PROVIDENCE â€” Small ball was big trouble for Central Falls High.
Utilizing the bunt to perfection on Sunday afternoon, top-seed and unbeaten Central High captured the Division III state championship with a 13-3 six-inning, mercy-rule verdict over the second-seeded Warriors to complete a sweep of the best-of-3 series. Just a day earlier, the Knights withstood a late rally by C.F. to earn a 10-9 win in the opener at Rhode Island College.
The Warriors were looking for their first state title since copping a slow-pitch crown in 1997.
â€śWe didnâ€™t get off on the right foot right from the get-go,â€ť said C.F. coach Barbara Duffy, whose squad finished second in the league at 14-2. â€śWe got beat by the best team. They had a wonderful season. We had an absolute fabulous game [Saturday]. We were right there with them all game long. I was hoping for a little bit of the same today. It just went their way. We were a little slow at the bats. We werenâ€™t patient enough.â€ť
The Knights, who finished the league season a perfect 16-0, belted out 15 hits in the shortened contest, none for extra bases. The biggest difference was the amount of times it bunted. Central laid down the bunt nine times during the game, most producing positive results.
Central took a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning with bunts plating three runners.
â€śMy kids can bunt,â€ť Central coach Michelle Rawcliffe said. â€śMy kids practice it every day. I just figured once the small ball started working, we just laid into it.â€ť
In its too-close-for-comfort opener, Central hit a lot of fly balls that were caught by the Warriors.
â€śWe figured weâ€™d mix it up with the small ball,â€ť Rawcliffe said. â€śI had a lot of them chock up on the bat. We practiced that today. We had batting practice prior to the game.â€ť
After a scoreless first inning, Central scored twice in the top of the second. Senior Kianely Capellan opened up the inning by reaching first on an infield error off her hit. She stole second and, after teammate Kimberly Martinez was tagged out by catcher Holly Webb on her failed bunt that dribbled near home plate, Central put runner at the corners with Karina Santos drawing a walk from starter Solyris Vega. Kaitlin Ramirez fielderâ€™s choice bunt would drive home Capellan and Santos would score on an RBI single from Natlie Lewis (two hits, four RBI).
Central Falls prevented any further damage when Lewis was caught stealing at second on a perfect throw from Webb to shortstop Melanie Vegas.
A sacrifice fly by Central pitcher Leslie Peralta to plate teammate and leadoff Solanny Sanchez (single) would increase the Knightsâ€™ cushion to 3-0 in the third. Central tacked on two more runs in the fourth with Ramirez and Lewis each laying down run-scoring, sacrifice bunts.
Central, a team that lost to Woonsocket in the title game last year, increased its lead to 9-0 with four more runs in the fifth. The Warriors mounted a mini comeback in the bottom half of the frame with all three of their runs and three of their four hits. Kayla Camara had a two-run single and she was followed by a RBI base hit from Melanie Velez.
â€śI think we lost our focus at the beginning,â€ť Duffy said. â€śI donâ€™t know what it was, a little too relaxed maybe. Iâ€™m not sure. It was a shame because they were pretty much unearned runs.â€ť
Central, which had everyone in its lineup either get a hit or produce a run, turned the game into a six-inning affair with four runs in the sixth.
Duffy, whose Warriors were ousted by eventual state champion Woonsocket in the 2010 semifinals, believes her squad will be competitive next spring. She loses just four starters from this yearâ€™s team.
This seasonâ€™s team exceeded all expectations.
â€śAt the beginning of the season, I really wasnâ€™t sure how we would do,â€ť Duffy admitted. â€śWe started out with many girls and didnâ€™t know if they were going to stay with it. They just turned right into a team. It was all about being a team. This group of girls just literally turned into a team. We had nine second-strings and they all stayed. Nobody quit. They came early to practice. Iâ€™m talking 18 of them coming early to practice and getting there. [Assistant coach Tony Tager] joined me this year. It was such a pleasure coaching with him.â€ť
â€śWe canâ€™t hold our heads down [today],â€ť she continued. â€śWe got to keep them up. We had a wonderful season.â€ť