BRISTOL – In spite of his team mashing their way to a District 3 championship, winning three of their four games in that tournament by double digits, Wickford 11-Year Old All-Stars manager Joe Walsh left the field the night of the district title match saying it would be his team’s pitching and defense that would lead them to a state title.
“Came true,” Walsh said of his prediction on Monday. “Today was one of those days.”
As they took on Johnston in the state tournament semi-final Monday evening at Veterans Park in Bristol, the District 1 champ held Wickford to their lowest run output of the summer, but Wickford’s play in the field picked up the slack and keyed a 3-2 victory.
At first, it looked as though Wickford’s pitching may be their undoing. With all of their regular pitchers unavailable to throw on Monday, Walsh had to turn to arms that had not taken the hill in a game since the end of the regular season two months prior. Nick Hines was tabbed as Wickford’s starter and the rust showed early as he struggled to find his control in the top of the first inning.
Hines gave up a single to Andrew Clesas to start the game and then two straight walks following a groundout to load the bases with one out. He almost escaped the inning unscathed after striking out Ryan Dilorenzo for the second out, but walked another two straight to bring in a pair of runs for a 2-0 Johnston lead before inducing a groundout to get out of the inning.
In the bottom of the first, Johnston got two quick groundouts to start the inning, but Cam Lindberg made sure momentum did not completely swing in their favor, taking the first pitch he saw from starter David Iannuccilli deep to left center for a solo shot to get Wickford on the board.
With an inning under his belt, Hines and his defense settled in and faired much better over the next two innings to keep Johnston off the board.
“Can’t say enough about him,” Walsh said of his starter. “Just unbelievable. Honestly, not a lot of words to say for him.
“First inning was a little rocky and then he settled down, let the defense work, let his pitches do the talking and he was great. He was absolutely great. Very proud of him.”
Though he starred in the first half of the contest, Hines eventually tired in the fourth and got himself in trouble once again. With two on and two out, Walsh went to the bullpen, bringing in Meghan Gormley, who went on to steal the show.
Her first three pitches went for strikes to retire Anthony Scivola and end the threat. Then, in the bottom of the frame with a runner on, Gormley blasted the first pitch she saw in her at bat for a two-run shot that gave Wickford their first lead of the day at 3-2.
“She comes in for the last batter of the inning and three straight strikes. It set the tone for her for the rest of the game,” Walsh said. “I think she realized she could do it.
“Just an absolutely clutch performance, coming in to pitch, striking out the batter, coming up to bat, two-run blast to put us ahead and then just seals the deal every inning after that. It was all Meghan all day. It was awesome.”
With a slim, one-run advantage, Gormley dominated the Johnston bats, striking out back-to-back hitters to end the fifth, facing just four batters in the inning. Then, after some defensive miscues left runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the sixth, Gormley struck out Scivola once again to end the game. It was her fifth strikeout in 2 1/3 innings.
“She threw great, had a lot of heat on the ball and didn’t have to throw a second pitch,” Walsh said. “It was fastballs and all fastballs, hit it or don’t. Luckily for us, it went our way.”
With the win, Wickford advances to the state final Thursday evening, 5:45 p.m., back at Veterans Park against Cumberland American. In order to capture the state title, Wickford will have to defeat the District 4 champion on not just Thursday, but then again on Friday (5:45 p.m. at Veterans Park), having lost to Cumberland 7-5 last Sunday to fall into the losers bracket.
Despite the loss, Walsh remains confident in the face of the only team to have gotten the better of his this summer.
“We had one bad inning, the second inning, and things did not go our way. That was it. It was one bad inning and they scored six and we shut them down the rest of the way.
“I think Thursday will be a fun game. I’m excited to be there for that one.”