PAWTUCKET â€” It was about lunchtime Tuesday when Tolman High senior Andrew Larson sat in his English class, discussing with teacher Kevin Kavanaugh the â€śins and outsâ€ť of preparing for portfolio reviews.
â€śWe were talking about the interview process, being interviewed by people who judge our portfolios, which we need to graduate, and he brought up the newspaper,â€ť Larson explained. â€śHe also brought up sports in general, and what we'd say to a reporter, like, after a win. He told me to remain calm, listen to every question carefully and try to respond â€¦ well, intelligently.â€ť
Larson admitted the conversation he had with Kavanaugh hours before seemed like dĂ©jĂ vu to him, especially when a scribe asked him to detail how he became the triumphant pitcher of the newly-crowned Division II-Central champions.
Thanks in part to Larson, who scattered six hits and three walks (with a hit-batsman) while fanning a quartet in his 6 1/3-inning stint, the Tigers manufactured a solid 3-0 victory over second-place Mount Pleasant at McConnon Memorial Field in Tuesday's mist and drizzle.
With the victory, Tolman not only improved to 15-3 overall and 13-3 in II-Central action, but also secured its second league title in three years.
â€śThis is a really happy moment for me, for all of us,â€ť gushed Larson, now 5-1 on the spring, as he stood in the dugout, minutes after he and a few other Tigers slid stomach-first across the drenched, left-field grass in celebration.
â€śI can definitely believe it. We've been talking about winning the league title all year, and it feels great to finally accomplish it.â€ť
Stated head coach Theo Murray, now in his seventh season with Tolman: â€śAndrew Larson has really come on strong his last two games. He got the victory in a 2-1 win over Classical on Monday, and now this.
â€śI thought his change-up was good, but it was fantastic against Classical,â€ť he added. â€śI also think his curveball really kept the hitters off-balance, and he was hitting the corners with his fastball.â€ť
When asked what he thought about his kids sliding across the outfield turf, he just grinned, â€śYou know, it's not too often you can celebrate winning a division, but I told the guys when I met with them afterward, 'This is great, and I'm proud of you, but this isn't our final goal. That's to be playing at McCoy Stadium in the (R.I. Division II Tournament) championship series sometime in June.â€ť
The Kilties fell to 10-6 in II-Central.
Larson's catcher, junior Chris Baldwin, had a different take from the skipper on his teammate's control.
â€śThe key was his change-up; they just couldn't hit it,â€ť he said afterward. â€śThey were way ahead of it, and they kept popping it up. His fastball was pretty accurate, but the change, I thought, was excellent.â€ť
Still, Larson got himself into a bit of a jam right away,
Greg Rodriguez led off the contest with a ground single up the middle, moved to second on Escarlin Silvestre's base hit by diving third baseman Carlos Santabria, and took third when Diego Campos reached on a fielder's choice.
Larson then hit Raimiel Rodriguez with a pitch to juice the bags, but got Edison Mercado to ground into another fielder's choice to avoid the possible rally.
â€śI think that was a change-up, and he just hit it on the ground,â€ť said Larson, a righty. â€śI was pumped when I saw it was a fielder's choice.â€ť
Senior Brandon Gagne led off the back half of the initial frame in style, drilling a 3-2 pitch from Campos 345 feet over the left-field fence to give the Tigers an immediate 1-0 advantage.
â€ś(Campos) gave me an outside fastball, and â€“ I don't know â€“ I just got a good read on it. I just drove it,â€ť Gagne said of his second dinger of his varsity career. â€śCoach kept telling us we had to get (rallies) going quick because of the (threat of) rain. He said we had to get some runs on the board early, so that's what I was thinking.â€ť
Offered Larson: â€śI was on deck, and I knew it was out the minute he hit it. It's easier to pitch when you have a lead.â€ť
Murray claimed Gagne's timing had been off a bit lately, but it didn't show Tuesday.
â€śHe kept battling and made Campos work,â€ť he stated. â€śHe made him throw a lot of pitches, which can frustrate you. It was just a great at-bat.â€ť
After hurling a perfect second frame, Larson got into trouble again in the third. He walked leadoff batter Greg Rodriguez, who took second on Starlyn Grullon's sacrifice bunt and third on Larson's lone wild pitch.
Campos, the clean-up hitter, then bashed a shot deep down the left-field line, but senior Brad McParlin made the catch on the warning track to leave MP scoreless.
Tolman notched two more in the bottom half, and Gagne initiated the flurry with a one-out walk. He took second on a Campos balk, then tagged to third when Larson flew out to center for the second out. Santabria followed, whacking a ground hit past shortstop Raimiel Rodriguez to score Gagne, and â€“ after Santabria robbed second â€“ he raced home on Baldwin's softly-lined single down the left-field line.
It seemed as if the Kilties would break up Larson's shutout bid in the fifth. Juan Bravo ripped a hit to center to start the frame, and Raulin Rondon, the No. 9 batter, poked a grounder toward second baseman Gagne. Before he could field it, the ball hit Bravo in the calf, and base umpire Mike Smith immediately called the runner out and Rondon safe at first.
Greg Rodriguez followed with a hit down the third-base line to push Rondon to second, but Grullon punched into a crisp 6-4-3 double play to halt that threat.
MP left two more men on in the sixth, and looked as if it may score in the seventh. Bravo (2-for-3) singled up the middle, but Rondon whiffed, and Murray immediately replaced Larson with righty Santabria. Greg Rodriguez roped his third hit of the tilt to right, and Grullon flied to virtually the same spot. With Rodriguez more than halfway to second, junior right fielder Jason Maynard made the catch and fired to first baseman Larson for the double play that closed the game.
Within seconds, Tigers on the field and in the dugout rushed to the mound to pounce on Santabria.
To his credit, Campos, also a righthander, pitched rather well in his six innings. He yielded only four hits and three walks while striking out a pair, but did hit a batter.
â€śThat was a huge double play,â€ť Murray mentioned. â€śThen again, our defense has been great all year. It feels really good to win, and we'll take a little time to celebrate, as we should. This is nice, but it's hardly our final stepping stone.â€ť