LINCOLN — If Lincoln was playing nervous during Saturday’s District 4 tournament opener, it sure didn’t show.
The perennial power looked right at home – literally and figuratively – in coasting to a 10-0 mercy-rule victory over East Woonsocket at Hien Field, the first of four pool play games for each team.
Seeking its 16th District IV title in the past 21 years, a stretch of dominance that dates back to 1991, Lincoln pounded out eight hits and capitalized on sloppy defense from East Woonsocket, which committed five errors.
“This is a great way to start,” said Lincoln manager Matt Netto, a 2000 graduate of Lincoln High. “The first day is all about shaking out the nerves. We made some bad mistakes, they made a couple mistakes. It’s going to happen in the first game.”
For East Woonsocket manager Scott Bourget’s squad, the mistakes cropped up a bit too frequently.
“It was a tough day, obviously,” Bourget said. “We made errors early in the game, set the tone for Lincoln. If you give them two or three extra outs every inning, they’re going to come back to get you, and that’s kind of what happened.”
The defensive miscues proved insurmountable opposite Lincoln’s Nathan Fay and Connor Sheehan, who combined for a one-hit, seven-strikeout performance across four innings of work, allowing one East Woonsocket baserunner to advance past first base.
Both Fay and Sheehan, an 11-year-old, hadn’t thrown in nearly a month before Saturday’s game. Consequently, Netto made it a point of emphasis to get his hard-throwing right-handers some work.
“They were kind of rusty,” Netto said.
The way Lincoln’s offense performed, it didn’t matter.
Two East Woonsocket errors opened the door for Lincoln’s three-run first. Patrick Fleming reached on third baseman Caden Unwin’s fielding error and later scored via shortstop Damien Medeiros’ errant throw to first following a Fay grounder. Mitchell Walinski added a two-out, two-run single to shallow center field.
Lincoln carried a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the third, when another error doomed East Woonsocket. After Nathan Donovan singled with one out, pinch-runner Nick Juckett moved all the way to third base when Unwin fielded Bevin Kumar’s grounder and sent a forceout throw intended for second into the outfield."
That put runners on first and third for Alex Levin, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the third. With one mighty swing, he leveled a high fastball from East Woonsocket starter Kyle St. Laurent beyond the left-field fence for a three-run home run.
Considering Levin’s recent history, the blast made for a special moment.
“He broke his arm completely in half in January,” Netto said of Levin, who wrestles during the offseason. “So he came back in the middle of Little League season, played enough games, was only allowed to play first base, and just now he’s really starting to get back into his mode of hitting home runs. He’s an amazing, amazing young man.”
Sheehan relieved Fay with one down in the top of the fourth, striking out two of the three batters he faced.
Lincoln concluded the contest in the bottom of the fourth, as St. Laurent did not retire any of the four batters he opposed. Sheehan and Fay stroked consecutive RBI triples, and Fay raced home with Lincoln’s 10th run on a throwing error by shortstop Kyle St. Germain.
East Woonsocket’s defensive struggles marred a gutsy effort from St. Laurent, who threw admirably despite the final score.
“He pitched phenomenal today,” Bourget said. “He had them off-balance. [He] made a mistake with the three-run home run, but other than that, he pitched well.”
East Woonsocket returns to action on Thursday at Scituate-Foster, which will meet Lincoln on Tuesday at Hien Field.
“We’re not out of it,” Bourget said. “It’s tough to play game one in someone else’s home park, obviously, for some of these kids that have never even been on an All-Star team before. We functioned well, they composed themselves today and we played hard, which is all I can ask for.”
As for Netto, he’s hoping Lincoln’s anxiety is as gone as Levin’s homer.
“By the second game, third game, you figure the kids are over the nerves and then they’ll relax and have fun, which is what they’re meant to do,” Netto said. “That’s the thing you’ve got to remember with these kids in All-Stars is to remind them to have fun, because they take it seriously. They take it very, very seriously.
“They’re dedicated to the game and they love the game. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids.”