WEST WARWICK — They didn’t want to sound cocky, but the Coventry Babe Ruth 13-year-old all-stars entered last week’s state tournament at McCarthy Field believing they were the team to beat.
After tough wins over Cranston and Warwick PAL, it seemed Coventry would have some competition for the state title.
That’s when Coventry took its game to another level. After smothering North Providence/Smithfield in the winners’ bracket final, Coventry delivered its finest performance in the tournament in Saturday’s state final against a solid Cranston squad.
Starting pitcher Manny Bjorklund worked out of a first-inning jam and threw a five-inning shutout, while he delivered three RBIs and Jarrad Grossguth delivered two RBIs and scored two runs in an 11-0 five-inning victory to clinch the program’s second state title in as many years.
“I was relaxed from the beginning, but knowing I had the defense that was going to step up and play behind me, I calmed down and was fine for the rest of the game,” Bjorklund said after being named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“We thought we were going to be the team to beat,” Coventry coach Mark Barter said. “Not in a cocky way, I just knew these kids could play and a lot of these kids had won championships at the 11 and 12-year-old levels. They were prepared for this. They knew they could put on a good show and play good baseball.”
“I knew we were going to have a dominant team,” Grossguth said. “We had the same all-star team as last year and we added a few better kids. I knew we were going to be strong.”
Saturday’s win moves Coventry another step closer to the World Series. The team will depart the state Friday for Manchester, N.H. where Coventry will open up New Englands Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. against the host team at Gill Stadium.
Bjorklund will likely be tabbed by Barter to start the opening game and Saturday he showed why he’s been the ace of a state championship team for three straight years.
Cranston had a chance to open the scoring in the first inning when starting pitcher Brett Traficante delivered a two-out single and moved to third on a double down the right-field line by Mike Doire, but Bjorklund forced Tom Napolitano to pop up to catcher Cam Reid to end the inning.
Following the first-inning jam, Bjorklund allowed just one base runner over the final four innings of the game. Bjorklund struck out five batters and didn’t walk a Cranston hitter.
“Manny started to settle in there and he just hit my glove every time,” Reid said.
Traficante was even better than Bjorklund for the first two innings. Outside of a walk to Grossguth with two outs in the opening inning, the Cranston righty was perfect.
Coventry’s potent offense, however, caught up to Traficante in the third inning. Second baseman Colin Sutyla was hit with one out and then lead-off hitter Nick D’Ambra earned Coventry’s first hit before Barter reached on an error to load the bases.
Grossguth, who had been pitched around for the entire tournament, smashed a two-run double to left field to plate Sutyla and D’Ambra.
“I’m just trying to be patient at the plate because I know they’re going to try and be careful with me,” Grossguth said. “I’m just trying to look for my pitch and drive it. I was looking for a pitch middle in so I could turn on it and that’s what I got.”
Reid drew a walk to reload the bases before Brown laid down a perfect bunt to score Barter. Bjorklund followed with a two-run single to left to score Grossguth and Reid. Brown and Bjorklund scored later in the inning following an infield error.
“We were just hitting line drives,” Reid said. “We just tried to make contact. We knew that kid was throwing it pretty hard, so we knew if we made contact it would go pretty far.”
Coventry made sure the game would end early in the fourth with the benefit of just one hit. Barter led off the inning with a single, but he was erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Grossguth. Grossguth, Reid (walk), Steve Verrier (walk) and Bjorklund (error) all scored runs thanks to some shoddy Cranston defense.
Bjorklund, who didn’t allow a run in his two outings against Cranston in the tournament, made quick work of Cranston in the fifth inning as Coventry added the 13-year-old state title to last year’s 15-year-old state title won by Coach Joe Vigeant’s squad.
“This was our goal,” D’Ambra said.