PAWTUCKET – Theo Murray was ready to talk suicide squeeze with Brandon Gagne. It didn’t take long for Murray to recalibrate his expectations for the Tolman High junior after Gagne voiced he was in no mood to lay down a bunt.
Swing away then, insisted Murray. With the onus now on Gagne to deliver the goods on his confident promise, the leadoff hitter came through with arguably the biggest hit of the season for the Tigers.
Gagne hammered a 1-1 offering into the left-field corner, the end result a bases-clearing double that resulted in the Tolman bench switching from desperation to euphoria. The one-run deficit was now history, taking its place an eventual 6-4 triumph over Narragansett on Day 1 of the four-team, double-elimination Division II tournament.
Gagne’s moment of truth occurred in the bottom of the sixth inning after the Mariners took a 4-3 lead in the fifth.
Tolman’s reward for staging such late-game heroics is a long bus ride to No. 3 seed Prout on Thursday afternoon (first pitch scheduled for 5:15). Narragansett, seeded 11th, will try and extend its season against No. 14 Classical in a Region 3 losers’ bracket contest, also Thursday.
“I went to Brandon and we almost dropped down a suicide squeeze. He told me that he was confident and that he was going to get a hit,” said Murray, Tolman’s head coach. “If I have a kid looking me in the eyes and saying that he feels good about himself, then you’ve got to believe him.”
The first two Tolman hitters reached in the sixth, Zach Viveiros getting hit by a pitch with catcher Chris Baldwin following with his second single of the game. Viveiros was cut down at third after Narragansett starter Pat Stone came off the mound to make a play on a bunt bid by Joe Maynard.
A walk to Zach Taber, the Tigers’ No. 9 hitter, loaded the bases with Gagne due up. On the third pitch of his confrontation with Stone, Gagne drilled a hard shot that easily scored Baldwin and Maynard with the tying and go-ahead runs, respectively. In hot pursuit was Taber, who was emphatically waved home by Murray.
“You’re gambling at that point,” said Murray about his decision to send Taber, who was stationed at first base when Gagne changed the game’s complexion. “You’re gambling that (the left fielder) is going to make an accurate throw to the infield and that guy is going to make an accurate throw to home. You let the kids play.”
It was left up to Andrew Larson to close out the Mariners after starter Chris Messier provided six solid innings. Larson sandwiched two strikeouts and a game-ending pop up to third base around a single and a hit batsman en route to picking up the save.
Messier was in a steady groove early, tossing four scoreless innings while his offense staked him to a 3-0 lead heading into the fifth. At one point Messier retired nine straight Mariners before striking out the side in the fourth, all via swings.
Trouble arose ever so innocently for Messier and the Tigers in the fifth after the righthander issued a one-out walk, his first and only free pass on the day. That was followed by an infield single and a fly ball to center for the second out. A cheap single to shallow left yielded the first run of the game for Narragansett. Up stepped No. 3 hitter Julien Nelson, who lined a shot to right, where the wind was the strongest. The ball kept carrying before disappearing over the fence for a three-run home run for Nelson and a 4-3 lead for the visitors.
“He was getting fatigued,” noted Murray about Messier, who finished with seven strikeouts and 85 pitches. “Chris left the ball up [against Nelson] and the kid smoked it.”
Up 1-0 after Gagne scored on a wild pitch in the first, Tolman, seeded sixth, struck for two more runs in the fourth. Viveiros scored on a passed ball while Maynard fisted a soft single in short center to plate Baldwin.
“It’s good to get Day 1,” said Murray before setting his sights on Prout.