WEST WARWICK — No one could have seen this coming.
There was Collette Vacations Post 79 and Hurd Auto Mall of Johnston on Wednesday, locked in a 2-2 duel after nine innings. Then came the top of the 10th, which saw Hurd run into major problems on the mound. Goodbye tightly played affair. Hello 12-2 lop-sided victory for Post 79, coming in the opening round of the American Legion Senior Division “Elite Eight” double-elimination tournament. Collette, the fifth seed, now faces top overall seed Cumberland Post 14 Thursday night at 7, the venue Pierce Field.
Chances are manager Ray Ventura won’t forget the everything-can-change-in-an-instant fashion that resulted in Post 79 capturing its eight straight win. In fact, some may argue that the 10th inning resembled the bolt of lightning that suspended this contest one night earlier in the top of the fourth. Three Hurd pitchers combined to issue six walks – five coming in a row – that Collette turned into 10 runs.
The inning got off to a quiet start with Dom DiSano beating out a grounder to third for a single. Then came the parade of free passes, as Nate Patch and Max Perry reached to load the bases. C.J. Lapierre didn’t receive a pitch to drive someplace, his four-pitch walk bringing home DiSano with the go-ahead run.
The unraveling continued for fourth seeded Hurd Auto Mall, as Patch scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-2. Jackson Gervaise drew the inning’s second bases-loaded walk before a throwing error by the Johnston ball club brought across two more runs, making the score now 7-2. Eight batters after DiSano’s infield tap job, Joe Brooks delivered the second hit in the 10th for Collette, a run-scoring single.
Following a sacrifice fly by DiSano and a Zach Mitsmenn walk, Patch ripped a double for Collette’s 10th run in the game. The 10th run of the frame was the result of a two-run double off the bat of Max Perry. The rest was up to Brooks, who was entrusted with a more-than-generous eight-run lead.
A St. Raphael Academy graduate, Brooks nailed down the final three outs to cap off a seven-inning appearance in which he surrendered two runs on seven hits. The 19-year-old came on in relief of Perry, who pitched the first three innings Tuesday.
“I was hoping Perry could give me one or two [innings], but when he said he was good for one, to me that means he’s not good for any,” Ventura said. “Max only threw 50 pitches, but I didn’t want to take the chance.”
Brooks punctuated his outing when he pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth, getting a pop up to second and a short fly ball to left. In the sixth he left a runner at third with the teams locked in a 1-1 affair.
“He was ready for this,” said Ventura about Brooks, who struck out four while walking one.
Collette also had several chances to break through. In the ninth Post 79 had runners on first and third with out down after Gervaise doubled and Andrew Veiga singled. The bid went by the boards as two groundouts kept the contest evened at two runs apiece.
“Either team could have broken through at any time,” Ventura said. “Lots of missed opportunities.”
Hurd tied the game at 1-1 in the fourth when a run scored on a 4-3 double play. Collette pulled ahead in the eighth behind a fielder’s choice by Perry, whose headfirst slide into first base broke up what would have been a double play. Mitsmenn (three hits) scored on the play. Hurd Auto Mall responded in the home half of the eighth behind a RBI double by Greg Doutra.
Ventura knows that this could have been a crippling loss. Fortunately his Post 79 outfit is still very much in the running and still has plenty of arms to select from – a luxury that will surely come in handy the deeper Collette Vacations progresses in this tournament.
“I think the loser of this game, especially with the way things went, would have been done to be honest. It was a tough game,” Ventura said. “We’re right where we want to be, I can’t lie to you.”