The Warwick Pal 15-year-old all-star team knows what its like to win a championship. Now, it’s just trying to recapture that feeling.
So far, it’s on a pretty good path.
After winning the Babe Ruth state championship last year as 14-year-olds, Warwick started its title defense by playing on three consecutive days over the weekend and pulling off a clean sweep. It won all three games, putting itself into the winner’s bracket final against Cranston.
That game will take place on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. at Pawtucket’s Slater Park, and will present the biggest challenge yet. Cranston has also won all three of its games.
“(My team) already has it in their mind that we have to beat them,” Warwick manager Brian Hawkins said. “We feel that if we beat them, we win it.”
In order to accomplish that goal, though, Warwick will need to be at the top of its game. So far, in the first three games, Hawkins has seen his team not quite play to its potential.
“We’re struggling a little bit,” Hawkins. “I think a lot of nerves from last year to this year. They want to try to do it again. I think the nerves are getting to them a little bit.”
Of course, even with a few struggles here and there, Warwick is still making it through.
It opened its title defense with a 2-0 victory over Cumberland on Friday. The Warwick offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders quite yet, but the team scratched across two early runs, and pitcher David Babcock did the rest.
Babcock tossed a complete game shutout, scattering five hits. He struck out seven, including two in the seventh when the tying run was at the plate.
“David pitched awesome,” Hawkins said. “We didn’t need a lot of offense.”
Warwick pushed across a run in the first thanks to four walks by Cumberland starter James Pirraglia. Ben Mann’s walk with the bases loaded plated Gary Geisser.
Warwick got its other run in the third. Kyle Waters led off the inning with a popup that fell in fair territory after it turned the catcher around. Waters then stole second and scored on a base hit by Andrew Swain.
Warwick didn’t threaten again, putting just one more runner on base the rest of the way, but the 2-0 lead was enough for Babcock.
And he had some help. With a runner on second in the fifth inning, Jonathan Lanoue smashed a ball to deep center field that looked like a sure run-scoring, extra-base hit. Instead, Geisser went back on a dead sprint and made a leaping over-the-shoulder catch to haul it in. Babcock then got out of the inning unscathed.
“That was an incredible catch,” Hawkins said. “Unbelievable.”
Babcock flashed his own leather in the seventh. With a runner on second, he stabbed a sharp ground ball back to the mound, turned and caught the runner on second in a rundown for the second out of the inning. He recorded the final out when he got Lanoue looking.
Warwick followed that win up with a dominating 15-1 victory over South Kingstown on Saturday.
Bobby Lineberger led the offense with a two-run home run, while Swain also went deep.
“The bats came alive that day,” Hawkins said.
On the mound, Patrick DelSanto allowed just one run over the first three innings, and Kyle Perry finished the game off with two scoreless innings, while striking out six over that span. The 10-run mercy rule ended the game there.
Sunday’s game wasn’t quite as easy.
Warwick managed a 10-7 win over Pawtucket, but a slew of errors – both physical and mental – were the most to blame for the close margin.
“We were bad last night,” Hawkins said on Monday. “Mental errors. I think they’re thinking too much. There’s a lot of pressure to be the defending champs.”
At the plate, however, Warwick continued its hot hitting. Geisser and Babcock swung well, and Swain continued his dominant tournament.
“Andrew Swain is on fire,” Hawkins said. “He’s got a lot of RBI’s.”
DelSanto started that game, and he surrendered five runs in the second inning before Hawkins brought in Lineberger. He went the rest of the way, allowing just two more runs.
The game on Sunday lasted until after 11 p.m., but Warwick will get some much-needed rest before its showdown with Cranston. Hawkins expects his whole pitching staff to be ready, but plans on starting Babcock.
Babcock has not pitched since the opening game, which was Hawkins plan from the get-go.
“We’ve only thrown our number one once, and that was our first game,” Hawkins said. “We’re saving David Babcock for Cranston.”