For five days and five innings, Senerchia Post 74’s road to the American Legion state championship was as smooth as could be.
On Sunday, things got bumpy.
After cruising into the championship round of the double-elimination tournament without a loss, Senerchia fell victim to a bad sixth inning against Navigant Credit Union/Woonsocket Post 85 on Sunday and lost 6-4, setting up a winner-take-all championship 45 minutes later. Riding the momentum, Navigant started fast and held off every Senerchia charge to capture the title with a stunning 9-5 victory.
Navigant was the eighth seed when the playoffs began. Senerchia was No. 4 and seemed to be firing on all cylinders.
On Sunday, it wasn’t meant to be.
“Things didn’t go our way today,” said Senerchia manager Chris Sheehan. “[Navigant] played well. I tip to my cap to them. They play hard and they wanted it.”
Navigant served notice that it was dangerous on the first day of the double-elimination portion of the tournament, when it knocked off top-seeded NEFL. Navigant then beat No. 3 Upper Deck to move into the winners’ bracket final.
At that point, though, Senerchia got the inside track. Dillon Manfredi pitched eight-plus scoreless innings and Anthony Graziano finished off the win as Senerchia topped Navigant 3-0 on Friday.
Senerchia stayed on that right track for most of Sunday’s first game. It scored three runs in the first four innings and took a 3-0 lead into the fifth.
But that’s where it went south.
Navigant scored six times in the sixth inning off three Senerchia pitchers. Starter Jake Newberry ran into trouble, and he was relieved by Graziano and Matt Murphy. Just like that, a three-run advantage turned into a three-run deficit.
“First game, that big inning was huge,” Sheehan said. “Errors are going to happen. A ball sneaks through – we’ve really got to knock that ball down. A few bloopers, and there you go.
Senerchia got a run back in the sixth on a Rob Henry RBI single but could get no closer. Navigant reliever Brandon Rainville got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and worked around a walk in the ninth to finish off the victory.
All of a sudden, Senerchia was in a tough spot.
Not only did Navigant have momentum, it also had more arms ready to go. For Senerchia, the pitching staff was taxed and ace Mike King, who had been selected for the prestigious Area Code Games showcase in California, wasn’t with the team.
“We had confidence and we had our pitching lined up,” said Navigant manager Jim Gauthier. “We felt comfortable. Against Hendricken, you never can tell, but we felt good.”
For Senerchia, the message in between games was to forget about the tough spot and leave the loss in the past.
But Navigant brought the memories rushing right back.
After Senerchia went down one-two-three in the top of the first, Navigant struck quickly. E.J. Torres doubled to lead off the bottom of the first, and Will Andino lined the next pitch into left field to score Torres.
Just like that, Senerchia was in a hole – and it would get deeper.
Senerchia starter Matt Murphy, who had pitched well in relief in the first game, was pulled after facing four batters. Reliever Bobby Lineberger didn’t have any more luck, as Branden Perrico, Andreas Brackett and Kory Lawrence greeted him with consecutive base hits. Five runs were in, and Navigant added one more off Mike McCaffrey, the third pitcher of the inning.
When McCaffrey finally ended the frame with a strikeout, Navigant led 6-0.
“I said to them, ‘Forget what happened in the first game. Come to play in the second game,’” Sheehan said. “Momentum’s already on their side, and they come out and get six runs. It was a tough road back.”
McCaffrey, a rising sophomore, at least made it possible. He pitched four scoreless innings with five strikeouts, keeping Navigant’s run total at six.
In the meantime, Senerchia chipped away.
P.J. Murray had an RBI single in the fourth – the first hit off Navigant starter Jonathan Flynn – to make it 6-1. In the fifth, Gian Martellini doubled and came around on two fielder’s choices, making it 6-2.
Even then, though, Navigant was limiting the damage. The team turned an inning-ending double play after Murray’s hit in the fourth. In the fifth, Navigant threw a runner out at home and got another double play to end the inning.
“We had a few baserunning errors, but we just never got that timely hit,” Sheehan said. “That’s kind of how it’s been for a lot of the season. We get guys on and we don’t get the timely hit. That’s baseball. It’s a game of inches. Their shortstop made three plays on line drives right at him. If it’s a few inches left or right, they’re through. That happens.”
Senerchia still had life and put together its best rally in the sixth. Henry reached on an error to start the frame and scored on a base hit by Rich Bacon. Murray then plated Bacon with a single, making it 6-4.
Nick Boland followed with an infield hit, and he and Murray both moved up on a wild pitch, giving Senerchia runners on second and third with one out. After Jarek Krajewski popped out to left, Martellini stepped in. He had doubled in his last at-bat.
The first pitch of the at-bat was in the dirt and got past catcher Matt Bare. Murray broke for home and slid in just as Flynn caught the throw from the backstop and applied the tag. It was a bang-bang play, and Murray was called out to end the inning.
One pitch, and another rally had fizzled.
This time, Navigant took advantage.
McCaffrey walked the leadoff batter in the sixth inning and, with his pitch count rising, he was pulled for Sam Boulanger. Navigant made the first out on a sacrifice bunt but followed with three straight singles. After a walk, Kory Lawrence singled home another run to make it 9-4. Graziano relieved Boulanger and got a double play to end the inning, but the damage had been done.
“I really thought we had a comeback in us in the second game,” Sheehan said. “We got it to 6-4 and then we came out and gave up three more runs. That’s a killer.”
And Senerchia never recovered. Martellini led off the seventh with a single but was stranded there as Flynn got three quick outs. In the eighth, Flynn worked around a leadoff single for another scoreless frame.
“He threw strikes and kind of kept our guys off balance,” Sheehan said. “I don’t know if our guys were trying to do too much, but he got a lot of pop-ups. He did a good job.”
Senerchia had one last chance in the ninth, and Martellini got it off to a strong start with a double. Flynn quickly regrouped and struck out the next two batters before Henry reached and Martellini scored on a dropped pop-up behind first base.
But that was as good as it got for Senerchia. Flynn got Ed Markowski to fly out to center field for the final out.
Navigant could celebrate. Flynn ended up with the complete game win. He scattered eight hits and struck out four. Torres, who pitched Sunday’s first game and led the offense throughout the tournament, was named MVP.
“It was a long day, but it was good,” Gauthier said. “We knew their pitching was in trouble, and we knew we had to come out and hit. We did. We tried to give it away a couple of times, but we hung in there.”
Navigant became the first Woonsocket team to win the state championship since 1989 and the first team from somewhere other than Warwick or Cranston to win since 2006.
Navigant will represent Rhode Island at the Northeast Regional in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, beginning later this week.
Senerchia will pack it in after a great summer that just had a not-so-great ending.
“Obviously a disappointing end, but overall, I think it’s been a good summer,” Sheehan said. “I think a lot of guys got better. I had a great time coaching this team. I can’t thank my assistants enough. It was my first year as a coach, and I’m really happy with it. I would have liked to get it done today but it was a good summer overall.”