The Toll Gate baseball team is playing better and battling to the end. Whether it’s enough for the Titans to sneak into the playoffs remains to be seen, but it’s been a strong finish nonetheless.
The Titans snapped a four-game losing streak with a walk-off win over Barrington last week. They followed that up with a 5-0 victory over Middletown on Monday, behind a James Meizoso two-hit shutout.
A chance to really make some noise slipped away Tuesday when South Kingstown rallied from five runs down in the seventh for a 10-9 win, but the Titans could still end up in a tie for the final Division I-South playoff spot if they beat Pilgrim Thursday and a few other things fall their way. They’re currently 4-13.
Whatever happens, the Titans can take some solace in the fact that they’ve been able to turn things around.
“The guys have shown resiliency all year,” head coach Nick Durand said after Monday’s win. “It’s starting to pay off. We’ve had some good ballgames.”
Monday’s game was one of their best. Meizoso allowed a single in the first inning, a single in the seventh and very little in between. He struck out six, including the final batter of the game to preserve the shutout when the Islanders had the bases loaded.
Meizoso, a junior right-hander, was out for a good chunk of the season with an injury. Getting him back has given a big boost to a thin pitching staff.
“James pitched great,” Durand said. “We had been talking about not having to overthrow to be dominant. He hit his spots today and kept the guys off-balance with his off-speed stuff.”
Middletown starter Dylan Smith was even better than Meizoso in the early going, striking out four in two no-hit innings to start the game.
But the Titans battled. Jesse Cardiff cracked a one-out single in the third before a slow roller off the bat of Elvis Pimentel led to an error. Smith then hit Alex Lefebvre with a pitch to load the bases.
Middletown was on the verge of escaping when Meizoso grounded into a force-out at home, but with two outs, Tyler Ekroth smacked a base hit up the middle to score two. Zach Bacon followed with a single to plate Meizoso and give the Titans a 3-0 lead.
“We keep saying, ‘You can’t give up. We’re going to get our chances,’” Durand said. “Other teams are going to make mistakes and we have to get the hits when they do.”
Two innings later, the Islanders had a chance to take advantage of a few Toll Gate miscues. Michael Garvey and Cameron Sullivan reached on errors to start the fifth, but Meizoso induced a ground ball to shortstop, where Lefebvre flipped to Bacon to start a 6-4-3 double play. Meizoso got another ground ball to end the inning.
“Probably early in the year, we would have folded in that situation,” Durand said.
After getting out of the jam, the Titans tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fifth. Pimentel walked, stole second, stole third and raced home when the throw to third got away. Ekroth and Bacon singled later in the inning and Tim Warner poked a base hit to right to score one more.
Meizoso did the rest, striking out two in a scoreless sixth and getting a bases-loaded jam in the seventh with a strikeout of Owen Sullivan. Meizoso froze him with an 0-2 curveball.
The win continued a good stretch that started right when the Titans looked to be at rock bottom. After losing two games by a combined 24-4 score, they played first-place North Kingstown tough in a two-run loss last Monday before the walk-off win over Barrington.
“We got some guys healthy about halfway through the season and that’s been a big difference,” Durand said. “The younger guys have been more confident.”
The Titans were in position for a third straight win until South Kingstown’s comeback on Tuesday. Toll Gate led 9-1 at one point but the Rebels scored eight runs after the fourth – including five in the seventh – to tie the game and won it in the eighth.
Toll Gate will visit Pilgrim today at 3:30 p.m., in the regular season finale for both teams.