It is rarely the case when the clichéd “defining moment” of a series is in reality what turns the tide in either direction, but, as the Senerchia Post 74 American Legion team learned this past Sunday in its dramatic series victory over North Providence Post 29, clichés stick around for a reason.
In the seventh inning of a well-pitched playoff battle between Senerchia and North Providence, Senerchia squandered a three-run lead it had held since the first inning.
North Providence’s Frank DaMato scorched a would-be two-run single straight up the middle of the diamond. Having already lost its three-run lead, Senerchia needed someone to make a play, and center fielder Rob Henry was happy to oblige.
Henry smoothly fielded the ball and threw a laser beam that would have made a few major leaguers jealous, gunning down North Providence’s Noah Gemma at the plate to keep the game tied and salvaging what could have been a disastrous inning.
From there, Senerchia recovered, getting a two-run walk-off single from Mike King in the bottom of the ninth to win the first game of its best-of-three preliminary round series 5-4.
Riding that momentum, Senerchia cruised in game two, winning 12-1 to advance into the Final Eight, which will begin today. Senerchia is scheduled to take on defending state champion Navigant Credit Union Woonsocket-Post 85 in its first game, at 10 a.m.
“I wanted them to feel [the momentum],” Senerchia manager Chris Sheehan said. “I really thought we needed to take advantage going into the second game.”
The momentum began with Henry’s throw.
Some shaky command by Senerchia starter Mike McCaffrey allowed the first two base runners to reach in the seventh, and RBI singles from Gian Abruzzese and Tyler Proule allowed North Providence to cut into Senerchia’s lead.
North Providence had turned the game around in the blink of an eye, and by the time DaMato stepped up to the plate with two outs and two men on base, his team had a chance to take a stranglehold on the game.
Instead, Henry delivered the day’s biggest play.
“Defense is my calling card,” said Henry.
Henry’s defensive wizardry held North Providence in check in the seventh, and though he could do nothing to stop North Providence from taking the lead in the eighth amid continued command issues from the pitching staff – this time from reliever Anthony Cofone – his throw would prove to be a game-saving play.
After a strikeout to open the bottom of the ninth, Senerchia seemed on the ropes despite the emotional lift they had received from Henry’s play. But in true storybook fashion, the home team made play after play despite dwindling odds, with Henry drawing a walk and Matt Murphy producing an infield single, setting the stage for King to lace a fastball into the right field gap for a walk-off, two-run single.
“After Murph moved the runners over to second and third, I wasn’t thinking about getting that one run in,” said King. “I was thinking about getting both.”
A walk-off win is a game-changer in any series. In a best of three series, with two of the three games coming in Sunday’s double header, it was essentially the death knell for North Providence’s chances to pull off an upset over the heavily favored Senerchia team.
The second game of the doubleheader – and of the series – may as well have been a formality. The momentum Senerchia gained from its victory was apparent, both on the field and in the dugout, and Sheehan made sure his team kept riding high going into the second game.
Still, after three innings – with another stunning play at the plate courtesy of another perfect throw by Henry – Senerchia was down 2-1 and had yet to hit a ball hard to any part of the field.
But a five-run fourth inning in which Senerchia preyed on North Providence reliever Joe Pacheco, who replaced injured starter Abruzzese after he managed to face only five batters, sealed the deal for Senerchia, allowing it to gain a commanding lead that would balloon in the later innings en route to the win and the series sweep.
Having found its footing after a slippery start in game one, Sheehan was pleased with his team’s performance at the end of the day.
“We didn’t have to use too much pitching, and we get an extra day off,” Sheehan said. “But most importantly, we got some momentum moving forward.”
From the outside, the outcome of Sunday’s doubleheader played to the script; the favored team swept the series, dispatching a talented but ultimately overmatched North Providence team.
For a team that “expects a championship,” according to Henry, the only question is whether they can continue to handle adversity as well as they did on Sunday.