LINCOLN â€“ Just ask anyone associated with the Lincoln High program and they will universally declare the following: Joe Yankee is the quintessential X-factor.
On a team loaded with players ranging from good to very good, Yankee might just be the one Lion whose impact cannot be understated. The junior continued to strengthen said argument Sunday afternoon against a strong Moses Brown offense, striking out seven Quakers in the Lionsâ€™ 14-4 mercy-rule thrashing at Chet Nichols Field.
Catcher Joe Hamilton placed a capper on Lincolnâ€™s division-clinching victory with a walk-off three-run home run with one down in the sixth inning. It was the first of two games for Lincoln, which later in the day fell to North Providence High, 5-3.
As much as Yankee is viewed as one of the keys to Lincolnâ€™s upcoming playoff run, he was seen in a completely different light when the season began. Academic issues made his eligibility anything but certain, but to his credit Yankee was able to get on track, which enabled him to return with plenty of games to spare.
Just when Yankee thought he was in the clear, another setback arose. This time it was mononucleosis, which shut him down for a few weeks. Though probably not totally related, Yankeeâ€™s absence from the lineup coincided with Lincoln (13-4) going through easily its roughest stretch of spring, which saw the Lions drop three of four.
Yankee reentered the Lionsâ€™ fold just in time for Ed Huntâ€™s club to make a strong push for the Division I-North title and a subsequent high seed in the upcoming 16-team state tournament, which gets underway Wednesday. In his previous start, May 11 against Mount St. Charles, Yankee fired a one-hitter en route to a complete game shutout. On Sunday the strapping lefthander with a powerful fastball and an equally impressive changeup and curve, was once again on top of his game.
â€śHe had some major setbacks at the beginning of the season, but heâ€™s back now,â€ť said Hunt. â€śHeâ€™s a big part of this pitching staff. With his last name being Yankee, you know heâ€™s a baseball player.â€ť
Senior Matt Sorkin could tell from his centerfield perch that Yankee was in control. Yankee wound up scattering seven hits while allowing three earned runs. He seemingly grew stronger and more confident as his outing progressed, fanning back-to-back Quakers (12-5) in the fifth inning on curveballs.
â€śHe was so focused; everything was on target,â€ť said Sorkin, Lincolnâ€™s on-base machine who reached safely in all four plate appearances (three hits and a walk with two runs scored). â€śWhen heâ€™s on, weâ€™re a very good team.â€ť
The only blemish on Yankeeâ€™s day came in the top of the first, when Moses Brown jumped all over two first-pitch fastballs that resulted in a 1-0 lead for the visitors. Hunt instructed Hamilton to think about mixing in a breaking pitch or two, which in turn helped Yankee to calm down and get on a steady role that would carry him the rest of the contest.
â€śThey are all fastball hitters, which is why I started relying on my curve more,â€ť said Yankee. â€śRight now Iâ€™m just focusing on my pitching because thatâ€™s what we need the most of.â€ť
â€śThey (Moses Brown) were trying lay off Joeâ€™s curve, but he was getting it over for strikes,â€ť Hunt noted. â€śThey had no choice but to swing at it and they got desperate in the end.
â€śWe knew that Joe could hit. The question was whether he could throw strikes,â€ť Hunt continued. â€śHeâ€™s a power pitcher with a little bit of finesse and is a vital part of this team if weâ€™re going to go deep into the playoffs.â€ť
Not to be outdone was the contribution Yankee made to a Lincoln attack that collected 16 hits against three Moses Brown pitchers. One of his two singles came in the third inning, a frame that saw the Lions compile eight runs on seven hits. Everyone got in the act as Lincoln sent 10 the plate. A leadoff walk to Sorkin brought up sophomore Nick Zammarelli, who in his first turn drove in the teamâ€™s first run, a triple that scored Sorkin. Almost the same exact scene played out two innings later, as Zammarelli shot a ball into the right-center gap. Sorkin, who was running on the play, scored easily from first, erasing what was a 3-2 Moses Brown lead.
The nightmare continued for Quakers starter Max Martineau, who was charged with 10 runs (nine earned) in 2 1/3 innings. A bloop single into shallow right by senior Ryan Oâ€™Dell put Lincoln in front, 4-3. Tyler Santaniello, Lincolnâ€™s cleanup hitter, stroked a double to score Oâ€™Dell before Yankee and Steve Marcello delivered back-to-back run-scoring singles.
Not to be outdone was Kyle Jackson, Lincolnâ€™s No. 9 hitter. Jackson made it 9-3 with a two-run double, a hit made possible after Martineau balked two runners into scoring position. All told seven Lincoln hitters registered two or more hits.
Lincoln certainly didnâ€™t look like a team that went nine days without playing a meaningful game.
â€śNick Zammarelliâ€™s father (Nick Sr.) throws batting practice for us; he throws strikes and he throws hard,â€ť said Hunt. â€śThatâ€™s something that this program has been lacking for years, someone who can throw good batting practice.â€ť
The loss to N.P. eliminated Lincoln from consideration from the top overall seed. More than likely the Lions will be the No. 3 seed. Santaniello continued his hot hitting, stroking a two-run double against the Cougars.
Moses Brown 111 100 â€“ 4-7-1
Lincoln 208 013 â€“ 14-16-2
(One out when game ended in bottom of the sixth inning)
Max Martineau, Sean Heelen (3), David Curtis (6) and Tim Graul. Joe Yankee and Joe Hamilton. 2B: Tim Graul; Nick Zammarelli, Tyler Santaniello, Kyle Jackson, Matt Sorkin. 3B: Zammarelli, Jackson. HR: Joe Hamilton.
North Providence 101 111 0 â€“ 5-7-1
Lincoln 000 200 1 â€“ 3-9-3
Dylan McCluskie and Anthony Garceau. Matt Mennucci, Tyler Santaniello (5) and Joe Hamilton, Cody Phillips (4). 2B: Tyler Santantiello, Kyle Jackson. 3B: Nick Coro.