The Toll Gate baseball team can’t help but feel like it missed a golden opportunity last Thursday against East Providence.
Needing every win they can get to qualify for the playoffs, the Titans stranded eight base runners and never seemed to get comfortable offensively against Townies’ ace Scott Mello. Toll Gate starter Evan Stamps matched Mello into extra innings, but a balk in the eighth proved costly as East Providence walked-off with a 3-2 victory on a based-loaded, one-out single by Nick DeBarros.
Toll Gate fell to 5-9 in Division I, where the top 16 teams make the postseason. The Titans are currently tied for 18th, with four regular season games remaining.
East Providence – a team that Toll Gate beat 17-7 back on April 10 – improved to 4-10.
“Evan pitched great,” Toll Gate head coach Dave Hagopian said. “We played great defense. But we left eight men on base. We couldn’t get the key hit. That was the game right there.”
It won’t get a whole lot easier for the Titans, either, as they were scheduled to take on first-place Hendricken on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time.
Following that, they host 5-9 Pilgrim – a team in the same boat as they are – on Wednesday at 3:45 p.m., then head to 6-8 Vets next Monday before ending the season at home against 6-8 Barrington on Tuesday.
Toll Gate will likely need to win at least two of those games to extend its season past Tuesday.
“Every game is big now, because a win is a win,” Hagopian said. “Whether you beat this team or Hendricken. It’s getting to the end of the year, so the games have a little more pressure.”
With Mello on the mound on Thursday, Toll Gate knew that its scoring opportunities would be limited.
The Titans stranded a runner in each of the first two frames, but didn’t have a hit until a one-out single by Joe Martinez – following an R.J. Mann walk – put runners at second and third in the third inning.
Mello fired a wild pitch on his very next delivery, scoring Mann, and Tyler McLaughlin added a sacrifice fly to stake Toll Gate to a 2-0 lead.
But Stamps, who had stranded three runners in the first two innings, ran into some trouble of his own in the bottom half of the inning.
After Mello singled with one out, Stamps struck out Alex Hurley on three pitches. But East Providence, with two outs, caught fire. The Townies’ next four hitters – Colin Costa, Chris Licata, Aaron Branco and Keith Marquis – all singled, bringing in two runs to tie the game. Stamps induced a ground out from Logan Bettencourt to leave the bases loaded, but Toll Gate’s two-run lead was gone.
From there on out, the Titans struggled to come up big, while Mello continually worked out of jams.
Jason Shushtari was caught stealing in the fourth to end the inning. In the fifth, Mello picked John Crowley off second base with two outs and runners on first and second to end that threat.
With two runners on and two outs in the sixth, Mello struck out Junior Rivas on four pitches to retire the side.
“Usually, when Mello is on, he doesn’t give too much,” East Providence head coach Robert Rodericks said. “He walked a few today, he hit a batter, but usually he can keep them off base. Once he settles down, he’s pretty hard to beat.”
Stamps kept the Titans in the game, though, working around a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth, and then striking out consecutive batters with a runner on second in the fifth.
He retired the side in order in both the sixth and seventh innings as well.
“His curveball was working really well,” Hagopian said of Stamps. “He pitched really well. It’s too bad we couldn’t get a few more hits for him.”
Toll Gate left a runner on second base in the seventh, then did the same thing in the eighth.
East Providence, meanwhile, finally got to Stamps.
In the bottom of the eighth, Aaron Branco led off with a six-pitch walk, and he was pinch-run for by Ryan Yerid. A single by Marquis put runners on first and second, but Stamps buckled down to strike out Bettencourt, who was attempting to bunt.
Before he threw his next pitch, though, Stamps was called for a balk, and the runners each advanced a base, putting the winning run just 90 feet away.
“It looked like he was set and then he moved again and then went to set himself again,” Rodericks said. “It was definitely a balk.”
Stamps walked pinch hitter Joe Medeiros to load the bases, and DeBarros delivered a hard single into left field on the very next pitch to lift the Townies to the win.
“[The balk] was just a break out there for us,” Rodericks said. “It’s about time we got some breaks.”
Stamps was the tough-luck loser, as he allowed just the three runs on 11 hits while striking out 10 and walking four.
Mello allowed six hits and two runs to go with three walks and five strikeouts.
At the plate, Martinez had two doubles to lead the way.
“We’ve got to just keep going,” Hagopian said. “We’re still in it.”