head. King coasted into second with a double.
Gian Martellini then hit a ground ball to third, and Steve Perfetto’s throw to first skipped past the bag. King scored and Martellini trotted into second.
Those miscues opened the door.
Then the Hawks really made their entrance.
Boland, the next batter, smashed a 2-1 pitch from Justin Simao over the fence in right field for a two-run homer.
“I was just trying to get a base hit,” Boland said. “I just wanted to keep the inning alive. They were pitching me inside. I was waiting for him to make a mistake over the plate and try to make him pay.”
In doing so, Boland gave the Hawks new life.
“The energy after that totally changed,” Boland said. “It was a huge momentum shift.”
And the Hawks ran with it.
Markowski belted a solo home run to right with one out in the third, making it 4-1. In the fifth, Matt Murphy led off with a single, stole second and raced home on a base hit by Lou Umberto.
The way Johnston has been playing, the Hawks knew they weren’t out of the woods, but Manfredi made a comeback look daunting. He worked around two hits in the second inning and saw Murphy and Umberto combine on a slick double play in the third. Manfredi then retired 12 in a row before a one-out hit in the seventh.
“That’s usually how I work – I start off a little slow and then gradually get stronger throughout the game,” Manfredi said.
The senior ended up scattering seven hits in 6.2 innings.
“Dillon pitched really great,” said head coach Ed Holloway. “He gave us what we needed. He’s very competitive. He works hard. He battles. He gave us everything he had today. We won the game with him.”
The Panthers made one more push in the seventh. After Alex Tenerella’s one-out single ended Manfredi’s streak, Sal Palermo bounced a base hit through the middle with two outs. Coro also singled, loading the bases and bringing the tying run to the plate.
Dan Thadeio replaced Manfredi and promptly hit McKeon to force in a run, making it 5-2. But after falling behind Joe Bongiovanni 3-0, he induced a fly ball to center field two pitches later. Rob Henry squeezed it for the final out.
The Hawks celebrated.
“I thought that they would come out today and do it,” Holloway said. “I’m happy for the kids.”
Boland led the Hendricken offense with two hits and two RBI. Umberto and Markowski each went 1-for-3 with an RBI, while Henry, King and Murphy had one hit each.
Umberto led a steady defensive effort with the double play and four putouts, including a bare-hand catch and throw on a slow roller in the seventh.
The Hawks didn’t make an error.
“We played great defense,” Holloway said. “Lou was outstanding today.”
The Hawks are now headed back to McCoy for the fifth time in the past six years. They last played North Kingstown at McCoy in 2009, when they beat the Skippers in one game for the title as part of a double-elimination playoff format. The Hawks also swept North Kingstown in 2005.
“We’re just going to battle,” Holloway said. “We’ve got great respect for NK. They’ve got a great team and Kevin [Gormley] does a great job. I think it’s going to be a good series.”
The Skippers, who went 16-2 this year, rolled into the finals with a sweep of East Greenwich. They’ll be looking for the school’s first state baseball title since 1967 and they’ll try to break the stranglehold Hendricken and Cranston West have had on the baseball championship. The Hawks or Falcons have won every title since 2002.
The series runs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, if necessary, with all three games scheduled for 6:30 p.m.