After needing three games to get through its quarterfinal series against Flood Auto, the Warwick PAL Connie Mack team went with the more efficient route in the semis.
Two games was all it took for Warwick to punch its ticket to the state finals.
A 4-3 win in Monday’s game one put Warwick in the driver’s seat, and with ace Bobby Lineberger on the mound for Tuesday’s game, Warwick took a fourth-inning lead it would never surrender on its way to a 4-2, series-clinching victory.
Warwick has one team standing between itself and its first championship since becoming affiliated with PAL two years ago. That team is Scituate, which swept Slocum in the other semifinal series.
The best-of-three state title set begins on Friday at Mickey Stevens at 5:30 p.m.
“They have very good pitching, a very deep team,” said Warwick manager Pete Palermo. “We’re going to have to play our best ball to beat them.”
Warwick played close to its best ball against Chariho, with a steady performance in all facets of the game on Tuesday. Lineberger went the distance on the mound, throwing just 85 pitches while giving up only three hits, walking two and striking out four
Defensively, Warwick made just one error, and at the plate it had seven hits, including key run-scoring hits from Joey Paliotte in the second inning and Evan Broccoli in the fourth.
“It’s been a total team effort,” Palermo said. “We’ve had contributions from everybody on the field. That’s kind of why we picked the guys that we did. We had a lot of these guys for quite a while. It’s been fun to watch them grow from boys to young men.”
Lineberger was dominant from start to finish, as the two runs he gave up in the third inning were the only blemish to his otherwise nearly perfect day. After that inning, he allowed just one base-runner and no hits the rest of the way.
It was the third straight win in the postseason for Lineberger, as Warwick is unbeaten in his starts. He struck out 14 batters in his first outing in Round of 16 against Providence, and he threw a three-hit shutout against Flood in the quarterfinals.
“Bobby has been the MVP of our playoff series so far,” Palermo said. “He kept them off balance. He kept his pitch count down. We needed him to throw far into the game, and he did that. That was big.”
Warwick took a 1-0 lead in the second inning after a scoreless first inning for both teams, with Joey Paliotte singling off of Chariho starter Evan Rathbun to drive in Chris Duchesneau, who walked with one out in the frame.
Chariho rebounded with its best inning of the game against Lineberger in the third, as Derek Shea, Mason Lamont and Nick Piccoli all singled consecutively, with Shea scoring on a passed ball and Lamont scoring on Piccoli’s hit to give Chariho a 2-1 lead. Lineberger limited the damage, though, retiring three of the next four batters to get out of the jam.
Warwick’s deficit was short-lived, as it came right back with two runs in the top of the fourth. Justin Kennedy singled, and two batters later Duchesneau did the same.
Broccoli – who has been a weapon for the team behind the plate this postseason as well – stepped in and laced a double over the left-fielder’s head, scoring both runners to make it a 3-2 game.
“We really tried to talk about trying to find your pitch during the at-bat, because usually you’ll see one during the course of the at-bat,” Palermo said. “I think guys have adjusted. We’ve really grown and matured as players, and we really did have good patience.”
With Lineberger on the mound, Warwick’s slim advantage was enough.
“We really did put pressure on them and made them have to chase us,” Palermo said. “I think once we did that we kind of gained control and took the upper hand, which is important I think.”
Paliotte, Duchesneau and Mike Broccoli played strong defense in the outfield over the final few innings, as Lineberger allowed only a fifth-inning walk from there on out.
Warwick grabbed its final run of the game in the fifth inning, as Lineberger singled, moved to second on a passed ball, took third on a sacrifice bunt by Devon Gamba and came home on another passed ball.
Warwick now finds itself two wins away from a championship. The best-of-three series with Scituate will run Friday and Saturday, with the third game, if necessary, scheduled for Sunday.
The two teams are plenty familiar with each other, as they both play in the Southeast Division. Warwick finished first in the division in the regular season, while Scituate was second.
In their two meetings, they split a pair of 3-1 games.
“They’re a very good team,” Palermo said.