JOHNSTON—No one ever wants to lose.
If you have to though, you’d like to think it would be the way South Kingstown Post 39 fell in Monday’s best-of-three series finale with Hurd Auto Mall-Post 88 in the second round of the American Legion Baseball playoffs at Johnston War Memorial Park.
Post 39 erased a three-run deficit in the top of the ninth but ultimately could not complete the improbable comeback as SK lost 6-5 on a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning.
South Kingstown spent the better part of the game chasing Hurd – whose players come from Johnston, Scituate and Ponaganset – as the home squad took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on a Steve Perfetto line drive that just tipped off the glove of SK first baseman Alex Smolan.
Hurd added another unearned run in the bottom of the fifth to double its advantage but in the top of the sixth SK finally got to Post 88 starter Gian Bianchi.
Nick Hayes – who gave his team a tremendous nine-inning effort on the mound – started the rally with a lead-off single.
Following a strikeout, Robert Ballinger singled and Nate Vandemoer walked to load the bases. Connor Barrett and Dan Irwin then followed with back-to-back RBI singles to tie the game but Post 39 ultimately left the bases loaded after a pop out and strikeout to end the threat.
Hurd reclaimed the lead in the bottom half of the inning and extended it to 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth thanks to a two-run home run to center from Scituate’s Ryan Cabral.
Cabral proved to be the biggest detriment to Post 39 on the day as he went 5-for-5 with four runs scored and two RBI.
Despite the deficit South Kingstown put its rally caps on in the ninth as Bianchi – who by that point was well over 150 pitches – began to lose his control.
Nate Lessard was hit by a pitch to start the inning and – after a Partridge fly out to deep center – Hayes and Jimmy Kershaw drew two straight walks to load the bases.
“Our team usually when it comes to the end we fight back pretty well,” Hayes said. “We all get into it and we do a good job of stringing hits together and moving guys over.”
Ballinger followed with an RBI single to get one run across and Vandemoer followed with a shot to left field that off the bat looked like it had a chance of leaving the park.
“That pretty much had the trajectory for it and the kid was sprinting straight back so I thought it was out,” Vandemoer said, “but it happens.”
Instead the ball one-hopped the fence for a double, but it was still deep enough to allow Hayes and Kershaw to score to tie the game at five apiece.
On the play, however, Ballinger was thrown out at third for the second out of the inning.
Barrett followed with a bloop hit to center but Vandemoer was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second by Chris Pistacchio to end the threat.
“It was hit soft to centerfield so I knew it was going to be a tough play to get me out,” Vandemoer said. “I was running as fast as I can – I can’t run very fast – and obviously it was a perfect throw.”
In the bottom of the ninth Hayes – whose unconventional delivery, switching between throwing over the top and side arm, kept Hurd off balance all game – worked his way around a lead-off walk to send the game to the 10th.
“I’ve never thrown that many pitches before,” Hayes said. “I felt great out there with my command, especially my curve ball and changeup.
“I actually just started that [throwing side arm] a couple games ago but I’ve always messed around with it. Honestly it’s just pitch to pitch, whatever I’m feeling at the time.”
Post 39 had a chance to take the lead in the top of the inning thanks to one-out double from Smolan but SK was kept off the board as reliever Ryan McKeon got Lessard to ground out to short and Partridge to fly out to right to end the threat.
Recent Prout graduate Billy Thomas took the mound for SK in the bottom half of the inning but quickly got into a jam as Cabral ripped a lead-off single to right.
He then moved to second on a Brandon Cessino sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch allowed Cabral to get to third.
Post 39’s bid for a second come-from-behind, extra-innings win in as many days came to a close moments later as Steve Pennacchio singled to the gap between short and third to end the game.