After getting into the win column for the first time this season last Tuesday, the Toll Gate baseball team began a stretch of three straight games against city rivals Bishop Hendricken, Pilgrim and Warwick Vets.
The first one didn’t go so well, but the next two were just what the Titans needed.
On the heels of a 14-2 loss to Hendricken on Friday, Toll Gate beat Pilgrim 7-5 on Monday and edged Vets 3-2 on Wednesday to even its record at 3-3. Seniors John Crowley and Jason Shushtari had two RBI each to power the Titans over Pilgrim and junior pitcher Evan Stamps tossed a complete-game four-hitter to carry Toll Gate past Vets.
“It feels good,” said head coach Dave Hagopian. “You’re happy and you’re satisfied for the day. Tomorrow it’s back to practice to work on the hitting because we’ve got another big one on Friday.”
The Titans started the season with a one-run loss to defending state champion Cranston West and a shutout at the hands of Cranston East. They picked up a win over East Providence before the loss to Hendricken.
Heading into this week, the Titans knew that they’d likely match up well with Pilgrim and Vets, and they seized the opportunity.
“The inner-city rivals are big,” Stamps said after Wednesday’s victory. “It feels good to beat them. This gets us to 3-3 so it was a good win.”
For Vets, the loss was the fifth in a row since a season-opening win over Barrington. Three of the losses have looked a lot like Wednesday’s – one-run heartbreakers. Shane Johnson, who also pitched well in a 3-2 defeat against Cranston East last week, got stuck with the loss against the Titans.
“Another battle,” said head coach Nolan Landy. “We were hanging in there. The energy was there. The guys were up. We had good at-bats all day. Shane threw the ball excellent. It’s a close game, and mistakes are magnified in a game like that.”
Toll Gate took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Wednesday’s game. Leadoff hitter Ben Mann drew a walk, stole first and second then raced home on a passed ball for the 1-0 lead.
For the next few innings, Johnston was largely untouchable for Vets. He walked two more but didn’t surrender his first hit until a fourth-inning single by Kevin Sanda. He struck out five in the first four innings.
And Johnson’s offense gave him a lead. In the top of the fourth, Vets started a rally with a one-out double from Danny Greaves. Anthony Lonczak was then hit by a pitch. Steven Denis and Bryan O’Mara followed with singles and Vets went up 2-1.
After that, though, Stamps and the Titans took center stage.
In the fifth, Toll Gate tied the game. R.J. Mann reached on an error, and Joe Martinez got to first on a bunt, with an error moving Mann along. Gabe Zabatta then walked to load the bases. After Vets erased the two runners at home on fielder’s choices, Sanda worked a bases-loaded walk to plate the tying run.
The Titans then scratched across the go-ahead run in the sixth. R.J. Mann drew a two-out walk before Joe Martinez delivered the biggest hit of the day when he tripled to right-center field to bring home Mann.
Stamps did the rest.
After Vets’ fourth-inning rally, the junior right-hander didn’t allow another hit. He worked around a hit-batsman for a scoreless fifth, pitched a one-two-three sixth, and then tossed a perfect seventh thanks to a little help from his defense.
On a deep fly ball to left-center off the bat of T.J. Boyajian, Toll Gate center fielder Colin Stamps – Evan’s older brother – made a reaching catch after a long run. Had he not come up with it, Boyajian likely would have been standing on third with a triple. It was one of several key catches Colin Stamps made throughout the game.
“Colin is an incredible outfielder, one of the best outfielders I’ve ever coached,” Hagopian said. “He makes catches like that routinely. He covers a lot of ground, and he covers the gaps better than any high schooler I’ve ever seen. That was a big save.”
With two outs, Evan Stamps jumped ahead of Kyle Waters 0-2 and induced a ground ball to second. Tyler McLaughlin fielded it cleanly and threw to first to put the finishing touches on the win.
“It was a classic pitcher’s duel, and their kid was overpowering us,” Hagopian said. “But Evan hung in there with his off-speed pitches. He did a great job. We pulled it out at the end.”
Evan Stamps struck out three and allowed four hits to pick up his first win of the year. His first start had come against Hendricken, and though he pitched well, the Hawks’ bats were too much.
This time, he came away with a victory.
“Hendricken is a good hitting team,” Stamps said. “So is Vets, but it just worked out today. I just tried to keep us in the game and keep their runs low. My off-speed was not doing great, but it came back to me in the later innings. It just took a little while to get started. Once I got going, it was just working, and I got the outs.”
While the pitching performance was a bright spot, Hagopian didn’t like what he saw from the offense. In the team’s other wins, the bats came to life, scoring 17 runs against East Providence and seven against Pilgrim.
“Offensively, we struggled,” Hagopian said. “The kid overpowered us. We didn’t hit the ball very well. I was disappointed in our offense. It has to be better.”
For Vets, the game was a solid performance to build on even though it was a fifth straight loss. The ’Canes have pitched well all season, and their offense has shown flashes. As long as the focus is there like it was Wednesday, there’s no reason Vets can’t be competitive.
“We rebounded,” Landy said. “If we can play like this, we’ll hang in every game.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Vets this week as it visits Cranston West on Friday at 11 a.m. Toll Gate visits Barrington on Friday, also at 11 a.m.