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PAWTUCKET â€” Perhaps three minutes after Tolman High had suffered a 3-1 loss to Westerly at Ted McConnon Memorial Field on Friday afternoon, skipper Theo Murray jogged out to left field where his players, as is the norm, already had congregated.
He spoke with them for another five or six minutes, then followed his somewhat-dejected Tigers back to their third-base dugout.
â€śI just told the kids that our pitcher did his job, and our defense did its job,â€ť Murray stated matter-of-factly. â€śI also said that our bats, unfortunately, let us down.â€ť
Murray offered an outstanding reason for the lack of offense, and his name is Kaelan Rayner. In a complete-game outing, the senior southpaw allowed only four hits and a walk while fanning a half-dozen in this R.I. Division II/Region III double-elimination tournament tilt; that's why the sixth-seeded Bulldogs (14-8) earned a well-deserved layoff.
They won't play again until next week.
Third-ranked Tolman, on the other hand, will host Ponaganset, a 10-2 victor over Hope in a losers' bracket playoff game, back here at McConnon Field at 4 p.m., Monday. Should the Tigers reign, they would travel to Westerly for another Region III contest at 4 p.m., Wednesday.
To his credit, senior righty Andrew Larson also manufactured a solid outing, scattering just seven hits and two walks with a pair of strikeouts in his seven frames. Still, the performance wasn't enough to out-do the visitors.
â€śLarson did a great job,â€ť Murray noted. â€śHis command was a little off in the first couple innings, but he got stronger as the game wore on. It was just a lack of clutch hitting on our part. Our defense was superb, so we don't have any complaints there.
â€śPitching and defense win championships, or â€“ in this case â€“ playoff games, but you have to manufacture some hits and runs, too,â€ť he added. â€śYou've got to tip your hat to their pitcher. He did a very nice job of locating and mixing up his pitches.â€ť
Westerly mentor Bob Cahoone, naturally, had nothing but praise for his lefty following the triumph.
â€śHe's been solid for us every year; actually, we've been playing superb ball, and we've had excellent pitching ever since we lost, 6-5, to Narragansett in 13 innings a couple of weeks ago,â€ť he said of Rayner, who upped his mark to 7-0. â€śHe ended up walking two batters in the bottom of the seventh, and then they got a couple of hits in the 13th to win it.
â€śKaelan was really down on himself,â€ť he added. â€śHe's one of our four seniors, so he carries the weight of the entire team on his shoulders. Ever since (that defeat), he's been unbelievable.â€ť
The difference in this game was apparent: The Bulldogs manufactured key hits, and they started not long after the initial pitch. Larson walked sophomore leadoff batter Kyle Allen, and classmate Craig Johns' sacrifice bunt pushed him to second. Rayner then walked, and Cahoone roped a hit to right to load the bags.
Another sophomore, Kyle Gencarelli, drilled a single down the left-field line to plate Allen and Rayner, but senior left fielder Brad McParlin threw to junior third baseman Carlos Santabria, who applied the tag to Cahoone for the second out.
Anthony Garro then grounded to Santabria to end the mini-flurry.
The Tigers (now 17-5 overall) answered with one in the back half of the first when senior Brandon Gagne ripped a single to center, reached second on junior Jason Maynard's sacrifice bunt and scored on Larson's two-out, opposite-field single to right.
In the second, Westerly junior Vinny Terranova punched a one-out single to left, but Larson forced senior Kyle Forsberg-Ley to pop out to second before picking off a leaning Terranova for the final out.
Tolman came up with a pair of defensive gems in the top of the third. With one out, Gencarelli ripped a liner to center, but senior Zach Viveiros made a stellar running catch. Immediately after that, Garro whacked a grounder between short and third, but Santabria dove to his left, snagged it and fired to first for the final out.
After retiring six straight, however, Larson got into a bit of a jam in the fifth. He yielded senior Ryan Lynch a leadoff hit to right, and he hustled to third when Forsberg-Ley poked a softly-lined single down the first-base line. Allen's sacrifice fly to center plated Lynch with the insurance run.
It seemed the Bulldogs would threaten again in the sixth. Larson got Rayner to whiff for the apparent first out, but the ball bounced away from junior backstop Chris Baldwin, and Rayner raced to first on the miscue.
But when Rayner attempted to steal second, the home-plate umpire ruled the next batter, Cahoone, had interfered with Baldwin's throw. The official immediately told Rayner to return to first, and deemed Cahoone out. Gencarelli then flew out to center fielder Viveiros, and Rayner quickly hustled back to first.
This time, the base umpire called Rayner out, as he had failed to touch second base on his return trip to first. The mighty strange double play closed the frame.
In the top of the seventh, Lynch singled to right and went to second when Terranova reached on a bad-hop infield hit, but Santabria initiated a pretty 5-4-3 twin killing on a sharp grounder by Forsberg-Ley.
Murray chose to pinch-hit junior Adam Ghazal in the bottom half, but he lined to center, and Baldwin's pinch-hit attempt was grounded to short. Viveiros fouled out to third, and the Bulldogs celebrated the two-run victory.
â€śWhen we needed to, we came up with the clutch hit,â€ť the elder Cahoone said. â€śThey were huge, and they came against a very good team.â€ť
Offered Murray: â€śWe're fine (after the loss). I don't think anyone's going to get out of this tournament without a loss. Look at Johnston. They won it last year, and they had a loss, so history dictates we can get this done. We just have to manufacture some runs.â€ť