Last summer the Wickford 11-Year Old All-Stars were involved in two of the most exciting games in the District 3 Tournament regardless of age level – albeit both in losing efforts.
After running the table in the winners bracket they faced off against Chariho only one win away from winning the district.
At the time Wickford coach Ryan Gwaltney called the first game of the district finals “a rollercoaster” and it might have been an understatement in retrospect.
Each team took turns with the lead but ultimately Chariho forced a deciding game with 16-15 victory as closer Grant Vargo-Willeford stranded the tying run on third with one out with back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.
The ensuing championship game was everything a deciding contest should be; a nine-inning battle that ultimately took two days to finish.
Hits from Mike Halloran, Alex Quarella, Thomas Oates and Andrew Coyne helped Wickford erase a three-run deficit when it was down to its final three outs in the sixth.
The game was eventually called in the eighth due to darkness but on the reset the following day Chariho escaped Dow field with a walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth.
“We got beat by the eventual state champion in [nine] innings and we played them three times,” Gwaltney said by phone Thursday morning. “The differential every time was one run. That’s how close we got. We were very close.
“We had a good run the year as 10’s and we were in the finals there. I look back at the three years we had the kids and we had the highest winning percentage of any teams.”
This summer both teams are a year older yet the same success hasn’t quite been there as it was the year before.
“I look at it this year and if you told me we would score 38 runs and hit 15 homeruns I’d tell you we were 4-0,” Gwaltney said, “but it’s really 2-2.”
Wickford started off the District 3 Tournament well enough with 10-7 win over Warwick Continental but then ran into the buzz saw that is Coventry American.
American has run through the tourney so far and currently awaits the winner of the losers bracket in the district finals.
Along its path there though, no team has likely played them tougher than Wickford, who lost only 5-2.
“Our side of the bracket was tough,” Gwaltney said. “We started against Continental and came back against Coventry. Those teams are two legit contenders. As it turns out Coventry is in the finals.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more of my kids. They worked hard every day, I got to see them grow up for three years and there’s not one day that I forget.”
From there it was into the losers bracket for Wickford, where it 10-runned Exeter-West Greenwich in its first game but then ran into heavy-hitting South Kingstown American.
SK ultimately emerged on top in Sunday’s slugfest 16-11 to send the boys from NK home early, short of their goal of winning the district.
“Our two loses really came down to defense. Had we played better defense I thought that would be the difference in both games we lost,” Gwaltney said. “There are five probably really good teams and we just happened to play three of them in our four games.”
As for Chariho, its hopes of winning a second-straight district title are still alive.
It will play Coventry National Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Down Field with a chance to play Coventry American in the district finals Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Wood Field.