SMITHFIELD – Don’t tell Lincoln head coach Ed Hunt that the stolen base isn’t a handy tool.
The Lions qualify as a running bunch, witnessed by the five bags they swiped Thursday in a 9-1 win over Smithfield.
What makes the liberties Lincoln are taking on the base paths even more of a game-changing factor is that a run-producing hit came on the heels on every swiped base except the one Joe Yankee pulled off in the first inning.
Hunt knows he has a solid hitting ball club, witnessed by the 13 base knocks Lincoln amassed against three Smithfield pitchers. To have those hits count for something can be traced back to the opportunities the Lions are on the lookout for whenever a baserunner reaches. In Hunt’s eyes, everyone in his lineup is fair game to take off, from usual suspects Ryan Sorkin and Nick Zammarelli – Lincoln's first two hitters – to catcher Joe Hamilton, whose stolen base ignited a four-run fifth inning.
“I encourage our kids to anticipate the extra base and take advantage of it,” said Hunt after Lincoln improved to 4-0 in Division I-North. “Make the teams make the play. That’s my philosophy, to keep the pressure on the defense.
“We’re not going to have that many opportunities every game,” Hunt noted, “but we’re going to be aggressive with guys who can run. The defense is going to be put on notice that we’re going to run.”
Lincoln’s penchant for causing disruption was not lost on Smithfield head coach Steve Quattrini. “They can definitely run, meaning the middle infielders are always moving, which is a problem. Any time you play Ed’s team, if you’re not on your ‘A’ game, they’ll come down and beat up on you.”
Lost in the mix of Lincoln’s thievery was the complete-game effort turned in by Matt Mennucci. The senior sprayed eight hits with three strikeouts while walking just one. Mennucci is the type of pitch-to-contact hurler who keeps the defense on his toes, witnessed by the 1-3 and 6-4-3 double plays he induced. Lincoln also handled every chance defensively, as the team’s lone error was the result of a Smithfield stolen base in which the throw sailed into centerfield.
“He was much improved from the St. Raphael game,” said Hunt, referring back to Mennucci’s four-inning stint last Thursday. “I liked that he got more groundballs than he did his previous start and got a complete game out of it. Because he’s not overpowering, we need him to throw strikes and get those groundballs. We’ll play defense behind him.”
Mennucci pitched his way out of a first-and-third jam in the first before stranding another Smithfield runner at third in the second. The Sentinels strung together three straight hits in the fourth – all coming with two down – that led to the club’s only run on the afternoon. Jeff Langellier singled up to middle to chase home Ryan Paul.
“(Mennucci) hit his spots,” was the tip of the cap offered by Quattrini.
Lincoln’s ability to turn a stolen base into a run was on full display in the fourth. Sorkin led off the frame with a walk, swiped second and eventually came around on a single by Zammarelli. Ryan O’Dell followed with a ringing double to right-center to make it 5-0.
The Lions added four more runs an inning later, with Sorkin and Tyler Santaniello each collecting two-run doubles. Perhaps the overlooked play in the frame was the slap base hit that No. 9 hitter Max Blais recorded on a 3-2 count after the senior attempted to sacrifice bunt earlier in the at-bat. That loaded the bases for Sorkin, who essentially put the game out of reach with a poke to right-center.
“We practice aggressiveness and I think that’s the key to success,” said Hunt. “If the kids have that philosophy going into tighter games – they’re running and working hard on the basepaths – that’s going to transcend into good things.”
Lincoln will give the ball to O’Dell this afternoon in hopes he can keep the good times rolling against Moses Brown. Smithfield (2-2) is also back in action today, hosting Cumberland.
Lincoln 120 340 0 – 9-13-1
Smithfield 000 100 0 – 1-8-2
Matt Mennucci and Joe Hamilton, Cody Phillips (6). Derrick Polseno, Robert Cotoia (3), Ryan Wakin (7) and Ryan Paul. 2B: Matt Sorkin, Tyler Santaniello.