After last Tuesday’s loss to Cranston, coupled with statewide rainouts on Wednesday, the Warwick PAL 13-year-old all-star team faced a daunting task in the state tournament.
In order to win a championship, Warwick would have to win three games in less than 24 hours.
Yet, while it may have been a whirlwind, Warwick proved up to the task. In under a day’s time, Warwick beat Providence 3-0 on Friday night to come out of the loser’s bracket, then avenged its only loss by beating Cranston twice – 5-4 and 14-12 in eight innings – to capture the state championship on Saturday.
It was an incredible feat for a team that could have packed it in a week ago after a tough loss to Cranston made its road back to the top nearly impossible.
“It takes a lot to win three games in less than 24 hours, and it says an awful lot about these kids,” said Warwick manager Billy Piccirillo.
Piccirillo was honored with the tournament’s Ray Dwyer Sportsmanship Award, while Warwick shortstop Blake Roberge won the MVP award thanks to his performance in the field and with the bat.
But it was a complete team effort, which it had to be in order to get the job done. Warwick now moves on to Newtown, Conn. for the New England Regional, which begins this weekend.
“The kids all played great for us,” Piccirillo said. “Obviously, you have to in order to beat a team like Cranston twice. I’m very proud of them.”
Warwick’s climb back began against Providence. Will Martino started the game on the mound and went four innings, striking out four batters and allowing just one hit. He was forced to come out after being hit with a pitch while batting, but Jacob Resendes came on for the final three innings and finished the job, completing the shutout while surrendering just two hits.
Roberge had the only hit for Warwick, which took advantage of Providence errors to score one run in the second inning and two in the fifth.
“We took advantage of the opportunities that we got,” Piccirillo said. “Blake Roberge made some very good plays at shortstop during the game. It helped us keep the shutout.”
That victory set up the showdown with Cranston, and Warwick rose to the occasion.
In the first game of the day, after four scoreless innings, Cranston took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth only to see Warwick answer back with five runs in the bottom of the inning.
“Once again, I think we made full use of our opportunities,” Piccirillo said.
Cranston fought back with two runs in the sixth, but Warwick didn’t let anything else come across. Roberge pitched a complete game to earn the win, and Ryan Conley had two of Warwick’s seven hits at the plate.
The difference between the win and the loss to Cranston earlier in the tournament was Warwick’s defense.
“The kids played very, very well defensively,” Piccirillo said. “Much better than the first time around. That’s what you have to do to beat Cranston. You can’t give them errors like we did before.”
That set up a winner-take-all game, and Warwick wouldn’t be denied. It jumped out to an 8-1 lead thanks to eight runs in the second inning, saw Cranston battle all the way back but stuck with it and scratched across two runs in the eighth to win it.
“We were crazy, running all over the field,” Piccirillo said.
Nick Laramee started the game for Warwick but went only two innings before his arm began to get sore and he was forced to leave the game. He, like Martino, was also hit on the arm in Friday’s game, which limited Warwick’s pitching options.
Resendes came on to pitch and went the next four innings, but Cranston began to chip away at Warwick’s lead. Cranston scored one in the first, three in the second and two in the fourth to make it 8-6. Warwick got back on track with four runs in the fifth, upping its lead to 12-6, but Resendes ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh, as Cranston came all the way back to tie the score at 12 and force extra innings.
Conley came on to retire the side before Cranston was able to take the lead, but plenty of damage was already done.
Still, Warwick didn’t quit, and it came right back with an eighth-inning that eventually gave it a state championship.
Mike Hampson led off the inning with a walk, and Jake Langevin followed that with a single. After a pair of steals, they each scored separately on groundballs by Roberge and Vincent Tinaro, giving Warwick the 14-12 lead.
Conley came back out to pitch the eighth and – after giving up a pair of hits – he got out of the jam.
Warwick had come all the way back.
“We finally did it,” Piccirillo said. “It was very heartwarming.”
Josiah Johnson led the offense with three hits, while Hampson, Langevin, Roberge, Tinaro and Robert Thuotte each had two hits.
Warwick will now test itself against the best teams in New England. It leaves for Newtown on Friday, will attend a banquet that night and then will open up the tournament with a game against the Eastern Mass. champion on Saturday at 4 p.m.
It will also play Sunday in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.
Armed with plenty of momentum, Warwick will try to make some noise before it comes back home.
“I just hope we can perform for the state of Rhode Island,” Piccirillo said.