The Pilgrim baseball team knows what its formula for success is this season. The Pats have to throw strikes, play good defense and find a way to scratch across some runs.
In Monday’s season opener, the Pats followed the blueprint perfectly.
Branden Hoxsie threw a complete-game four-hitter, the defense didn’t make an error and the Pats took advantage of a good opportunity to put up two runs in the second inning. Those runs were the difference as the Pats topped Cranston East 2-1 in a strong season-opening performance.
“That’s a great win,” said Pilgrim head coach Ed Colvin. “We played a good, solid game. We didn’t make an error. You play error-free ball and your pitcher’s throwing strikes, you’re going to be in games and that’s all you can ask for.”
And the Pats weren’t just in this one – they found a way to win it. Hoxsie, a senior right-hander, allowed a run in the third, worked out of a jam in the fourth and then retired nine straight batters before a walk with two outs in the seventh. With his pitch count rising, Hoxsie buckled down and got a groundout to end the game.
“The thing with Hox is location, and he had it today,” said Pilgrim head coach Ed Colvin. “He usually has it. He doesn’t throw that hard, but he’s got good stuff, a good breaking ball. When he’s living on that outside corner, he’s very, very tough. He can bust guys in. He’s got slider, curve. And he’s got the intangibles. He’s a tough kid and he wants to be out there. He wants the challenge.”
Hoxsie ended up allowing just the one run on four hits. He struck out five. East’s Kyle Tracy matched Hoxsie with just four hits allowed, but the Pats did enough to make him a tough-luck loser.
The Pats scored both of their runs after a strange sequence to start the second inning. On a foul ball by Colin Douglas, Cody Lindell was called for catcher’s interference – the first of two times Lindell was called for interference on the day – and Douglas was awarded first base. Lee Verrier followed with a double-play ball, but second baseman Steve Bucci couldn’t scoop it on his way to the bag and both runners reached.
After Tracy got a strikeout, No. 9 hitter Cole Furney made East pay with a slicing double that landed just out of the reach of a diving Kyle Whitney in right field. Douglas and Verrier scored to give Pilgrim a 2-0 lead.
“We came out flat,” said East coach Mike Walsh. “It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Cody gets called twice for catcher’s interference. I don’t think he’s had two his whole career. Then we had a couple of errors, and one of them was just a really bad bounce.”
The Pats took advantage, playing like the opportunistic offense they hope to be this season.
“That’s what it’s going to be for us,” Colvin said. “We don’t have a lot of power. We’ve got some speed. The kid did a nice job for Cranston East. He was throwing strikes. We scored in the second inning and that was it. We’re not going to pound the ball like we did last year, no doubt about that. That’s our formula right there. Pitching and defense, scratching across some runs and staying in ball games.”
East still had plenty of time to make up the early deficit, but the Pats managed to stay in front.
Nick Ferry doubled with two outs in the third and, after a walk to Lindell, he came around on a single by Ivan Reyes. Pilgrim threw to the plate in an effort to get Ferry and Lindell took the opportunity to race for third. Verrier then rifled a throw to third baseman Kevin Conway, who put the tag on Lindell to end the inning.
East threatened again in the fourth. Rob Borrelli doubled down the right-field line and took third on an infield hit by Joe Donegan. Matt Tracy followed with a ground ball back up the middle, and Hoxsie threw behind Borrelli at third for an out. Hoxsie then got out of the jam with another ground ball back to the mound.
“We probably had about three or four hits,” Walsh said. “That’s really the moral of the story. I thought Kyle pitched well. He got us out of a lot of jams. We just struggled to get anything going.”
The trend was even more pronounced in the late innings. The infield hit by Donegan was East’s last hit of the game. Hoxsie worked 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth, needing just 24 pitches to get through those frames.
“I felt like I was ready,” Hoxsie said. “I was kind of shaky against Vets when we scrimmaged them. It was a little bit warmer today, and I felt loose. I felt stronger as the game went on.”
Pinch-hitter Tyler Donahay worked a walk with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to end Hoxsie’s streak. Whitney re-entered the game as a pinch runner and promptly stole second, but Hoxsie was undeterred. He battled Bucci to a 2-2 count before inducing a game-ending ground ball to second.
“Give the kid credit,” Walsh said. “He doesn’t do anything spectacular but he continues to pound the zone. We just couldn’t get anything done. Every time he got in trouble, he figured a way to get out of trouble. I think his off-speed stuff was better in the seventh inning than it was early in the game. He’s the type of kid – he just can get it done. Those are the guys you like.”
Hoxsie also had a strong defense behind him, despite the fact that only two players in the lineup – Verrier at catcher and center fielder Mike Mallozzi – were in the same positions they played last year. Two other players were in new spots and the rest of the lineup was new to a varsity field.
“We’ve got a brand new infield,” Colvin said. “Two outfielders have never played a varsity game. But we played well. We didn’t make an error, and one of our strengths is Hoxsie on the mound. There’s no question he’s our No. 1. He’s been throwing a lot and he was borderline on pitches, but he was still throwing strikes so I let him start the seventh. He went out and finished the game.”
And that paved the way for a strong opening statement by the Pats. They were scheduled to be back in action on Wednesday against Bishop Hendricken. They’ll play an Injury Fund game against Prout on Saturday at 11 a.m. at East Greenwich before getting back to league play with a 4 p.m. game on Tuesday at Cranston West.