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PAWTUCKET â€“ Win and youâ€™re in the playoffs. Lose and feel the pain that goes with realizing that your season is kaput before Memorial Day.
With so much riding on Fridayâ€™s outcome, there was no time for either Lincoln or St. Raphael to get caught up with what potentially lies ahead. There would be no tomorrow for one team, nor would any partial credit be awarded as the Lions and Saints entered this pivotal final game of the regular season sporting identical 7-10 league records.
To surmise, what you had at Vets Park were two Division I-North clubs fighting for the 16th and final playoff berth that was still up for grabs. After seven well-played and crisp innings, Lincoln emerged with a hard-fought and most-satisfying 1-0 triumph.
A pair of seniors wound up being instrumental in the Lions nailing down this must-have win. A run-scoring double off the bat of Kyle Jackson snapped a scoreless game with two down in the fifth inning. Ace pitcher and workhorse Joe Yankee earned the role of stopper on this day, nailing down the final eight outs to preserve what amounted to a two-hit shutout of the Saints.
Yankeeâ€™s outing, which encompassed 2 1/3 hitless innings with a walk and two strikeouts, came one day after the lefthander worked in relief against La Salle. He inherited a two-on, one-out predicament in the fifth after starter Matt Knych allowed back-to-back runners to reach for SRA.
The baserunners for the Saints, the result of a single by catcher Henry Mota and a walk drawn by Julian Diaz, gave way to a pitching change for Lincoln. On came Yankee, who promptly extinguished the lone scoring change SRA would muster on a punchout and a grounder to second.
â€śI just feel like that I have a job to do. Baseballâ€™s my sport,â€ť Yankee said with a grin.
Yankee needed just four pitches to retire the first two SRA batters in the sixth with a swinging strikeout of junior Zach Mitsmenn serving as the capper. Yankee showed off his athleticism in the seventh as he quickly got off the hill to field a slow roller by St. Raphaelâ€™s Nick Karalekas.
A one-out walk to Andrew Veiga allowed Mota to come to the plate representing the potential go-ahead run. With the count 0-2, Mota grounded sharply to Lincoln first baseman Alec Cronan, who promptly stepped on the bag before completing the double play with a strong throw to shortstop Nick Zammarelli.
Just like that, the season was over for the Saints, a club that had been playing well recently. Alas, the three-game winning streak the team carried into play Friday could not hide the fact that Tom â€śSaarâ€ť Sorrentineâ€™s crew got off to a 2-7 start to the season, which in the final analysis proved too deep of a hole to climb out of.
St. Raphael starting pitcher Nick Cesino certainly held up his end of the bargain, the senior tossing a complete-game three-hitter that included 13 groundball outs.
â€śCesino pitched great and their guys [meaning Lincolnâ€™s pitchers] did the job,â€ť said Sorrentine.
The only trouble Cesino ran into started when Zammarelli worked a walk with two down in the fifth inning. With the Lincoln junior off in an attempt to steal second base, Jackson promptly delivered a shot down the right-field line. Zammarelli simply kept going, crossing the plate standing up.
â€śThey made the key play at the right time,â€ť was the tip of the cap offered by Sorrentine, whose SRA outfit missed the playoffs for the first time in his lengthy coaching tenure. â€śThey had the hit-and-run on and the kid (Jackson) doubled down the line. As soon as I saw it, I said (Zammarelli) was going to score because heâ€™s a jet.â€ť
Yankee was standing in the on-deck circle, watching the entire sequence unfold. As Zammarelli returned to the dugout, he started to warm up to the possibility that he would be called upon to pitch.
â€śRealistically, we were looking for two or three innings from Joe,â€ť Lincoln head coach Andy Hallam said.
A southpaw, Kynch faced the minimum number of batters through four innings. The sophomore allowed a leadoff single to Tom Callabro in the fourth only to pick him a short time later. Kynch ended up tossing 4 1/3 innings with one strikeout.
Hallam let it all hang out when speaking about the lift Kynch provided. â€śHe displayed that he is a walking and talking heart. The kid was pitching on a couple days of rest [the sophomore saw some time on the mound Monday against Moses Brown] and every time we give him the ball, he leaves it all out there.â€ť
Naturally, a feeling of relief washed over the Lions, knowing that when the playoffs commence next Tuesday, they will be among the participants.
â€śWe didnâ€™t know what to expect at the beginning of the year,â€ť said Yankee, â€śbut we made it.â€ť
Added Hallam, â€śThis is really an accomplishment for the players.â€ť