WICKFORD – This is a game Lincoln High would soon rather forget.
North Kingstown High was clearly the better squad Friday afternoon in a 10-5 win at Lischio Field. The game was hailed as a matchup of Division I contenders, as both squads entered play with identical 7-1 records, good enough to lead their respective divisions. Instead of a tightly-played contest filled with drama and suspense, the Skippers and Lions plodded along, combining for seven errors and 10 walks. In the end, North Kingstown was the squad that wound up making fewer mistakes, even though Lincoln belted three home runs.
“I checked out their numbers online and they are very similar to us,” noted Lincoln head coach Ed Hunt. “They’ve got a lot of kids hitting over .400.”
There were simply too many obstacles for the Lions, now on a two-game losing skid after opening the season 7-0, to overcome. The five errors obviously stand out, but there was a host of miscues – both physical and mental – that have been rarely seen during the Lions’ fast start. How N.K. (8-1 I-North) scored two runs in the last of the first inning immediately jumps out, as the Skippers were the recipients of two walks, a passed ball, a wild pitch and an errant pickoff attempt. The home team collected just one hit in the frame – a single by leadoff hitter Pat O’Connor – though was able to erase a 2-0 deficit with relative ease.
Lincoln starter Ryan O’Dell was essentially a one-pitch pitcher as a broken fingernail resulted in a curveball that featured little bite. The URI-bound standout tried to gut it with only his fastball, but eventually North Kingstown caught on. The Skippers turned a 3-2 lead into an 8-2 cushion after exploding for five runs in the last of the third. It was an inning that saw O’Dell run into four full-count situations and surrender a bases-clearing triple to O’Connor. O’Dell remained on the mound for one more hitter – a RBI single by Joe Haley – before Hunt brought in Tyler Santaniello.
O’Dell lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowing eight runs (six earned) with five walks and six strikeouts. Hunt rushed out to shortstop after O’Dell had trouble fielding a grounder in the fourth inning, but the Lincoln senior didn’t think the pain was intense enough to result in him coming out.
“When I went out (to the mound) in the second inning, he told me that he couldn’t pitch without that fingernail. I said that he needed to figure out a way,” said Hunt. “He had trouble finding the plate, but he battled.”
Lincoln has staged several late-game comebacks this season, and it seemed another one was in the offering after catcher Joe Hamilton dialed up a two-run homer in the fifth inning, a shot that bounced off the screen portion of the right-field foul pole. The deficit was down to 8-4, but North Kingstown restored its six-run advantage with two runs in the home half of the fifth.
The Lions ended up outhitting the Skippers, 10-8, though they were unable to nail down a timely hit that would have aided their cause tremendously. Lincoln stranded two runners in the three consecutive innings, something Hunt was aware of afterwards.
The offense was definitely there in the first inning as O’Dell and Tyler Santaniello went back-to-back off N.K. starting pitcher Dom Grillo, a freshman sporting a 3-0 record coming in. Santaniello, a senior, finished 3-for-4 with three runs scored while Hamilton also went 3-for-4 with a double. Senior Zach Perry added a pair of singles.
Even though Lincoln was in the midst of a tough day, the team’s spirit was still present. After Kyle Jackson made a diving catch in right field to end the sixth, the entire team greeted the junior as he came off the field.
“Our guys never quit no matter what the score is. We don’t play to the score; we try to score as many runs as we can,” said Hunt. “The effort is there and the kids are always working hard.”
This may be hard to fathom, but Lincoln will play its first home game of the season Saturday night against Portsmouth High. From here on out the Lions and Chet Nichols Field will be joined at the hip as Hunt & Co. kickoff what amounts to a nine-game homestand.