It looked like the Pilgrim baseball team’s storybook ride would come to an end Monday on a cold, rainy night in South Kingstown. Instead, that ride got its wildest chapter yet – and another chapter to come.
The Pats fell behind fourth-seeded South Kingstown 10-4 after giving up nine runs in the fourth inning. They also watched their head coach get ejected.
But they got themselves back into the game with three runs in the fifth before scoring four in the top of the seventh to take a one-run lead. Sophomore Ryan Morris then worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh to seal a remarkable 11-10 victory for the No. 12 Pats.
The win set up a winner-take-all regional final between the Pats and Rebels. It was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed to Wednesday and then postponed again to Friday. The teams will now meet on Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Pilgrim.
Whatever the outcome, it’s been quite a run.
“I’ve had teams way more talented than this team, teams that crush the ball,” said head coach Ed Colvin. “We struggled all year long. We hit .230. All of a sudden, these guys have come together and they refuse to lose.”
The Pats lost their first game of the double-elimination regional last week to La Salle but stayed alive with a win over Warwick Vets then beat La Salle in a rematch for a spot in Monday’s final. The Rebels, who also beat Vets and La Salle, were sitting pretty, needing just one win for the regional title. Pilgrim would have to win twice.
The Pats started down the right path on Monday, getting single runs in each of the first four innings. Colin Douglas, Shawn Clayton, Kevin Conway and Nick McGuirl had an RBI each to power the surge.
But trouble started brewing for the Pats in the top of the fourth. McGuirl doubled with one out to score Mark Lenz, making it a 4-1 game. After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Mike Mallozzi hit a ground ball to shortstop, where T.J. Lynch fielded it and fired home.
Shawn Clayton, the Pilgrim runner, was out by several feet. Clayton kept going and stepped on the plate while catcher Chris Collins pivoted for a throw to first. The umpire called interference on Clayton, invoking the force play rule that’s typically called when a runner tries to break up a double play at second base. As a result, Mallozzi was called out and the inning was over.
Colvin argued vehemently between innings, but to no avail. And South Kingstown immediately ran with the momentum shift.
Pilgrim starter Steve Noti, who had allowed just a run on two hits through three innings, retired the first batter of the fourth before walking a batter, giving up a hit and then hitting Nick Hayes with a pitch.
Pretty soon, everything unraveled. Ten batters reached base in a row for the Rebels, Noti was chased from the game, and when Lynch put an exclamation point on the inning with a three-run double, the Pats found themselves trailing 10-4.
Immediately after Lynch’s double, Colvin was ejected after the umpire apparently heard comments from the dugout. Colvin said he was talking to his assistant coach.
The fireworks of the ejection only added to the feeling that the game was slipping away from the Pats. Ryan Morris, who relieved Noti, finally got the Pats out of the inning with a strikeout and a groundout, but a lot of damage had been done.
When the inning ended, assistant coach Rich Marrese gathered the Pats outside the dugout.
“We basically talked about how we couldn’t change anything that happened,” Marrese said. “We had to move on, forget everything that happened and battle back, just like we did against La Salle. We’ve been tough on teams all year. This was no different. It was just looking ahead and saying, ‘What do we have to do to stay in the game?’”
The Pats had a pretty good answer.
Douglas led off the top of the fifth with a grounder to third, where Shane Newton couldn’t handle an in-between hop, allowing Douglas to reach. Kevin Conway and Brett Ferguson then worked walks to load the bases.
South pitcher Josh Tombs battled back to get a strikeout and a fly-out but then hit Clayton with a pitch to force in a run. McGuirl followed with a line drive to right on a 3-2 pitch, which scored Conway and Ferguson and made it a 10-7 game.
Morris, who was pitching on three days’ rest, kept it there, working scoreless frames in the fifth and sixth. He had some help in the sixth from Clayton, who caught a runner stealing for the third time in the game.
That set the stage for one more push by the Pats, and they delivered it in a big way.
Lenz got hit by reliever Sean Healy’s pitch to start the seventh. Cole Furney followed with a soft line drive up the middle to bring the tying run to the plate. Healy got Clayton to ground out, but McGuirl then blooped a single just in front of left-fielder Brad Douglas to score Lenz, making it 10-8.
With runners on first and third, pinch runner Trent Perry broke for second. Collins threw short of the bag and Lynch couldn’t scoop it, which allowed Furney to race home and make it 10-9.
Branden Hoxsie then got hit by a pitch and Mallozzi poked the first pitch he saw over third base for a base hit. Perry scored the tying run.
Douglas followed with another bloop hit to load the bases, and Conway then hit a slow roller back to the mound. Healy bobbled the ball and then threw high in an effort to get an out at home. Hoxsie slid in safely with the go-ahead run.
Mallozzi also scampered home but he was called out because the umpire ruled that players who had come out of the Pilgrim dugout to celebrate had gotten in the way of a South player who was chasing after the ball.
Healy then got out of the inning with a groundout, but the Pats had their lead.
“We got some guys on, we took advantage of a couple of bloops and we had a crazy inning of our own,” Marrese said.
Now the Pats just had to hold the lead, and it wasn’t going to be easy. Morris got the first out with a line drive that McGuirl handled at second, but Hayes legged out a bunt single to put the tying run on base. Morris went to a 3-2 count on Riley Partridge but struck him out looking for the second out.
There was still a long way to go. Morris walked Newton and Healy to load the bases for Collins, South’s No. 9 hitter.
Morris got ahead 1-2 before Collins worked the count full. But Morris buckled down and struck out Collins looking to end the game.
The Pats had lived to play another day.
“What can you say?” Colvin said. “They just willed themselves to that win.”
McGuirl led the Pats at the plate with a 3-for-5 night and four RBI. Clayton and Douglas had two hits each. On the mound, Morris struck out six and allowed just three hits in 3.2 innings of work.