LINCOLN – Cranston East sure didn’t play like a No. 14 seed, nor did Lincoln High look the part of a state title contender.
So while Wednesday’s result at Chet Nichols Field could certainly be described as unexpected, it wasn’t exactly a shock.
Fresh off a 14-4 regular season that produced a Division I-North crown and the third overall seed in the 16-team, double-elimination state tournament, Lincoln endured a collective struggle in dropping a 4-2 decision to Cranston East, an 8-10 team out of Division I-Central.
The loss relegates Lincoln to the Region 3 losers’ bracket, where it will host sixth-seeded East Greenwich on Thursday with its season on the line.
Just like that, coach Ed Hunt’s squad is staring an early playoff exit square in the face.
“They’re just very disappointed, not winning the first game at home against a team that everybody in the state probably thought we were going to beat,” Hunt said. “It just didn’t work out that way. It doesn’t matter in this state what seed you are. That’s what you did during the regular season. On any given day, and it’s a cliché, but any team can beat any other team. They played better than us today. The kids have nothing to be ashamed of. They beat us today, in all phases.”
One of those phases, pitching, wasn’t particularly sharp for Lincoln, which handed the ball to Ryan O’Dell for the first time since May 7. The senior right-hander took a couple of weeks off to fine-tune his mechanics, and he quickly realized that playoff games are quite a step up from bullpen sessions.
The Thunderbolts pushed their first run across two batters into the game, thanks partly to an O’Dell miscue.
Leadoff hitter John Razzino singled and advanced all the way to third base on an errant pick-off throw from O’Dell, who then allowed a sacrifice fly to Cody Lindell.
O’Dell chalked up the rough start to “nerves mixed with not being on the mound mixed with maybe my adrenaline pumping too much.”
After a 1-2-3 second inning, O’Dell again ran into trouble in the third, when he hit Lindell and Ivan Reyes consecutively with one out, setting up Bob D’Arezzo’s single to right field that scored Lindell with Cranston East’s second run.
D’Arezzo helped his own cause with the knock, as Lincoln touched up the junior right-hander for single runs in the fourth and fifth to even the score at 2.
But the Lions got nothing more against D’Arezzo, who went the distance for a complete-game four-hitter in which he did not allow an extra-base hit.
“He really hid the ball well on us,” said O’Dell, who had two of the four hits off D’Arezzo. “He mixed it up. He hit his spots with his fastball. He had a good little slider mixed in. He had a little funky windup, which I think threw some of our hitters off. They were jumping at his body moving forward rather than the ball coming out of his hand.”
Hunt thought his team had a case of playoff anxiety.
“I think early on, the first time through, we were a little overanxious,” Hunt said. “We usually don’t swing first-pitch the first time through. We had some guys doing that, and we were swinging at some high strikes, which was uncharacteristic of us.
“Nice crowd, nice day, the kids wanted to perform, but I think they were a little overanxious.”
O’Dell departed after five innings of two-run ball in favor of Tyler Santaniello, who worked a scoreless sixth before the fateful top of the seventh.
Singles by Razzino, Ivan Reyes and D’Arezzo created a one-out, bases-loaded opportunity for Josmar Ventura, who smashed a line drive over the outstretched glove of leaping shortstop O’Dell -- a two-run single that put the ’Bolts ahead to stay.
“The kid put a really good swing on the ball. It was hard-hit,” O’Dell said. “Those types of things, you’ve got to either go for it or not. With one out and the bases loaded, you’ve got to lay out for it.”
He came up short. And after D’Arezzo fired a 1-2-3 seventh, so did the Lions.
But if you think Lincoln is ready to pack it in, think again.
“Like I said to the kids after the game, we’ve lost games before,” Hunt said. “Unfortunately it’s the playoffs, but we can still win a bunch. We’ve done that before, too. I don’t think we’re out of it. I think the kids will come back tomorrow hopefully with a different, fresher look. Hopefully not as … I think they were a little tight today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”