PAWTUCKET – Relief pitchers aren’t generally called into the game in the top of the second inning.
But that’s what Tolman High coach Theo Murray had to do on Thursday afternoon when ace hurler Chris Messier was experiencing soreness in his arm against Division II-Central rival Classical. Murray had to summon junior right-hander Andrew Larson to the mound.
Larson took the ball and then hurled a gem as he held the Purple to three hits the final six innings, lifting the Tigers to a 4-2 victory at Slater Park.
Larson came into the contest with the Tigers trailing,1-0. He proceeded to retire the next 11 batters he faced. By that point, Tolman already manufactured all of its runs with a solo home run from senior Troy Sawyer in the second inning and a three-run third that was fueled by a pair of hits and a little small ball.
Murray was confident that his reliever could get the job done.
“I know Andrew is going to throw strikes. He always does,” he said. “He’s very consistent. Typically he is always able to locate and throw strikes. At that point, that’s what we are looking to do; just throw strikes and see what happens. He went on a nice little string there. I think he ended up only throwing about 61 pitches over six innings.”
The Tigers (2-1) finished with just four hits for the afternoon, but behind Larson and a solid, error-less defense that was enough to earn the ‘W’. Larson struck out three batters, forced six groundouts and had eight outs via the air.
“I was just trying to throw strikes because we have a good defense,” Larson said. “I didn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but our defense made the plays. I was hitting my spots mostly and getting my corners, hitting location. The curveball worked pretty well, too. They popped it up a lot.”
“He had a good curveball and he kept the guys off-balance,” assessed Classical coach Ken Wnuk, whose team dropped to 0-3 in the league. “That’s all you got to do - pitch with your brain, not with your arm.”
Classical was able to generate its offense quickly, scoring its lone run in the first inning. Messier began the frame by giving up a full-count single to leadoff Tim Shea. Joseph Shepherd, the No. 2 batter, advanced Shea to second on a sacrifice bunt to the mound and teammate Apolinar DeLaCruz made it a 1-0 game with an RBI single. After walking cleanup Randy Vinas, Messier managed to get out of the inning with minimal damage with a pair of groundouts.
But the six-batter frame would be the end of his day.
“He just didn’t feel right,” Murray said. “When he came off the field, I asked him how he was feeling and he said he was a little tight. Early in the season we are overly-cautious, so we made the move (for Larson).”
Vinas, the Purple’s starter, retired the side in the first inning with the last out a deep fly ball to the left field fence by sophomore Carlos Sanabria. Vinas wasn’t so lucky with the next batter he faced to begin the second as Sawyer belted a fastball over the fence in left to knot the score at 1.
“He’s a senior. He’s a leader on this team,” Murray said. “He got a good pitch and he got a good swing on it.”
The Tigers were able to open up the contest in the third with their three runs. Junior Brendon Gagne began the assault by whacking a double to left-center. He advanced to third on a passed ball and was plated on a suicide squeeze off Zach Taber’s perfectly-placed bunt to the mound that was overthrown by Vinas to first base. Taber would score on a double up the middle by Larson, who would eventually score on a groundout.
Murray was satisfied with the win, but wouldn’t have minded a little more offense.
“Our pitching and defense was okay today,” said the Tolman coach, whose quad visits Juanita Sanchez this afternoon at 4. “The type of team we have this year, we have to score some runs. We got lucky today putting up only a four-spot and getting away with this one, but we’ll take it.”
Classical 100 000 0 – 2-5-2
Tolman 013 000 x – 4-4-0
Luis Rodriguez and Tim Shea. Chris Messier, Andrew Larson (2) and Chris Baldwin. 2B – Cl, Tim Shea, Evan Galuska. T, Brandon Gagne, Larson. HR – T, Troy Sawyer.