The Toll Gate baseball team ended up one win short of a playoff spot, but it wasn’t for lack of effort in last Wednesday’s season finale.
Trailing 3-0 in the fifth inning against Barrington ace Ben Engvall and needing a win just to keep their slim hopes alive, the Titans came up with some of their best baseball of the season, scoring six runs and holding off a late charge by the Eagles to post a 6-5 victory.
Though it ended up being a footnote rather than the playoff-clinching victory Toll Gate hoped it would be, it was still a good way to go out.
The Titans finished their season with a 7-11 record.
“We did it with a lot of heart,” said Toll Gate head coach Dave Hagopian. “I’m so proud of these kids for what they did today. They stepped up. This was our best all-around game of the year – pitching, hitting, defense, baserunning. I’m really proud of them.”
Coming off a victory over Pilgrim on May 17, the Titans were firmly in the playoff race when last week began, but they quickly put themselves behind the eight ball with a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to Warwick Vets on Monday.
That meant they would have to beat Barrington just to be in the mix, and they would also have to hope for some help. In the days following the victory over Barrington, that help didn’t materialize. Vets beat Cranston West on Thursday to put 15 teams at 8-10 or better. Two teams who were 7-10 – Lincoln and St. Raphael – would play each other Friday, with the winner getting the 16th and final spot.
At that point, the Titans could only sit by and watch their hopes evaporate, something Hagopian knew might happen even after Wednesday’s win.
“It’s nice to finish the season like this, but it’s also bittersweet,” he said.
Still, there was something to be said for finishing strong, and the Titans certainly did that.
Toll Gate junior Evan Stamps matched Engvall through four scoreless innings but got into trouble in the top of the fifth. An error and three hit-batsmen set the stage for a three-run inning. The Eagles had just one hit in the frame – an RBI single by Ethan Studley – but the damage was done.
With their backs against the wall, though, the Titans pushed their way out. John Crowley drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth before Junior Rivas smacked a double to left field, just the second hit off Engvall. Crowley scored on the double to make it 3-1 and Rivas came home on a base hit by Tyler McLaughlin.
After Stamps came back strong with a scoreless sixth, the Titans went to work again in the bottom half of the inning. Gabe Zabatta led off with a line drive single up the middle, and pinch runner Ben Mann stole second. After an Engvall strikeout, Jason Shushtari lined an RBI single into right-center to score Mann with the tying run.
Engvall came back with another strikeout, but after a walk to Rivas, R.J. Mann roped a single to left to plate Shushtari with the go-ahead run.
“We started off a little too aggressive, swinging at early count pitches,” Hagopian said. “The kids settled down, they became more patient, worked into the count and got some good swings against him. They made him throw strikes.”
And they weren’t done. Joe Martinez drew a walk to load the bases, and Rivas then raced to the plate on a straight steal of home. He slid in safely for the 5-3 lead. McLaughlin made it 6-3 when he legged out an RBI infield single.
All of a sudden, the Titans were one half-inning away from a victory, but the Eagles didn’t make it easy. Jack Wenzel drew a leadoff walk from stamps before Collin Fay doubled, putting runners on second and third with nobody out.
Hagopian went to the bullpen at that point, calling on senior Jacob Cardiff. Nathan Bannon greeted him with a sacrifice fly to make it 6-4, but Cardiff slowly worked his way out of trouble. After a single by Retsyn Ooton, Cardiff got Studley to line out for the second out. Mark Hartmann kept the Eagles alive with an RBI single, but Cardiff buckled down and got Matt McNair to fly out to right for the final out.
“Jake has been doing great all year,” Hagopian said. “The last three appearances, he’s come in with the bases-loaded twice, and then today, with two guys on base. He’s a tough kid. He’s got a lot of guts.”
The same could be said for a lot of the Titans, even if the gutsy victory didn’t take them to the promised land.
“The kids came in fired up,” Hagopian said. “We have a lot of seniors. They knew that this could be their last high school game. You could see the emotion that they played with. It was evident right from when we stepped on the field.”