LINCOLN â€“ Cranston East sure didnâ€™t play like a No. 14 seed, nor did Lincoln High look the part of a state title contender.
So while Wednesdayâ€™s result at Chet Nichols Field could certainly be described as unexpected, it wasnâ€™t 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 Huntâ€™s squad is staring an early playoff exit square in the face.
â€śTheyâ€™re 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€ť Hunt said. â€śIt just didnâ€™t work out that way. It doesnâ€™t matter in this state what seed you are. Thatâ€™s what you did during the regular season. On any given day, and itâ€™s 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€ť
One of those phases, pitching, wasnâ€™t particularly sharp for Lincoln, which handed the ball to Ryan Oâ€™Dell 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 Oâ€™Dell miscue.
Leadoff hitter John Razzino singled and advanced all the way to third base on an errant pick-off throw from Oâ€™Dell, who then allowed a sacrifice fly to Cody Lindell.
Oâ€™Dell chalked up the rough start to â€śnerves mixed with not being on the mound mixed with maybe my adrenaline pumping too much.â€ť
After a 1-2-3 second inning, Oâ€™Dell again ran into trouble in the third, when he hit Lindell and Ivan Reyes consecutively with one out, setting up Bob Dâ€™Arezzoâ€™s single to right field that scored Lindell with Cranston Eastâ€™s second run.
Dâ€™Arezzo 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 Dâ€™Arezzo, who went the distance for a complete-game four-hitter in which he did not allow an extra-base hit.
â€śHe really hid the ball well on us,â€ť said Oâ€™Dell, who had two of the four hits off Dâ€™Arezzo. â€śHe 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€ť
Hunt thought his team had a case of playoff anxiety.
â€śI think early on, the first time through, we were a little overanxious,â€ť Hunt said. â€śWe usually donâ€™t 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.
â€śNice crowd, nice day, the kids wanted to perform, but I think they were a little overanxious.â€ť
Oâ€™Dell 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 Dâ€™Arezzo created a one-out, bases-loaded opportunity for Josmar Ventura, who smashed a line drive over the outstretched glove of leaping shortstop Oâ€™Dell -- a two-run single that put the â€™Bolts ahead to stay.
â€śThe kid put a really good swing on the ball. It was hard-hit,â€ť Oâ€™Dell said. â€śThose types of things, youâ€™ve got to either go for it or not. With one out and the bases loaded, youâ€™ve got to lay out for it.â€ť
He came up short. And after Dâ€™Arezzo fired a 1-2-3 seventh, so did the Lions.
But if you think Lincoln is ready to pack it in, think again.
â€śLike I said to the kids after the game, weâ€™ve lost games before,â€ť Hunt said. â€śUnfortunately itâ€™s the playoffs, but we can still win a bunch. Weâ€™ve done that before, too. I donâ€™t think weâ€™re out of it. I think the kids will come back tomorrow hopefully with a different, fresher look. Hopefully not as â€¦ I think they were a little tight today. Weâ€™ll see what tomorrow brings.â€ť