The Rhode Island Connie Mack championship is back in Warwick, residing with a team that’s been dedicated to bringing it home.
Warwick PAL captured the summer baseball title Sunday afternoon at Mickey Stevens when it edged Scituate 6-5 in game three of their best-of-three championship series.
The win was the culmination of a two-year journey in the Rhode Island Connie Mack League for the PAL club, which fielded a similar team last year and thought it had a good shot at a championship before falling in the quarterfinals.
A year later, Warwick was the last team standing.
“These guys have worked hard for a lot of years,” said manager Pete Palermo. “They’ve come close a number of times, especially last year when we thought we had a team that could win it. I think they’ve grown as players and people and I think that showed this year.”
The championship is the first for a Warwick squad since 2011, when Bishop Hendricken’s Flood Auto capped a string of four straight titles for Warwick teams. The last title for a non-Hendricken squad came from a team sponsored and coached by Barry Lama in 2009, before Warwick PAL took over sponsorship of the program.
Cranston had won the last two Connie Mack state titles. Warwick PAL was one of its victims last year, even as it pushed the eventual champs to three games in the quarterfinals.
This year, Warwick wasn’t going to be denied. It swept Providence, beat Flood in three games, swept Chariho, and finished it off against Scituate on Sunday after splitting the first two games of the series.
“Between this and junior legion, this is our third or fourth year with a lot of these guys,” said first baseman Bryant Palermo. “To win it is a pretty great feeling.”
The finishing touch didn’t come as easy as Warwick hoped. Scituate – which knocked off No. 1 seeds Cranston and Slocum on its way to the finals – bounced back from a 3-1 defeat in game one to beat Warwick 3-2 in game two on Saturday.
In Sunday’s game three, Warwick fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first, but answered with three of its own in the bottom half then took a 6-3 lead in the fourth. Colton King went six strong innings on the mound, and Chris Duchesneau pitched the seventh as Warwick held off a Scituate charge for the victory.
“It wasn’t easy,” Pete Palermo said. “Scituate is a really good team and they kept coming at us. But we just battled and battled, right to the end. That’s the way we’ve been doing it all year long. Down to the wire.”
The need for a game three put Warwick’s shrinking pitching staff into a precarious spot. Duchesneau and Mike Broccoli were almost spent after starting the first two games, while ace Bobby Lineberger had to depart for Castleton State University, where he plays football.
That left King, who had pitched very well in limited action this season. After struggling in the first inning Sunday, he settled in and allowed just one more run while throwing 103 pitches.
“He wasn’t as strong as he has been in the past,” Palermo said. “Last couple of starts, he’s started off a little shaky, but he settled in. He worked hard right to the end. He gave us everything he had left in his tank.”
The top of the first inning put Warwick in a hole. Jim Gianquitti and Nick Pietrantozzi led off the game with singles. A groundout brought one run home before a two-out, RBI single by Danny Keefe. An error allowed the third run to score before King got a groundout to end the inning.
“With Colton on the mound, we thought we were going to come in here and start off rolling right away,” Palermo said. “But it was like bang, bang, bang, before you know it, the tides are turned. We always talk about baseball being a roller-coaster ride so we tell them, ‘Buckle up.’”
Warwick was ready for the ride.
“We were just trying to put up at least three on the way back and get right back at them,” Bryant Palermo said. “We had to come out hard.”
They did. Facing Christian Ferrucci, Devon Gamba and Mike Broccoli worked through seven and eight-pitch at-bats to draw walks. Palermo then stepped in and smashed the first pitch he saw to the gap in right-center, scoring Gamba.
“I was looking for an inside, low pitch,” he said. “I turned on it and went for it.”
Evan Broccoli followed with a groundout to score his brother, Mike. After a base hit by Justin Kennedy, an error on a ground ball by Brandon Paiva allowed the tying run to score.
“We answered right back,” Pete Palermo said. “That was huge. Everybody contributed.”
Both pitchers immediately settled down after the rough first inning. King needed just six pitches for a one-two-three second and worked around a one-out single for a scoreless third. Ferrucci overcame two errors behind him to pitch a scoreless second then worked a one-two-three third.
In the fourth, Warwick broke through, with a little luck on its side.
Duchesneau led off with a single to center field. With Andrew Swain at the plate, Duchesneau thought ball three of the at-bat was ball four and began jogging to second.
“I heard someone yell before the pitch, ‘Base hit, ball four,’” Duchesneau said. “Then he threw the ball so I thought it was a walk. I took a few extra steps then Swain just stepped out of the box and I was like, ‘Uh oh.’”
Catcher Josh Greene realized it quickly and fired a throw to first, but it sailed past the bag and rolled deep into the right-field corner.
Duchesneau, on the verge of a base-running gaffe, instead raced all the way around with the go-ahead run.
“He got thrown out stealing third yesterday and it was a momentum changer,” Palermo said. “That could have been a disaster again right there. The catcher has a real strong arm, and sometimes that can hurt you. It went all the way to the fence. Chris has great wheels so once he’s off and running, he’s rolling. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.”
The play seemed to take the wind out of Scituate’s sails and Warwick kept the pressure on. Swain singled and, after Greene relieved Ferrucci on the mound, Joe Paliotte hit a ground ball to second that resulted in an error when Scituate tried for the force-out. Greene retired the next two batters, but Mike Broccoli hit a hard ground ball that was misplayed at shortstop, allowing pinch-runner Stephen Denis to score. Greene then walked two straight batters to force in another run.
Warwick led 6-3.
“We just tried to build on it each at-bat,” Palermo said. “We stayed tough. We got to their pitcher, we grabbed the momentum. I thought we were tough in the box all game. We showed a lot of patience, we really fought, nobody was an easy out. We just battled.”
Of course, Scituate did too. After four consecutive scoreless frames from King, he walked the leadoff batter in the sixth and got into trouble. Another walk, plus an error on a missed tag loaded the bases with one out. Pietrantozzi brought a run home with a sacrifice fly, but King escaped further trouble when he got Greene to pop out, ending the sixth.
Warwick couldn’t add to its lead, meaning Duchesneau had only a two-run cushion as he took the mound for the seventh.
Duchesneau fell behind in the count to leadoff batter Mike Vivieros, but fought back to 3-2 and struck him out swinging on a high fastball.
“I had way too much energy,” Duchesneau said. “I was pumped up. Once I got that first strikeout I started to zone in. I just wanted to win that championship.”
It still wasn’t easy. Keefe drew a one-out walk. Ferrucci grounded out for the second out, but David Mejia followed with a low line drive that Kennedy couldn’t come up with at shortstop. Keefe came around to score, making it a 6-5 game. Mejia represented the tying run at first base.
But Duchesneau buckled down. Facing Antoine Deardon, he jumped ahead 0-2 and struck him out looking to end the game.
“Chris had a little bit left in his arm and he came in and did a great job,” Palermo said.
The final out touched off a well-deserved celebration for Warwick. For a lot of teams in summer baseball, dedication is half the battle, but it was never an issue for the Warwick club. Their marathon playoff run had players doing whatever they could to be there. Evan Broccoli even caught the first two games of the series immediately after Pilgrim High School football practice.
“These guys did an awesome job,” Palermo said. “They were a great group.”
And they finished in style.
“This is the first state championship I’ve ever won,” Duchesneau said. “Hopefully we’ll bring this into Pilgrim next year and do the best we can, and hopefully win a championship there.”