CUMBERLAND â€“ A week off did nothing to cool down Cumberland Americanâ€™s scorching bats. Nor did the steady rain that fell at Garvin Field throughout Fridayâ€™s pool play finale against North Smithfield.
Next up for manager Dave Belisleâ€™s team: the District IV tournament semifinals.
Conor Lavallee and Steve Dugas belted home runs for Pool B champion Cumberland American (4-0), which collected its third mercy-rule victory of the tourney, a 12-1 thumping of North Smithfield (1-3).
Americanâ€™s impressive pool play run â€“ which featured four walk-off wins â€“ was capped by a combined four-inning one-hitter from power right-handers Max Hanuschak and Lavallee.
Lavallee and fellow righty Connor Mastin are candidates to start Tuesdayâ€™s game against Pool A runner-up Lincoln or Smithfield at 6 p.m. at Lincolnâ€™s Randy Hien Field.
Showing no signs of rust after the seven-day layoff that followed its 7-5 win at Bernon on June 30, American unleashed a six-run first inning that knocked out North Smithfield starter Ben Alexio, who retired two of the 10 batters he faced. Lavallee highlighted the outburst with a titanic two-run blast to right-center field.
Alexio exited after 39 pitches in favor of Chris Matulitis, who kept American at bay in the second and third frames, during which Jake Glodâ€™s second RBI single of the game accounted for Cumberlandâ€™s lone run.
â€śWe came out strong, but then we had a lull,â€ť Belisle said. â€śYou have to give [Matulitis] credit. He had that off-speed stuff and it took us a little time to adjust.â€ť
North Smithfield never quite adjusted to Hanuschak, who, despite pitching for the first time in a month because of a back injury, fired 2 2/3 innings of one-hit, one-run ball. He walked three and struck out four across his 61-pitch outing, before being relieved by a 26-pitch effort from Lavallee, who fanned four of the six batters he opposed.
â€śWe know itâ€™s going to take pitching to try to win this district,â€ť Belisle said. â€śIt was nice to get Hanuschak in there, and he looked good tonight. He elevated the ball a little bit too much, but I thought he pitched well. I have confidence in him to come in and get a few outs for me. Weâ€™re going to need him, because you donâ€™t play for Friday, you play for Tuesday.â€ť
The hosts erupted again in the fourth, sending six batters to the plate and scoring five times to conclude the contest. Dugasâ€™ two-run shot to left-center gave American yet another walk-off victory.
Friday marked the end of a tough tournament for North Smithfield, which totaled two runs during pool play. Nonetheless, manager Steve Taylorâ€™s squad entered Fridayâ€™s tilt having allowed a respectable 3.33 runs per game.
But North Smithfield had its hands full with American, comprised of a group that won last summerâ€™s 11-year-old state championship, thanks in part to one player who is now injured.
Cumberland lost star Chris Wright to a broken left ankle in the teamâ€™s first practice, depriving Belisle of his No. 1 pitcher and No. 3 hitter.
â€śWe knew it was going to be a difficult task without him, because heâ€™s such a premier ballplayer for us,â€ť Belisle said. â€śThe kids have really picked it up in his absence. Heâ€™s hoping he can see us down at the end of the road. You never know, if we can go far, he can join us. Thatâ€™s a nice incentive.
â€śBut the road is difficult without him. Very difficult.â€ť
That road continues on Tuesday, and after American outscored its pool play opponents by a 42-7 margin, Belisle has plenty of reasons to feel confident in his club.
â€śWe like what weâ€™re doing,â€ť Belisle said. â€śWeâ€™ve got really solid pitching in all four games, and I really love the way weâ€™re hitting the long ball. I think you win the district with the long ball and pitching. Weâ€™ve gotten that, so I like our chances, but we know that the competition is great.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a great Final Four.â€ť