In the top of the first inning on Sunday, the Pilgrim baseball team threatened, but ultimately came up scoreless.
Toll Gate didn’t make the same mistake.
Hosting the Pats in the regular season finale at Mickey Stevens, the Titans scored three times in the bottom of the first inning and ran away from there, scoring in every inning but one en route to a 9-0 victory.
Pilgrim had at least one base-runner in every inning, but the combined efforts of Toll Gate pitchers Evan Stamps and James Meizoso kept a zero on the scoreboard and paved the way for an easy Titans victory.
Toll Gate improved to 9-9, and gained a little momentum with the postseason beginning later this week. Pilgrim dropped to 4-14, ending its season short of the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
“That first inning, we had a couple of guys on, base running error and then it was all downhill from there,” Pilgrim head coach Mike Xiarhos said.
The Pats lost their last four games, putting an end to a tumultuous season that included the resignation of long-time head coach Ed Colvin midseason, and a young squad struggling to get up to speed in Division I.
The Titans were riding a similar losing streak headed into Sunday, as they had lost three out of four, including their last two. They had lost to Barrington 2-1 and South Kingstown 2-0 last week.
They needed a spark.
“We lost two close ones, so it was really important for us to get this victory so we can go into the playoffs on a high note,” Toll Gate head coach Dave Hagopian said. “They were heartbreakers. From a confidence standpoint, I think we needed this win. And the kids played well.”
The biggest jolt came from Stamps, who dazzled on the mound for five innings. He allowed just four hits and walked two batters while striking out six.
He gave up a leadoff single in the first inning to Brandon Paiva, but worked out of that jam and kept it up from there. He stranded two runners in the second and one each in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
“It’s the last game of the season, so we tried to play hard today,” Stamps said. “I actually have had some rough starts lately, so it was good to have a scoreless pitching outing. We just tried to play hard and have a good game today going into the postseason.”
On the mound for Pilgrim was sophomore Elijah Dressel, and he didn’t help his own cause early on. He walked the first three batters in the bottom of the first, and then surrendered a bloop single to Stamps for the game’s first run.
Two batters later, Ryan Charette hit a groundball to Paiva at short, but he couldn’t handle it and a second run came home. Meizoso followed that up with a perfect suicide squeeze, giving Toll Gate a 3-0 lead.
“That’s what happened,” Hagopian said. “When the pitcher was having trouble throwing strikes, we were taking pitches and working the count. We made the pitcher work. We didn’t help.”
The Pats had their best chance to get back in the game in the second, but Stamps got Devon Gamba to ground out with runners at first and second to end the threat.
Toll Gate kept the pressure up in the second, again loading the bases with nobody out courtesy of two Dressel walks and a single by Ben Mann. After Dressel buckled down to retire the next two men, Zach Bacon walked to bring in a run, making it 4-0.
The Titans added another in the third on a sac fly by Alex Lefevbre, then scored three times in the fourth on an error, an RBI single by Charette and a long RBI double by Zack Azeredo.
Their ninth run came in the sixth on a bases loaded walk by Lefebvre against Pilgrim pitcher Alex Lefebvre.
On the mound, Meizoso allowed no hits over the final two innings, and he got Chris Duchesneau to fly out with a runner on first to end the game in the seventh.
That turned the page on the regular season, as Toll Gate will look ahead to the playoffs after missing out on the postseason by one game a year ago.
“Last year we didn’t make the playoffs, so we’re excited,” Stamps said. “We’re going to practice hard for this next week. We’re just taking it game by game.”
The Titans will slot in somewhere between No. 8 and No. 11 in the 16-team playoff field, depending on the outcome of games on Monday. Those results were unavailable at press time.
The postseason begins on June 1.
“The playoffs is a new season,” Hagopian said. “I feel good. Our first goal of the season was to make the playoffs. We reached our goal, and now we’re in the tournament. That’s all you can ask for.”
Pilgrim, meanwhile, will regroup and look to next season. It will lose seniors Brett Ferguson, Lemire, Luke Verrier, Tyler Galligan, Jesse Gannon, Billy Chase, Devon Gamba and Kyle Perry.
“There was some experience in taking your bumps,” Xiarhos said. “We have some pitching coming back – our starting rotation is all underclassmen – so there’s that. The freshman program looks like it’s doing well again this year. There is some hope for the future, and the bumps they took this year will serve them well next year.”