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PROVIDENCE â€” When youâ€™re on a roll like Lincoln High, things just seem to fall into place.
The Lions did their best work in the latter innings Thursday, scoring three runs apiece in the sixth and seventh innings to best La Salle Academy, 8-5. At 7-0, Lincoln stands tall amongst the Division I-North hierarchy. In fact, the Lions are one of just two teams in the league to sport such a glittering mark, North Kingstown being the other.
The road to maintain its current perfection was not easy, however. Lincoln was forced to rally from a 5-2 hole with just six outs remaining. Thanks to the stellar relief pitching of Zach Perry â€“ two scoreless frames â€“ and some key base knocks, the Lions were able to bus out of the Capital City with their undefeated record still very much intact.
Tyler Santaniello led off the pivotal sixth inning with a triple against La Salle lefty ace Nicholas Cooney, who finished with 10 strikeouts and 134 pitches. Joe Yankee (two hits) delivered a game-tying two-run triple, then scored himself after La Salle botched the relay throw from the outfield.
Perry made sure it stayed tied as he pitched his way out of a two-on, no-outs jam in the last of the sixth. A poor bunt by La Salle resulted in the inningâ€™s first out, then Perry got the second out as he picked off the runner stationed at second. The frame ended with a grounder to second, setting the stage for more Lincoln heroics with the aluminum.
With two down and runners on first and second, Yankee lifted a deep fly to center that was deemed a ground rule double. One run scored to make it 6-5 in favor of Lincoln, which now had two runners in scoring position and Ryan Oâ€™Dell coming up. La Salle elected to intentionally walk Oâ€™Dell to load the bases, but Nick Zammarelli made the Rams pay with a two-run single that came with two strikes. Zammarellli normally hits higher in the lineup but Lincoln head coach Ed Hunt opted to juggle the batting order so that all the right-handed hitters and the lefties were properly spaced apart. Zammarelli normally hits in the No. 2 spot but on Thursday was moved down to fifth.
â€śWe moved some guys around with (Cooney) on the mound,â€ť said Hunt.
The bottom of the seventh proved to test the heart rate of everyone rooting on Lincoln. A single and back-to-back walks issued by Perry resulted in La Salle bringing the potential winning run to the plate with two down. Nothing came of it as Perry got the final out, a pop foul along the first base side.
â€śHeâ€™s the little rooster. Heâ€™s a gritty kid who looks like heâ€™s 10-years-old out there, but he mixes it up,â€ť said Hunt about Perry, who picked up his second win in relief. â€śIâ€™m happy for him and Iâ€™m happy for the guys. They came back and they didnâ€™t quit.â€ť
Oâ€™Dell went the first five innings for Lincoln, finishing with seven strikeouts and five walks. The senior walked three in the first inning but La Salle was only able to squeeze out one run.
It certainly doesnâ€™t get any easy for Huntâ€™s Lions. Next week brings with it crossover games, and Lincoln is looking at a pair of significant road tests. Tuesday yields an intriguing matchup with Cranston West while on Thursday a date with aforementioned North Kingstown looms. The good news is that after those two games, Lincoln will finally play its first home of the spring, set for a week from this Saturday against Portsmouth.
â€śI told the kids that this is a nice start, but now the iron part of our schedule comes into play,â€ť said Hunt. â€śWe have our work cut out for us, so we canâ€™t bask in the glow of whatâ€™s gone on.â€ť