PROVIDENCE — Tolman High head coach Theo Murray wasn’t thrilled with the result, but just had to praise his troops for their ability and want to battle back.
Trailing 6-0, the Tigers tallied two runs each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to knot it, but the Knights scored an unearned run in the back half of the eighth to clinch a wild 7-6 triumph at Joe Williams Field early Tuesday afternoon.
In that fateful frame, freshman pinch-hitter Kirby Mejia reached on an infield miscue, took second on classmate Elizier Estevez’ sacrifice bunt, moved to third when junior reliever Carlos Santabria issued consecutive intentional walks and raced home on sophomore Ernesto Figueroa’s single over the head of left fielder Zack Viveiros.
With the win, Central not only improved to 3-3 on the Division II-Central campaign, but also terminated Tolman’s unbeaten streak at five.
It’s not like the Tigers (5-1) didn’t have several opportunities – they stranded 12 baserunners in all, including six in scoring position.
“That’s been our M.O. all season,” Murray shrugged afterward. “We’ve been leaving a lot of guys on base, and I’d say at least half were in scoring position. We have to do something to remedy that.
“You know what, though? You’ve got to give the guys credit for hanging in there,” he added. “I’ve got to give credit to (sophomore) Richie Marshall and Carlos Santabria, who came on in relief of (senior righty) Andrew Larson. They buckled down and did a great job.
“In the eighth, we had to put those guys on base to set up a force play, and (Figueroa) just put a good swing on the ball,” he continued. “Central’s a good team; I don’t care what anybody says. They swung the bats well, and their shortstop (Estevez) made two A-plus defensive plays in the seventh.”
Chuckled long-time Central skipper Dave Hanson: “This feels good, no question about that, but we probably wrecked our (upcoming) week. We threw our top two pitchers (junior righthanders Wali Luna and Figueroa), so now we have to look for some great outings from our (Nos.) 3 and 4.
“Before the game, I told the kids, ‘Let’s just get the job done. We’re better than what we’ve been showing,’” he added. “We’re not as consistent as those guys over there (the Tigers). If we were going to win a big game, I’m glad it came against Tolman. After all, they’re in first place (at 5-0 before Tuesday).”
Junior Chris Baldwin led Tolman, finishing 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run scored, while Larson went 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run and classmate Brandon Gagne 2-for-5 with an RBI and a pair of runs.
For the Knights, freshman Jose Mejia was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, and Figueroa, the winning pitcher, went 1-for-3 with two hit-by-pitches and an RBI.
Nevertheless, with two outs in the top of the initial frame, it seemed the Tigers would strike first. Santabria singled to center and Baldwin to right, but Viveiros flew to deep center to end the frame.
The Knights tallied one in the bottom half, Estevez singling and scoring on senior Moises Javier’s ground hit to right, but Tolman loaded the bases with one out in the second.
Senior Joey Maynard drew a leadoff walk from Luna, and classmate Brad McParlin singled him to second before junior Joe Fernandes executed a perfect sacrifice bunt. Senior No. 9 batter Zack Taber then walked to fill the bags, though senior Brandon Gagne lined to short and Larson fanned to end that threat.
In the bottom of the second, Central cushioned its lead to 3-0 when freshman Jose Mejia singled and -- with one down – junior Jerry Espinal pounded a homer over the right-field fence and nearly onto Elmwood Avenue.
The Knights also tacked on three in the third, when senior Jonathan Salcedo led off with a double to the gap in left-center and Larson hit Figueroa. Javier pushed Salcedo to third on a fielder’s choice, then stole second, and Salcedo scored when backstop Baldin’s pickoff throw to second sailed into center field.
Jose Mejia responded with a hit to left to plate Javier, then stole second and hustled in on junior Omouri Cortorreal’s single down the left-field line for the 6-0 advantage.
Slowly, Murray’s crew fought back. In the fourth, McParlin reached on a two-base infield throwing error, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Gagne’s two-out double to the left-center hole.
Larson’s immediate single to right-center plated Gagne.
In the fifth, Baldwin smacked a leadoff two-bagger to right-center and scored on senior Joey Maynard’s one-out hit to the same spot. McParlin reached on a fielder’s choice (Maynard out at second), and he hustled home on Marshall’s double to the right-field fence, but Zack Taber whiffed to halt the flurry.
As for the sixth, leadoff hitter Gagne reached on an infield single and scored on Larson’s hit to right-center. When the center fielder bobbled the ball, Larson steamed into second. Santabria then flew out to center, but second baseman Cortorreal infringed upon Larson’s desire to tag up, and the base umpire awarded him third base.
That’s when Baldwin stroked his fourth hit of the tilt to left to score him and tie it up.
Amazingly, Santabria retired all six batters in the sixth and seventh, the final five by strikeout. He nevertheless took the loss.
“I think the key to this game was that they left a few guys on; then again, so did we,” Hanson stated as his Knights, who stranded 11, celebrated in left field. “The thing is, you have to get the guys on base, but then you have to get the important hits to drive them in. We did just one more time than Tolman did.”
The Tigers will face Wheeler at its Farm athletic complex in Seekonk at 4:15 p.m., Thursday, then catch a bus on Saturday to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. They will face the same Wheeler squad at Abner Doubleday Field at 10 a.m., Sunday.