The beginning of the American Legion baseball season has been up-and-down for one of Warwick’s teams and nothing but positive for the other.
That trend continued when the rivals squared off Tuesday.
Senerchia Post 74 edged New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 2-1 in the opener of a two-day, two-game set at Bishop Hendricken’s Ray Pepin Field. Results of the second game, scheduled for Wednesday, were unavailable at press time.
Both teams felt pretty good about their performances on Tuesday, but it was Senerchia that again put a notch in the win column. The Hendricken club – which opened its season just two days after the Hawks won the high school state title – is now 4-0.
“We’re off to a good start,” said Senerchia manager Chris Sheehan. “[NEFL] is definitely a good team. They’re going to be tough. This was a good win for us.”
NEFL, which boasts a deep roster with one of the best pitching staffs in the state, has yet to hit its stride in league play, though it has played well in tournaments. NEFL is 1-3 in league competition. It won its first game 6-5 over R&R Construction but dropped two games to defending state champ Navigant Credit Union-Fairmount Post 85.
The second game against Navigant was a one-run game like Tuesday’s match-up with Senerchia, so NEFL has certainly been in position.
“Baseball is a game of failure,” said assistant coach Dan Atwood. “We tried to put ourselves in a position to win, but sometimes the big hit doesn’t fall in or the big play doesn’t happen. We had good quality at-bats, stayed with the game plan. It just didn’t work out for us tonight. We’re never going to get mad at each other for the results on the scoreboard. We’re just going to work on what we can control every game and see what happens.”
On Tuesday, NEFL took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. T.J. Boyajian and Elijah Brown reached on errors to start the game, and Ben Mann brought Boyajian home with a groundout. Anthony Cofone – who was last on a mound when he twirled a shutout in the clinching game of the state championship series – didn’t allow anything else in the first.
Senerchia answered against NEFL starter Ryan Charette in the bottom of the first. Kevin Sutyla singled and stole second, then came around to score on a base hit by Nick Boland.
From there, both teams settled in. Charette didn’t allow another hit until the fifth, while Cofone worked in and out of trouble, leaving the bases loaded in the second and stranding another runner in the third.
“Cofone was coming off the great start at McCoy,” Sheehan said. “He didn’t have his breaking ball today. He threw one for a strike. He really did it with his fastball. That’s a sign of a good pitcher, sticking in there when you don’t have it and giving your team a chance to win.”
Cofone ran into minor trouble in the top of the fifth when Boyajian singled. He was forced out at second, but Elijah Brown reached on the fielder’s choice. Brown then moved to second on a groundout. With a base open, Senerchia intentionally walked Ryan Rotondo and went to the bullpen. Matt Murphy got Elvis Pimental to hit a ground ball back to the mound for the last out of the inning.
Senerchia also threatened in the fifth – and made it count. Rising sophomore Jarrad Grossguth led off with a single, just the third hit off Charette. He advanced to second and then third on passed balls. With one out, Senerchia called for a squeeze play and John Willette put down a perfect bunt to score Grossguth.
“That’s kind of been our thing so far,” Sheehan said. “We really want to play aggressive and make things happen. A couple of passed balls helped us out and then Willette getting that bunt down was big.”
Senerchia threatened again in the sixth, but reliever Stephen Noti got out of a no-outs, bases-loaded jam with a strikeout, a pop-out and a groundout.
But the one-run lead was enough for Senerchia.
Murphy retired the side on eight pitches in the sixth. In the seventh, Boyajian and Mann singled to keep hope alive for NEFL, but Rotondo flew out to center field for the last out.
NEFL focused on the positives after the game and was eager for Wednesday’s rematch.
“We’re playing every day and we’re doing fine,” Charette said. “We just need to keep coming back.”
Added Noti: “I think we’ll start clicking as the season goes along. It’s just going to take a few games, a few wins in a row.”
On the other side, Senerchia has no complains thus far. The club has had a lot of success in recent years, and expectations have grown even higher this season. The team has four post-graduates on the roster in Boland, Murphy, Ed Markowski and Rob Henry, plus the usual complement of Hendricken standouts.
“This is the first time that I remember that we’ve had any college guys back,” Sheehan said. “It’s huge to have those guys back as leaders and experienced players.”
Murphy and Cofone will help anchor a deep pitching staff that also includes Anthony Graziano, Matt Kennedy, Mike Webb, Joe Maynard and Kyle Barbato. Grossguth, David DeFusco and Andrew Ciacciarelli can also pitch.
With Henry, Boland and Markowski in the middle of the order, Senerchia has a veteran core. At the top, Willette and Sutyla are coming off big springs for Hendricken.
“Out of the years I’ve been coaching, this is probably our best team – our deepest pitching staff, our most athletic team, our best lineup,” Sheehan said. “I’m really happy with my team.”
After Wednesday’s game with NEFL, Senerchia begins a busy stretch of five games in four days with a home game against Upper Deck Post 86/14 on Friday at 5:30 p.m. NEFL visits Johnston Memorial Park for a 5 p.m. doubleheader with Hurd Auto Mall on Tuesday.
“At this point, we’re only four games in,” Atwood said. “We’re still learning and discovering who our best players are, what our lineup is going to look like every day, what our pitching rotation is going to look like. These early games, and when we go to those tournaments, we’re just figuring out what works. We’ve got 22 games. We’re only four in. I think by the end of the season, our record is going to be lopsided in a positive way.”