The Toll Gate baseball team played much better on Tuesday than it did last Saturday in the Division I playoffs.
But the Titans have nothing to show for it except an early exit from the postseason.
After falling flat in an 11-4 loss to Cranston West in its playoff opener last week, Toll Gate traveled to top-seeded South Kingstown for an elimination game and led most of the way before the Rebels had the last laugh. A walk-off single from Nathan Vandemoer with two outs in the seventh plated the winning run and South Kingstown advanced with a 3-2 win.
For the Titans, it was a tough way to end what had been a strong season. After missing the playoffs last season, Toll Gate responded with a 9-9 campaign this year to qualify.
In two games, it was all over.
The Rebels advanced to take on West in the loser’s bracket final on Thursday, with the winner of that game moving on to face Johnston for the region championship and a place in the Final Four.
“It is a disappointing ending, and it hurts right now,” Toll Gate head coach Dave Hagopian said. “After the dust settles and we reflect back on the season, I’m pretty satisfied with the effort from the kids, how hard they worked. But it does hurt right now.”
Senior Evan Stamps gave the Titans every chance to win the game, pitching the whole way and allowing three runs on nine hits, while walking two. He didn’t strike out a single batter, but got strong defense behind him and buckled down in big spots.
“He did a great job on the mound,” Hagopian said. “He kept us in the game. He pitched great.”
But in the bottom of the seventh, after South Kingstown had tied the score at two in the fifth, the Titans saw their season slip away.
Stamps got a groundout from Chris Collins to open the inning, but back-to-back singles from Camden Meystre and Brad Douglas put the winning run on base with just one out.
The next batter, Nick Hayes, hit a bomb to straightaway center field, where it ricocheted off the glove of Toll Gate’s Joe Martinez. While it seemed like Meystre would cruise in with the winning run, Martinez gunned a throw to Alex Lefebvre at shortstop and he threw to Ben Mann at home. Mann put the tag down just in time on Meystre for the second out of the inning.
“We were terrible on the bases today,” South Kingstown head coach James Sauro said.
The miraculous play kept Toll Gate alive, but it wasn’t out of the jam yet, as South Kingstown still had runners on first and second. And in crushing fashion, the very next batter, Vandemoer, lofted a deep shot to left that got over the head of Toll Gate’s John Reed.
There was no miracle this time, as pinch runner Nathan Lessard trotted home easily with the winning run.
“The kid’s had a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm,” Hagopian said. “They were ready to play, and we were confident. We thought we could win. It just didn’t work out.”
The Titans had a decent track record against South Kingstown entering the game, as they had lost their two games with the Rebels during the regular season only 3-2 and 2-0. With Stamps on the mound, they knew they would have a chance.
Once they took a 2-0 lead on a two-run double in the third inning by Lefebvre off of South Kingstown starter Connor Barrett, they really believed.
But slowly, the Rebels came back. They grabbed a run of their own on a sacrifice fly by Nick Hayes in the bottom of the third, and in the fifth they tied it up on an RBI single by Brad Douglas.
Toll Gate had its chances – it left the bases loaded in the second and two on in the third and fourth innings – but it couldn’t grab any more runs.
“That’s three tough games that we lost to them,” Hagopian said. “We just couldn’t get the key hits when we had guys on base.”
With one out in the sixth, Ryan Charette hit a rocket to right field that looked like a sure-fire double or triple, but South Kingstown’s Riley Partridge made an unbelievable diving catch going straight backwards, robbing Toll Gate of a potential rally.
“That was a hell of a catch by their right fielder,” Hagopian said.
In the top of the seventh, Toll Gate went down in order before South Kingstown’s heroics in the bottom half ended the game.
Barrett was the star of the day for the Rebels, as he allowed just four hits and the two runs while striking out seven and walking four.
“I was getting tugged by all the coaches – he’s at 80 (pitches), he’s at 90,” Sauro said. “I had a talk with Barrett and he said he was ready to go.”
At the plate for the Titans, Lefebvre had two hits.
The game marked the end of the road for seniors Junior Rivas, Stamps, Martinez, Mann, Charette and Reed, many of whom have been key members of the team since their sophomore years.
“They’ve been here, many of them since they were freshmen, then at the varsity level as sophomores,” Hagopian said. “It’s pretty emotional for them right now.”