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LINCOLN â Cranston East sure didnât play like a No. 14 seed, nor did Lincoln High look the part of a state title contender.
So while Wednesdayâs result at Chet Nichols Field could certainly be described as unexpected, it wasnât exactly a shock.
Fresh off a 14-4 regular season that produced a Division I-North crown and the third overall seed in the 16-team, double-elimination state tournament, Lincoln endured a collective struggle in dropping a 4-2 decision to Cranston East, an 8-10 team out of Division I-Central.
The loss relegates Lincoln to the Region 3 losersâ bracket, where it will host sixth-seeded East Greenwich on Thursday with its season on the line.
Just like that, coach Ed Huntâs squad is staring an early playoff exit square in the face.
âTheyâre just very disappointed, not winning the first game at home against a team that everybody in the state probably thought we were going to beat,â Hunt said. âIt just didnât work out that way. It doesnât matter in this state what seed you are. Thatâs what you did during the regular season. On any given day, and itâs a clichĂ©, but any team can beat any other team. They played better than us today. The kids have nothing to be ashamed of. They beat us today, in all phases.â
One of those phases, pitching, wasnât particularly sharp for Lincoln, which handed the ball to Ryan OâDell for the first time since May 7. The senior right-hander took a couple of weeks off to fine-tune his mechanics, and he quickly realized that playoff games are quite a step up from bullpen sessions.
The Thunderbolts pushed their first run across two batters into the game, thanks partly to an OâDell miscue.
Leadoff hitter John Razzino singled and advanced all the way to third base on an errant pick-off throw from OâDell, who then allowed a sacrifice fly to Cody Lindell.
OâDell chalked up the rough start to ânerves mixed with not being on the mound mixed with maybe my adrenaline pumping too much.â
After a 1-2-3 second inning, OâDell again ran into trouble in the third, when he hit Lindell and Ivan Reyes consecutively with one out, setting up Bob DâArezzoâs single to right field that scored Lindell with Cranston Eastâs second run.
DâArezzo helped his own cause with the knock, as Lincoln touched up the junior right-hander for single runs in the fourth and fifth to even the score at 2.
But the Lions got nothing more against DâArezzo, who went the distance for a complete-game four-hitter in which he did not allow an extra-base hit.
âHe really hid the ball well on us,â said OâDell, who had two of the four hits off DâArezzo. âHe mixed it up. He hit his spots with his fastball. He had a good little slider mixed in. He had a little funky windup, which I think threw some of our hitters off. They were jumping at his body moving forward rather than the ball coming out of his hand.â
Hunt thought his team had a case of playoff anxiety.
âI think early on, the first time through, we were a little overanxious,â Hunt said. âWe usually donât swing first-pitch the first time through. We had some guys doing that, and we were swinging at some high strikes, which was uncharacteristic of us.
âNice crowd, nice day, the kids wanted to perform, but I think they were a little overanxious.â
OâDell departed after five innings of two-run ball in favor of Tyler Santaniello, who worked a scoreless sixth before the fateful top of the seventh.
Singles by Razzino, Ivan Reyes and DâArezzo created a one-out, bases-loaded opportunity for Josmar Ventura, who smashed a line drive over the outstretched glove of leaping shortstop OâDell -- a two-run single that put the âBolts ahead to stay.
âThe kid put a really good swing on the ball. It was hard-hit,â OâDell said. âThose types of things, youâve got to either go for it or not. With one out and the bases loaded, youâve got to lay out for it.â
He came up short. And after DâArezzo fired a 1-2-3 seventh, so did the Lions.
But if you think Lincoln is ready to pack it in, think again.
âLike I said to the kids after the game, weâve lost games before,â Hunt said. âUnfortunately itâs the playoffs, but we can still win a bunch. Weâve done that before, too. I donât think weâre out of it. I think the kids will come back tomorrow hopefully with a different, fresher look. Hopefully not as âŠ I think they were a little tight today. Weâll see what tomorrow brings.â