Squeeze bunt caps late comeback in game one of semifinals
Warwick PAL swept into the Connie Mack state championship series, but the first step wasn’t exactly smooth. The team’s ability to battle through it paved the way for the title series berth.
In Monday’s game one at Mickey Stevens, Warwick was one out away from a 2-1 victory when an errant pickoff throw allowed Chariho to tie the game. Another error gave Chariho the lead and put Warwick on the verge of a crushing loss and a one-game hole in the series.
“They’re going to give me a heart attack,” said manager Pete Palermo.
They gave him a win instead.
Warwick regrouped after unraveling and scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to walk-off with a 4-3 win. Stephen Denis had an RBI double to tie the game and Justin Kennedy’s squeeze bunt with no outs won it.
“It’s been a team effort all year long and you saw that today,” Palermo said. “Guys picking each other up, everybody contributing. They stuck with it.”
Warwick starter Mike Broccoli had settled in after a rough first inning to pitch five straight scoreless frames. His team backed him with a run in the first and another in the third, and it looked like the one-run lead would be enough.
Broccoli retired the first two batters he faced in the top of the seventh, putting Warwick one out away from the victory.
But Mason Lamont kept the inning alive for Chariho when he worked a walk. Nick Piccoli was hit by Broccoli’s next pitch, putting two men on for Zac Kittel. On a 1-0 count to Kittel, Broccoli tried a pickoff move to get Piccoli at first – he had already picked off two runners earlier in the game – but his throw was off target and rolled deep into foul territory down the right field line. Lamont raced around from second base to score the tying run.
“Mike didn’t have his ‘A’ game but he did a nice job battling through it. But I don’t know what happened on that play,” Palermo said. “It wasn’t very smart.”
Broccoli departed after the pickoff play, replaced by Chris Duchesneau. The reliever did his job when he induced a ground ball, but Chris Ray misfired on the throw to first, allowing Piccoli to score the go-ahead run.
Duchesneau escaped after that, but the damage was done. Warwick needed a rally.
Piccoli, Chariho’s starting pitcher, stood to make that difficult. Warwick’s only two hits had been run-scoring singles. Piccoli hadn’t allowed a hit since the third inning and Warwick’s only baserunner in that span was caught stealing.
Riding momentum, Piccoli fired a pair of strikes to Brandon Paiva, jumping ahead 0-2, but Paiva poked the next pitch into right field for a base hit. The Chariho right-fielder misplayed the ball briefly, allowing Paiva to take second.
“He’s a great contact hitter,” Palermo said. “Down in the count, he came through.”
Broccoli, who stayed in the game after leaving the mound, was up next and laid down a perfect bunt in front of the plate. Hustling down the line, he beat Piccoli’s throw to first. Paiva took third.
“It’s been our team the whole year – we didn’t quit,” Palermo said. “Mike made a mistake on the mound and instead of hanging his head, he comes up in the bottom of the seventh and puts down a perfect bunt. That really switched momentum.”
Denis stepped in as a pinch-hitter and smashed the first pitch he saw to deep right-center field. Paiva scored the tying run, while Broccoli held up at third.
“Big hit by Stephen, coming off the bench,” Palermo said.
On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Warwick turned to the squeeze. Kennedy’s bunt was flawless, and Broccoli scampered home with the winning run.
“We had talked about it and we’ve actually used it quite a few times this season,” Palermo said. “We’ve gotten the bat on the ball every time, even if we foul it off.”
The walk-off squeeze gave Warwick a win instead of what would have been a very tough-to-swallow loss. The team went on to beat Chariho 4-2 on Tuesday to punch its ticket to the finals.