BURRILLVILLE — Down by four runs and staring at a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the bottom of the second inning, Cumberland American showed the heart of a champion and staged a marvelous comeback that landed the ballclub the District IV Major Division title.
Connor Mastin and Stephen Dugas each bashed a pair of home runs and Max Hanuschak delivered five superb innings of relief to help CALL win a 12-6 slugfest with neighboring rival Lincoln on Friday night before a packed house at Sherman Park.
Cumberland American (6-0), which is mostly made up of last year’s 10-11 team that won that age division’s state championship, will vie for another R.I. crown when CALL heads to the four-team state tournament, which is scheduled to get under way on Saturday, July 23, at the Warwick West Side complex.
But before CALL could look ahead to the state playoffs, the team had to focus on battling back from an early 5-1 deficit, and thanks to three big rallies in the third, fifth, and sixth innings that featured five home runs, the winners were able to claim their championship.
“This team is a special team,” remarked CALL coach Dave Belisle. “Last year, when we won the states, they played like this. They played good defense and they scrapped and hit home runs. That why we’re never out of a game, because it could take a couple of bloops, and the next thing you know, we’d hit a three-run homer and be right back in it.”
Lincoln (5-1) also flexed its muscles in the early going and belted four homers, including back-to-back-to-back shots in the second by Alex Levin, Nick Juckett, and Bevin Kumar that lifted the team to its four-run command.
But when Belisle decided to relieve his starting pitcher, Conor Lavallee, with Hanuschak after Kumar’s homer left the yard, Hanuschak held the fort and limited Lincoln to three hits the rest of the way.
“He came into the districts with a very sore back,” added Belisle, who used Hanuschak on the mound only once, for 2 2/3 innings last Friday in a mercy-rule victory over North Smithfield. “We knew we were going to bring him in tonight, but we didn’t know we’d bring him in so early. Thank goodness we did.”
While Belisle offered praise for Hanuschak, he did likewise for Mastin, his center fielder, who not only went 3-for-3 with his two homers and six runs batted in, but also threw out a runner at the plate in the second when Lincoln had the bases loaded.
Mastin also gave his team a little momentum in the top of the third inning with a two-out, three-run homer that made it a 5-4 game.
“I thought Mastin tonight was tremendous,” offered Belisle. “The throw he made when it was 5-1 to gun the runner down at the plate was huge, and when he hit his first home run to make it 5-4, our kids knew they had a shot.”
Dugas, who came off the bench in the fourth inning, led off the fifth with a solo home run to knot the score at 5-5, and in the sixth, he capped his magical night with a two-run blast that made it a 10-6 contest.
“He’s small, but he’s such a strong kid,” added Belisle. “We’re not surprised he hit those home runs, but two in the finals? We’re surprised, but he’s quite a hitter. He can hit.”
Each team scored a run in the first inning, CALL on a sacrifice fly by Mastin and Lincoln on an opposite-field blast to left by Zachery Pipa, who went 3-for-3 with two runs scored to lead his team offensively.
But after Lincoln starting pitcher Connor Sheehan mowed down CALL in order in the second, his teammates went to work in the bottom of the inning.
Mitchell Walinski led off with an infield single, and Levin followed with a long home run to left. Juckett then lined his homer to straightaway center, and Kumar smacked his blast in almost the same spot as Juckett’s shot.
That’s when Belisle brought in Hanuschak, but the move didn’t pay immediate dividends. Hanuschak walked his first two batters and Pipa beat out a bunt single to load the bases.
The next batter, Nathan Fay, then lofted a fly ball to Mastin in center. Patrick Fleming, the runner on third, tried to tag up and score, but Mastin fired a bullet to the plate to cut down Fleming on a close play.
After Hanuschak then got out of the inning with a grounder to third, CALL went to work in the third and made it a one-run duel on Mastin’s blast, a shot to right-center that exited the field in a hurry.
The score remained 5-4 until Dugas tied the contest with his first homer -- a deep drive to center – but CALL was far from done in that inning.
Ryan McCormick, who quietly went 3-for-4 with three runs scored from the leadoff spot, gave CALL the lead with an opposite-field homer to left, and after Jake Glod followed with a double into the left-field corner, Mastin hit a line drive home run to straightaway center that didn’t get very high in the air and just found it way over the fence.
Lincoln got back a run in the fifth on a run-scoring line single to center by Walinski, but CALL put some distance between itself and Lincoln by scoring four times in the top of the seventh on a long two-run homer to right-center by Dugas, a wild pitch that brought home McCormick, and an RBI single to center by Colin Cannata.
“We had one big inning and then our bats fell asleep,” added Lincoln coach Matt Netto. “But give Cumberland credit. That’s just an amazing all-around team. Their sub hit two home runs. They’re a great hitting team, and we’re a great hitting team, but they hit more than us tonight. They were the better team today.”