Heading into Wednesday’s match-up with cross-town rival Pilgrim, the Toll Gate baseball team had lost three games in a row, two by less than two runs. Those games were against Division I-South leaders North Kingstown and South Kingstown. The Titans hung close and had chances to win, but couldn’t come through.
Against Pilgrim, they were in control the whole way but suddenly found themselves in another nailbiter.
This time, they came out on top.
Senior lefty Ryan Charette scattered four hits over eight innings, and the Titans came through with a run in the top of the eighth to win 3-2. The Titans also picked up a win over Moses Brown on Friday to improve to 5-5.
“We’ve been pressing of late,” said Toll Gate head coach Dave Hagopian. “When you lose a few close ones in a row, you start to press. It’s been tough the last few games. We’re happy to get a win here.”
The Titans were riding high two weeks ago. Charette threw a five-inning no-hitter against Coventry and the Titans followed that up with a 9-3 win over Portsmouth.
They faced North Kingstown next and got another terrific performance by Charette, but lost 2-0. The next day, they fell apart in a 12-0 loss to Barrington. Last Monday, they faced first-place South Kingstown and lost 3-2.
“We needed this one,” Charette said. “We’ve had a little losing streak. We’ve gotten great pitching from everybody, but defense and hitting have killed us every time.”
For most of Wednesday’s game, the Titans left those struggles behind them. Charette allowed a hit to the leadoff man in the bottom of the first, erased him on a double play and didn’t allow another hit until the sixth. He retired 14 in a row.
In the meantime, the Titans gave him a lead with single runs in the second and third innings. James Meizoso doubled in the second and took off for third on a wild pitch. When the throw sailed into left field, he raced home. In the third, Zach Bacon reached on a two-base error and scored on a base hit by Evan Stamps.
Then the Titans hit a trouble spot.
Charette struck out Brett Ferguson to start the sixth, but the ball got away from catcher Ben Mann and his throw to first was off target, allowing Ferguson to reach. Tyler Galligan followed with a double-play ball to third, but Junior Rivas bobbled it and could only get an out at first.
An infield hit by Devon Gamba put runners on first and third before Brandon Paiva popped a shallow fly ball to center. Meizoso charged in but failed to make a sliding catch. Ferguson scored to make it 2-1. Chris Duchesneau then reached on an error and Gamba came home with the tying run.
“I think that inning, we just got a little tight,” Hagopian said. “We let them back in it. It’s something you don’t want to see.”
The difference this time was that the Titans didn’t let the bad inning bury them.
Facing No. 3 hitter Chris Ray with runners on first and third and just one out, Charette induced a ground ball up the middle. Bacon grabbed it by second base, stepped on the bag and fired to first for an inning-ending – and rally-killing – double play.
“Obviously, I wasn’t happy with the defense we were playing, but as a pitcher, you can’t let that affect you at all,” Charette said. “You just have to keep throwing strikes and hope you get out.”
The Titans threatened in the top of the seventh but Pilgrim reliever Billy Chase stranded a runner on second when he battled through an eight-pitch at-bat and got Dave Babcock to pop out.
In the bottom half, Pilgrim’s Andrew Swain doubled with one out, and the Titans intentionally walked Luke Verrier. Charette buckled down once more, getting Ferguson to fly out and Galligan to hit into a force.
Toll Gate then broke through.
Mann led off the eighth with a double to deep left-center and Stamps bunted him to third. After a walk to Rivas, Charette popped out, and it looked like Chase might work his way out of trouble.
But Meizoso, a sophomore, came through. He chopped a ground ball between shortstop and third. Pilgrim third baseman Kyle Perry cut it off but Meizoso was flying down the line and got to first ahead of a throw that was off-target anyway. Mann scored the go-ahead run.
“James Meizoso had a great game,” Hagopian said. “For the first run, he hit a nice double and he had a good read on the ball in the dirt. He took off, the catcher threw it away and he went home. That was a pure hustle play on his part. And then he came up with the game-winning RBI. He stepped up for us.”
The Titans didn’t get anything else, but Charette didn’t need it. Armed with a second chance, he went back out for the eighth, got the leadoff batter to pop out and needed just three more pitches to get two groundouts.
“He’s been our horse all year,” Hagopian said. “He’s so composed and so tough out there. He’ll battle you tooth and nail. Once again, he came through for us.”
Charette struck out five and allowed only four hits.
Meizoso led the Toll Gate offense with two hits, the run scored and an RBI. Alex Lefebvre also had two hits.
For Pilgrim, the loss was part of a tumultuous week. Longtime head coach Ed Colvin stepped down on Sunday for personal reasons. Mike Xiarhos has taken over and was happy to see the Pats rally on Wednesday. He hoped it was a sign that the team was turning the page – and it may have been. The Pats beat Coventry 1-0 on Thursday thanks to a complete game gem from sophomore Elijah Dressel.
“I was happy to see that they did battle back,” Xiarhos said. “It’s been kind of a weird week for them. They did battle back. The dugout was positive, keeping the energy going. We had two great performances from our pitchers, and I think the hitting will come around. I was happy with the effort, just not the result.”
Pilgrim starting pitcher Stephen Noti was a bright spot in Wednesday’s defeat. He gave up four hits in six innings of work and struck out five. Both runs he gave up were unearned.
Friday’s victory over Coventry improved Pilgrim’s record to 2-8.
“We’re just trying to get W’s,” Xiarhos said. “We’re trying to keep the energy positive, which is tough when you’re going through a rough season like they’re going through. To their credit, we had a great practice yesterday. With this week, the way it started versus the way it’s ending, I’m happy.”
Toll Gate also got another strong pitching performance on Friday, as Meizoso went seven innings and gave up two earned runs in a 5-2 win over Moses Brown.
Toll Gate is back in action today at 4 p.m. at Middletown. Pilgrim visits Portsmouth at 4 p.m.