Pilgrim head baseball coach Ed Colvin knew what he wanted to do on Sunday afternoon in his team’s playoff game against La Salle. He just didn’t exactly how to go about doing it.
After all, his team had never practiced stealing home. In fact, in 14 years of coaching, Colvin had never even had one of his players attempt it.
But with speedy center-fielder Mike Mallozzi on third with two outs in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game, Colvin gave him the go-ahead to take off.
Mallozzi easily slid in to home ahead of the pitch from La Salle righty Frank Zammarelli, giving the Pats an improbable 2-1 lead. Senior Branden Hoxsie then made it stand up by working out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings, as Pilgrim eliminated La Salle by that score in the third game for both teams in the double-elimination Region 2 tournament.
“We don’t even have a signal for it, because I’ve never done it in 14 years,” Colvin said of the steal of home. “The previous time Mallozzi was on third in the fourth inning, we both saw that this kid was slow to the plate. But I don’t have a signal to the batter. When it came around again I’m like, ‘Mike, what do you think?’ He said, ‘Coach, no problem.’ So all I did was give the batter a take. Off he went.”
The victory kept the Pats alive for at least another day, as they were scheduled to take on South Kingstown on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time.
Pilgrim would have to beat the Rebels twice – while South would only have to win once – to advance to the state semifinals.
The win over La Salle was certainly an upset, as the No. 5 seeded Rams went 13-5 during the regular season compared to No. 12 Pilgrim’s 8-10, and La Salle had also beaten the Pats 3-0 in the first game of the playoffs last Tuesday.
But on Sunday, the Pats were determined to battle until the final out, despite being overwhelming underdogs.
“We’ve gotten better as the year has gone on,” Colvin said. “We’re not a super-talented team, but we’re tough.”
And the epitome of that toughness on Sunday was Hoxsie.
The senior right-hander pitched a complete game, allowing eight hits while striking out three and walking four. But, more importantly, he saved his best pitches for the biggest spots, as he stranded 11 La Salle baserunners, including five over the final two innings.
“Us being the 12 seed, it all starts with the kid on the mound,” Colvin said. “I’ve been watching him since he’s been in Little League, when he was a Little League superstar at Warwick National. He’s been doing this since his sophomore year. It was his game to lose. He wasn’t coming out.”
Hoxsie didn’t allow a run through the first four innings, as he retired the first six men of the game and then got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third. He stranded a man on second in the fourth.
But, as good as Hoxsie was, Zammarelli was matching him pitch for pitch.
He worked around a two-out walk in the first, stranded Mallozzi on third in the second, worked a one-two-thee third and got out of jams in both the fourth and fifth innings.
La Salle finally broke the scoreless tie in the fifth inning, as Robert Fox singled with one out, and Jesse Lee followed that with a double. A sacrifice fly by Ryan Lynch made it 1-0, before Hoxsie induced a flyout from Jonathan Lapolla to limit the damage.
That brought the Pats to the plate in the top of the sixth, and they knew full well that they had only six outs to keep their season alive.
Hoxsie walked to lead off the inning, and he was erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Colin Douglas. Douglas was pinch run for by Trent Perry, and Perry stole second before Mallozzi walked.
That put runners on first and second, and Kevin Conway stepped in and delivered a single to right field. Colvin initially held Perry at third, but the throw from Lee, the La Salle right-fielder, was high, and Perry cruised home with the tying run. Conway tried to take second on the throw, but he was gunned down.
That left Mallozzi standing on third base with two outs.
And it opened the door for the defining play of Pilgrim’s season.
“My coach was like, ‘Do you think you can do it?’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do it. I want to steal home,’” Mallozzi said. “He’s like, ‘Hold on. One strike then you can do it.’ I took a huge lead, and as soon as the kid stepped back I was gone.”
Hoxsie, watching from the dugout, saw it all unfolding.
“I knew he had it halfway,” Hoxsie said.
Hitter Brett Ferguson stepped out of the box as the pitch crossed the plate and Mallozzi crossed the plate. Just like that, the Pats were six outs away from a win.
But it wasn’t over yet.
La Salle led off the bottom half of the sixth with a single from Christopher Ballirano before Hoxsie struck out Reese Martilli for the first out.
With Patrick Burns in the box, Hoxsie threw to first in a pickoff attempt, and the ball got away from Douglas. That allowed Ballirano to scamper to second, and Burns then singled to put runners at first and third with just the one out.
“We were either going to lose the game or win the game with him on the mound,” Colvin said of Hoxsie.
Josh McCourt was next up, and he bunted. Hoxsie looked the runner back at third before firing to first for the out. After then walking Fox to load the bases, Hoxsie got a pop-up to left-fielder Mark Lenz on a 3-2 pitch off the bat of Lee to end the threat.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s 5-foot-6 and guys are like, ‘We’re going to destroy this kid,’” Colvin said. “And nobody ever does. It’s that mental toughness that you can’t define that he’s got.”
In the seventh, Hoxsie retired the first two batters before walking Lapolla. Ballirano then reached on a fielder’s choice when he hit a groundball to Furney at shortstop and Lapolla beat the throw to second base.
Again, though, Hoxsie got through it. On the third pitch to pinch hitter Douglas Harrison, Hoxsie induced a line drive to left that Lenz handled for the final out.
“I felt good,” Hoxsie said. “I wasn’t feeling anything. I just had to keep going.”
And because he did, the Pats stayed alive.