The Warwick PAL 14-year-old Babe Ruth all-star team knew defending its state title would be hard, with the rest of the teams gearing up to dethrone the champs.
But Warwick sure made it look easy.
On the strength of five dominant innings from tournament MVP David DeFusco and two five-run innings at the plate, Warwick knocked off Coventry 10-0 in a mercy-rule shortened game on Friday to capture its second consecutive state crown.
Warwick went 4-0 in the tournament, outscoring its opponents by a combined 41-10 margin. Target on its back or not, Warwick was barely even tested.
“I knew they were good, but we’re good,” said DeFusco, who pitched 12 innings in the tournament and allowed only two runs, while also serving as Warwick’s clean-up hitter. “I knew we had it.”
Warwick will now play in the New England Regional Tournament in Westfield Mass., for the second consecutive year, with the winner advancing to the Babe Ruth World Series in Moses Lake, Wash. The New England Tournament begins on Friday, July 26. Last year, as 13-year-olds, Warwick was eliminated after just three games, going 1-2.
This year, the format is different – there will be pool play games to determine the top four teams, and then those teams will play single elimination to determine a champion – and Warwick is more experienced on the big stage.
It’s also as confident as can be.
“Hopefully we’ll have a little more success up there then we did last year,” Warwick manager Bob Creamer said. “The boys have been there before and they know what to expect now.”
The team’s confidence is well-earned.
DeFusco led the way on the mound in Warwick’s 7-2 win over Cranston to open the tournament last week, before Elijah Brown picked up the slack in the team’s second game, a 9-2 win over Portsmouth.
That put Warwick in the winner’s bracket final on Wednesday, and it knocked off North Providence/Smithfield 15-6. Jarrod Houle started the game on the mound, but after two somewhat difficult innings, Bobby Garceau came in and settled things down, paving the way for another lopsided win.
“He was on fire,” Warwick manager Bob Creamer said of Garceau. “He was lights out for the last five innings. I tip my hat to him. He was ready to play. He got a shot and he made the most of it.”
Coventry was up next and had to beat Warwick twice to capture the title. It never even came close to winning once.
DeFusco faced just three batters over the minimum in five innings, as he struck out eight and allowed just two hits while walking two.
He walked the first batter of the game, Robert Regine, but Regine was quickly gunned down trying to steal by catcher Sean Creamer, and DeFusco settled in to retire the next seven batters in a row.
“He’s a confident, strong pitcher,” Bob Creamer said of DeFusco. “He’s got a defense behind him so he’s not afraid to mix it up. He knows if they’re going to hit a curveball, those guys are going to make the plays.”
The offense backed him up. It hit into a double play in the first inning and stranded two runners in the second inning off of Coventry starter Mason Feole, but got going in the third inning.
Without a hit up to that point, No. 9 hitter Jordan Huntoon started off the frame with a long double to deep center field, keying a five-run rally.
“Jordan Huntoon, spark plug guy,” Creamer said. “I put him in the ninth spot as a second leadoff hitter. I explained to him, ‘Hey, you’re not in the ninth spot because it’s a punishment, you’re in the ninth spot as my second leadoff hitter.’ He knew that all tournament, and at least four or five times he came up in a leadoff spot in certain innings and got a hit.”
Brown followed Huntoon’s hit with a single, and a bloop single by Houle scored Huntoon for the game’s first run. Sean Creamer followed with a sacrifice fly, and a double by DeFusco made it 3-0. After an infield single by Ryan Viti, Anthony Russo reached on an error, scoring Warwick’s fourth run. Billy Roberge then reached on an infield single and the fifth run came home when Roberge was picked off of first base and Russo raced home from third.
“Mason Feole is a very good pitcher,” Bob Creamer said. “The first two innings were a pitcher’s duel, but once we saw him once or twice the guys got used to him. And we just waited, we waited for our pitch.”
DeFusco set down the side in order in the fourth and worked around a two-out walk in the fifth, and Warwick’s bats finished the game in the home half.
After Coventry got the first out of the inning, Viti singled and Russo reached on an error. Roberge lined a single to right to make it 6-0, ending Feole’s day on the mound. Coventry brought in Liam Lambert, and Steve Johnson greeted him with an RBI single. Huntoon walked and Brown singled to make it 8-0, and Sean Creamer was hit with a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in the ninth run.
With two outs, Coventry again went to the bullpen for Michael Viveiros. But his first pitch to DeFusco was wild, and Huntoon raced home with the game-ending 10th run.
Again, Warwick is the state champion.
“I told them before the game, not too many teams are two-time state champs,” Bob Creamer said. “This is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. They did it. Hat’s off to them.”