WARWICK- It nearly happened again. The scrappy Oakers of Coventry were on the verge of upsetting the mighty Hawks of Bishop Hendricken for the second year in a row in the D-I baseball postseason, only to see those aspirations disappear at the very end.
Locked in a 0-0 tie headed into the bottom of the seventh inning at Ray Pepin Field, the top-seeded Hawks (18-0) were finally able to scratch across the game’s lone run as Colin Lemieux singled off of Oaker starter Loren Vaughn, plating pinch runner Xavier Quesada in a 1-0 walk-off victory.
Brayden Dolbashian had led the frame off with a single down the third base line, advanced to second on a Will Panarello bunt before having Quesada take over for him on the base paths. It was then that Lemieux sent the home crowd happy with a single into the right center gap, as the Hawks came pouring out of the third base dugout to mob one another in celebratory fashion.
“It certainly wasn’t a hard hit ball that won it,” Oaker head coach Leo Bush said of the game-ending knock, one that brought an end to Coventry’s season after they finished the regular season on a high-note and routed Central, 9-1 in the Preliminary Round two days earlier.
Friday’s loss was a difficult pill to swallow, but there was plenty for Bush to be proud of nonetheless.
His team actually outhit the Hawks on the day, 5-4, but it was Hendricken that managed to scratch across the only run of the game
“They got that hit and they had to fight us off to get to that spot. I hate giving them credit, but that’s what they had to do,” Bush said.
Prior to the home half of the seventh inning, the two clubs were looking to one-up each other in a back-and-forth pitchers’ dual between Vaughn and the Hawks’ Blake Roberge, each of whom wound up going the distance for their respective clubs.
Vaughn was simply stellar, with the junior holding the Hawks’ bats in check with his sidearm delivery all day long.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Bush said when asked if it was the best outing of his high school career.
Vaughn surrendered a leadoff single to Tucker Flint in the bottom of the first before setting down the next five batters he faced, as Matthew Smalldone reached safely on a blooper into shallow right that went in the books as an error. From there, it would be twelve in a row set down by the Oaker starter, as he did all that he could to give his offense a chance to grab the lead.
Roberge was just as efficient on the mound for the Hawks, as he wound up tossing a complete-game shutout in the winning effort. Coventry did have their chances though, but was unable to cash in on any of them.
“They needed some big outs in big spots and got them,” Bush said.
Coventry stranded runners on base in every inning but the sixth, but could not get that one extra hit to bring anybody across home plate.
Voelker struck out looking on a 2-2 pitch, leaving runners on first and second in the top of the fifth inning, though the visitors best chance to get on the scoreboard came two frames later.
Senior Tyler Barr collected his second hit of the game to leadoff the top of the seventh before Matthew Durkin successfully bunted pinch runner Ryan Fraser into scoring position with only one out. That would be as far as he would get as senior Devyn Vezina grounded out to short and junior Nick Fuentes struck out looking.
While the bottom of the seventh may stick with the Oakers the most in the days ahead when they look back on their near-victory, Bush does not want it to define the game nor their team as a whole.
“I give our guys credit tenfold for hanging with an 18-win team,” he said. “They’re a lot of different guys from a lot of different towns and we’re one small group from one town and I’m really proud of these guys for what they were able to do today.”
The Hawks advance to the semifinals where they will take on defending champion South Kingstown at McCarthy Field on Monday afternoon. La Salle and Portsmouth face each other in the other semifinal.
As for Coventry, the year may be over following a heartbreaking loss, but making it as far as they did is worth celebrating.
“We got so much better as the year went on and that’s a coach’s dream right there,” said Bush. “Take a pretty good group of ballplayers and watch them become a very good team.”
More than half of them will be back in 2020 with vengeance on their minds, but there is work to be done in the meantime.
“A lot of them are coming back, but we definitely have some big, big shoes to fill with our senior class. We’re going to miss those guys, but the offseason starts now,” Bush said.
Follow Nick Cantor on Twitter @cantornick