WARWICK — The rest of Division I might not know much about Coventry seniors Aaron Guenet and Justin Jadach, but as the Pilgrim baseball team found out in Monday’s season opener, the Oaker duo is a pretty formidable mound combination.
Jadach allowed just four hits and a run in 5 1/3 innings of work and then Guenet came in and dominated. The senior, who was the Oakers’ closer last season, cleaned up a mess in the sixth inning before striking out three batters over the next two innings to earn the win.
Sophomore right fielder Erik O’Connell looped a single to the outfield in the top of the eighth inning to plate the go-ahead run and then Guenet stranded a runner at first base to preserve a 2-1 Division I-South road win.
“This is a big one for a number of reasons,” Bush said. “We’re young and we need to gain some experience and we did that today. What had to kick and scratch to put a couple of runs on the board and our senior leaders really stepped up today. Going forward that’s what their job is, step up and make themselves a presence out there.”
“This is a great win. It felt good to come out strong,” O’Connell said. “Those guys are our two dominant starters and they pitched really good.”
Coventry (1-0 Division I-South) came into the season knowing runs would be a premium and that the team’s three senior pitchers – Jadach, Guenet and Brandon Pare- would have to carry the load. Jadach certainly did his part in his first varsity start.
The senior worked out of jams in the first two innings to keep the game scoreless. Jadach settled down and set down 10 straight Patriots from the end of the second inning until the end of the fifth inning.
“Justin had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning,” Bush said. “I don’t think anyone expected that and that’s no discredit to him, but when I guy comes in fresh off the preseason and throws like that, it’s going to be tough to beat.”
Guenet entered the season as Coventry’s most experienced pitcher, which meant he was likely to see an expanded role from the last two seasons. But Guenet was to reprise his role as the fireman Monday.
Guenet entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning with runners on second and third and just one out. With the score tied at 1, Guenet forced Devon Gamba to ground out to shortstop Shaun Vigeant before Bryant Palermo grounded out to third baseman Jordan Irish to end the threat.
The senior worked around a lead-off hit in the seventh inning and a one-out hit in the eighth inning to record the win.
“Aaron pitched because we needed him,” Bush said. “He’s valuable is a starter and he’s even more valuable when we can bring him in early in the week and have him throw hard. I think Pilgrim’s a little like us in that they lost a lot of kids, so he was the perfect guy to have out there overpowering hitters.”
Coventry’s offense, which Bush knew would be a work in progress, was actually more potent than the two-run output indicates. The Oakers loaded the bases in the first inning with two outs after a Bobby Beaudoin single, a Nick Merritt walk and a Jadach single. Pilgrim starter Stephen Noti induced a Shawn Pacifico ground out to end the inning.
The Oakers scored the game’s first run in the fifth inning when Irish drew a lead-off walk. Nick Palumbo then walked and Bush inserted pinch runner Joey Corbin in for Irish at second. Anthony Masseur loaded the bases, which ended Noti’s day.
Sophomore relief Elijah Dressel uncorked a wild pitch and Corbin came around to score.
The lead only lasted an inning because Jadach gave up three hits in the sixth inning before he was pulled in favor of Guenet.
After Merritt threw out a runner trying to steal second in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Oakers grabbed the lead again in the eighth.
Beaudoin started the inning by reaching on an infield error. He was moved to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by junior Vincent Zannella. Jadach followed with a walk and then with two outs O’Connell came through with a single to score the game-winning run.
“I felt pretty good in my last at-bat, so I went in there, concentrated and just knew that all we needed was a run,” O’Connell said. “I got a base hit and scored a run.”
Coventry will look to push its record to 2-0 Wednesday when Barrington comes to town. The Eagles beat the Oakers last season, but the Oakers showed Monday history doesn’t matter because last season’s team was beaten by the Pats.