By Russ Waterman
It is, to be sure, an atypical state baseball tournament. Four games were held on Memorial Day so that the Rhode Island Interscholastic League could squeeze in all of its games this week and have the finals played at McCoy Stadium next week. Luckily, the weather cooperated, and that allowed most playoff games to hold true to form, except in a few cases.
South Kingstown in Prime Position to Win Division 1, Region 4
Alex Briggs, a 6-foot-3 sophomore lefty, helped No. 5 South Kingstown to its second straight win, 4-1, last week over No. 4 Lincoln. The Rebels broke a 1-1 tie by scoring three unearned runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
Kevin Carey singled and Jeremy McKinney reached on a two-out error. Brian Lessard delivered an RBI single and a bases-loaded walk to Briggs forced home another run. In the seventh, after a Forest Dwyer double, another Lions' error accounted for the final margin.
So young South Kingstown, which lost in the state finals in 2007 and has just three seniors on the team, will try to capture the regional final and move onto the state semifinals. It has displayed solid pitching, solid defense and timely hitting from several players.
The infield has been so rock-solid that third baseman Sean O'Neill, shortstop Ryan Stone, the second baseman Dwyer and first baseman Corey Benton have made fewer than 10 combined errors all season. The outfield, also strong defensively, has usually consisted of Lessard, Kevin Carey, Jackson Geary and/or Kyle Barr.
Geary, the Rebels' right-handed ace and committed to Coastal Carolina University, has deservedly earned the reputation of being one of the top hurlers in the state with his 4-1 record.
"He has pinpoint control, a great curve ball and a decent changeup," South Kingstown coach Jim Sauro said.
Geary won the Rebels' first playoff game, 6-1, over Woonsocket, twirling a four-hitter.
The staff's two other primary pitchers, including Briggs, helped garner wins over Cranston West, North Kingstown and now Lincoln and Carey, are part of a staff that has given up only a state-best 36 runs all season.
Nor can Rebels' hitters be overlooked, either, especially when three of them – Dwyer, Lessard and Carey – have consistently maintained averages of over .400.
Still, the message Sauro tries to impart to his squad is not an easy one.
"You never know if you will ever be able to return to the playoffs and make it all the way to the finals," Sauro said. "You have to work extra hard to get another shot."
Top Seeds Holding Their Own in Division 1 - Except One
La Salle Academy, seeded eighth, may be sitting pretty but not too comfortably in Region 1 following last week's 4-3 shocker over top-seeded Portsmouth, and an edge-of-the-seat, 5-4 first-game victory over Cranston East, courtesy of a dramatic two-out, three-run homer by Brett Hopkins in the seventh inning.
More Ocean State seismic shock waves were delivered the next day when the Rams rode the six-hit pitching of ace Joe Charest, received a game-winning hit from Mike Barone and survived a scary, three-run Portsmouth rally that just fell short in the bottom of the seventh. Portsmouth, which has not used ace Ryan Westmoreland yet, must now win twice against La Salle to advance.
In Region 4, Lincoln now has a chance to redeem itself against the Rebels after John Tangherlini and Steve Conti combined on a five-hitter to subdue Coventry, 5-2, in the losers' bracket final. The Lions must get past South Kingstown twice this week to advance.
No. 2 Bishop Hendricken, in recording consecutive wins over St. Raphael, 5-2, and North Providence, 4-1, has No. 7 Moses Brown standing in its way in the quest to capture the Region 2 final. The Quakers split with North Providence, but won the loser's bracket final, 6-4, on Sunday. Bishop Hendricken starting pitchers Andrew Ferreira and Chris Sheehan, along with one-game relief help from Robby Curran, have allowed a combined six hits thus far.
In Region 3, meanwhile, it is the matchup most fans coveted – No. 6 Cranston West vs. No. 3 North Kingstown.
Cranston West may be in the driver's seat with two straight wins, but its two wins included a 5-4 nail-biter over North Kingstown, which featured the pitching of Dan Hopkins, and two other less likely heroes, Matt Clarkin, who had three hits, and a game-clinching RBI single by Shane O'Connell. Ace Anthony Meo saved the game in relief by getting the last out. The Skippers will have to win twice to move on.
Mount Hope, Prout Do Their Part in Division 2
Top-seeded Mount Hope stretched its winning streak to 10 games after just getting by Mount St. Charles, 6-5, in its first playoff game in Region 1. Relief work by Matt Leary, combined with timely hitting from Ricky Pacheco and Lou Barry and a triple by Parker Kotuby, carried the Huskies to the narrow win.
Yet Mount Hope now collides with No. 4 North Smithfield in the Region 1 winners' bracket after Northmen pitcher Nick Narodowy came through with a seven-hit, 13-strikeout outing over Exeter/West Greenwich. This game, too, might serve as a prelude to the regional finals.
Encore for Tortolano Could be Tough
How much more could one player do than Anthony Tortolano in forging a 7-6 win for No. 5 Exeter-West Greenwich over Providence Country Day?
Tortolano drove in three runs with two homers and then singled home the winning run. For the No. 5 Scarlet Knights to get to the regional finals, they will have to get past the No. 12 Mounties, the ultimate spoiler in the 12-team field.
It is not surprising that the second-seeded Prout School and No. 3 Johnston will collide in the Region 2 winner's bracket after both took care of business in their first games. Nor would it be surprising if these two powers were to clash again in the region finals, either.
Johnston starter Brandon Parrillo, with a little help from Andrew McKeon in the seventh, held Tolman to four hits in the Panthers' 11-4 win. McKeon also contributed two hits and three RBI.
Deven Bussey, allowing three hits, was barely touched in the Crusaders' 9-0 win over Ponaganset.
Russ Waterman covers Massachusetts and Rhode Island for MaxPreps.com. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org