CRANSTON --- Two outs away from wrapping up a successful comeback in the losers’ bracket and repeating as Big League state champs, Pineview saw a spirited comeback by Smithfield ruin its bid for championship glory.
Smithfield erupted for four runs in the top of the seventh inning and held off a late charge in the home half of the frame by Pineview to eke out a thrilling 7-6 victory that landed the visiting team its first Big League crown at Fay Field.
The loss was a bitter one to swallow for the Pawtucket team, who managed to claim a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning on a dramatic solo home run by Ben Amerault with two gone in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Pineview rolled into the seventh with momentum on its side and grand visions of a return trip to the Eastern Regionals in Dover, Del., where they impressed last season in finishing third out of nine teams.
The locals were also riding a superb relief outing by Eric Johnston, who had taken over on the hill in the fifth and mowed down the side in order over the next two innings.
Johnston quickly got the first out of the seventh on a soft grounder to second, but Smithfield then began to make its move.
Base hits by Ryan Paul and Mark Kerwin quickly put runners on the corners, and Ryan Malloy knotted the score with an opposing-field double to right that just fell inside the right-field line.
Johnston came back to get the second out on a strikeout, but on his following pitch to the next batter, John Leveille, he fired a wild pitch to the backstop, and pinch-runner Eric Alchusky was able to hustle home from third with the go-ahead run.
Malloy, who sprinted to third on the wild offering, then scored when Leveille surprised everyone with a bunt single that rolled along the third-base line and never went foul. Leveille then stole second base and came around to score his team’s final run on a sharp single to center by James Manzo.
Down, but not out, Pineview did its best to get back into the contest. The first batter of the inning, Zack Conte laced a single to left, but two pitches later, he tried to steal second and was gunned down on a close play.
That out eventually came back to haunt the Pawtucket club, because with two outs, Alex Collette (who went 4-for-4 with a triple) ripped a base hit to right-center and Ty Karalis followed with an opposite-field, two-run homer to deep left to make it a one-run game.
But Smithfield pitcher Ryan Wakim, who worked all seven innings to pick up the win, ended the drama and the contest by getting the next batter to pop out to second base.
“We had some bad breaks,” added Pineview coach Joe Clark. “Some of their hits (in the seventh) went a few feet inside the line. A few feet the other way and we’re probably celebrating right now.
“This hurts. We made it close and we did what we had to do, but it just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to (work out).”
Pineview was looking to claim the championship in the same fashion the team won it last season, by fighting its way out of the losers’ bracket.
Pineview had won its tournament opener last Wednesday with a 10-0 mercy-rule victory over Chariho, but came back the next night to drop a 3-0 decision to Smithfield, which was fueled by the three-hit pitching of James Morrissey.
But the Pawtucket club bravely fought back in the losers’ bracket to put away Chariho again on Saturday night, 14-11, and then hand Smithfield its lone loss of the tournament, 12-4, on Sunday night.
In Monday’s rematch, Pineview grabbed a quick 2-0 lead in the first on a run-scoring double to left from Troy Sawyer and a sacrifice fly to right by Karalis that drove in Sawyer.
But Smithfield fought back to take a 3-2 lead off Pineview starter Frank Dire by scoring a run in the second on a passed ball and jumping on top in the third on a long two-run homer to left by Kerwin.
Pineview then tied the score in the fifth on a sacrifice fly to center by Sawyer that drove in Conte, and probably would have been a sinking line-drive single had Paul not make an acrobatic catch in center.
Amerault then gave Pineview its shortlived lead with his clutch home run, as he turned the first pitch he saw from Wakim and hammered it well beyond the 350-foot sign in straightaway center.
“That was a big hit,” said Clark. “I almost pinch-hit for Ben right there, but I left him in there and he hit one out.”