On the heels of an impressive shutout victory over Coventry last Wednesday, the Pilgrim baseball team had a chance to tighten its grip on third place in Division I-Central when it hosted Cranston East on Friday.
Instead, the Pats fell victim to the same struggle that has led to almost all their downs in an up-and-down season.
East jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and though Pilgrim starter Stephen Noti settled in from there, the hole was too deep for the Pats to get out of. They managed only six hits against East pitcher Bobby D’Arezzo and scratched across just a run in a 5-1 loss.
A win would have moved the Pats to 6-6 in league play. Instead, they fell to 5-7 and dropped into a three-way tie for third place with East and Toll Gate.
“We just put so much pressure on our pitching,” said Pilgrim head coach Ed Colvin. “Our pitching has been so good, but we just don’t hit and we make some mistakes. We play some great games defensively, and other games we’ll be awful. This team has shown flashes of being real good and real competitive. Other times, our heads just seem someplace else.”
The Pats are still in position to make a run for the playoffs, though they’ll need a strong finish in the final third of the season. The top 16 teams from Division I earn playoff bids, and the Pats are currently one of six teams tied for 13th with 5-7 marks.
Friday’s game was a chance to break out of the group – and to keep East a notch below – but it didn’t work out the way Pilgrim hoped.
The ’Bolts started quickly against Noti, hitting three line drive singles in the top of the first and pushing two runs across. Chris Gomez started the rally with a one-out single, and D’Arezzo followed with a walk. Rob Borrelli then singled, and Pilgrim right fielder Mark Lenz threw to second in an effort to get D’Arezzo when it looked like he had a shot to get Gomez at home. Instead, everybody was safe, and Gomez scored for the 1-0 lead. After a base hit by Josmar Ventura loaded the bases, Cody Lindell made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Noti got out of the jam with a fly-out, but he found himself in trouble again in the second. Matt Tracy led off with a ground ball to third, and Kevin Conway’s throw pulled Colin Douglas just off the bag at first.
With Ivan Reyes at the plate, Noti caught Tracy leaning on his lead and threw to first. As Tracy took off, Pilgrim got him into a rundown, but the throw back to first base was off target and Tracy made it back safely.
And the ’Bolts made Pilgrim pay. After Reyes drew a walk to put two on, Gomez turned on the first pitch he saw and crushed a three-run home run to right field.
“The kid’s out twice,” Colvin said. “We can’t execute a rundown. Two batters later, the kid hits a three-run home run. You can’t do those things. Physical errors are going to happen. Not executing a rundown, that’s not a physical error. We seem to do that at the worst times.”
For the rest of the game, the Pats righted the ship. They only committed one more error and they made some strong plays too, including a scoop and flip to first with the glove by second baseman Nick McGuirl.
Noti buckled down as well. The sophomore right-hander allowed just three hits after the second inning.
“He’s my No. 3 pitcher, a sophomore, and they didn’t score after the second inning,” Colvin said. “He kept us in it.”
Unfortunately for the Pats, staying in it was about as good as it got. D’Arezzo, one of East’s top pitchers, wasn’t at his best, but he threw strikes and found his way out of the few jams he got into.
“He definitely didn’t have an overpowering fastball, but he hit his spots, he threw to the bat, and he let our guys make plays,” said East head coach Mike Walsh.
After getting just two hits through the first three innings, the Pats threatened in the fourth. Douglas lined a one-out single to right and Conway drew a walk to put two on. After D’Arezzo got the second out with a strikeout, Lenz also walked, loading the bases for the Pats.
Pilgrim then got the big hit it needed as Cole Furney roped a double down the right-field line, but even that led to trouble for the Pats. Douglas scored on the play, but Conway stopped as he rounded third. With Furney already pulling into second, Lenz was caught between second and third. East threw to third and Ventura put the tag on a sliding Lenz to end the inning.
The Pats threatened once more in the sixth, with Conway and Brett Ferguson delivering two-out singles. But D’Arezzo got out of trouble with a force-out at second.
The Pats didn’t have another hit.
“We’re constantly down 0-2, we’re taking pitches and then at 0-2, our swings are too big,” Colvin said. “We constantly preach just put the ball in play, but we’re not putting any pressure on the defense. We’re just having some very poor at-bats.”
And the Pats haven’t had much good luck either.
“We saw three No. 1 pitchers this week,” Colvin said. “I think teams are going after us because we’re not hitting. Until that changes, I don’t blame them for doing that.”
Despite Friday’s struggles, the week wasn’t a total loss for the Pats. On Wednesday, they beat a 6-6 Coventry team by a 4-0 score thanks to a dominant performance by Ryan Morris. The sophomore lefty pitched a complete-game two-hitter.
“Morris was just unbelievable,” Colvin said. “Coventry’s a good-hitting team and he completely dominated them.”
In a perfect world, the Pats wouldn’t need dominant pitching performances every time out, but as long as the bats stay cold, that’s the situation they’ll be in.
They’re hoping to break out as the season winds down.
“Six games left, and we’ve got Hendricken and Cranston West this week,” Colvin said. “We’ll go [Branden] Hoxsie and Morris. They’ll probably keep us in the game. But if we don’t hit, we better play a flawless game defensively.”
The Pats will host Hendricken today at 4 p.m. before welcoming West to town on Thursday at 3:45 p.m.