WOONSOCKET -- While a few East Woonsocket Little League officials re-manicured Hartnett Field after the late Monday afternoon downpour, Lincoln All-Stars’ head coach Frank Kelly quietly told a parent, “I’ll be happy just to get out of here with a win.”
His players more than obliged. Behind a stellar starting pitching performance by righty Joe Voccola, not to mention a pair of pinch-hit home runs, Lincoln posted a 6-4 triumph over East Woonsocket’s best in a R.I. District IV Tournament Pool A playoff tilt.
With the victory, Kelly’s crew recorded its second straight tourney win, that after a 12-0 thumping of North Smithfield on Saturday. East Woonsocket – which had mustered a thrilling, walk-off 5-4 victory over Glocester the same day, courtesy of registering a pair in the bottom of the sixth – fell to 1-1 in pool play.
Long before the game even started, Kelly won the traditional coin flip to determine the home team, but chose to bat first. He claimed he did so because that’s the same format the father-son coaching tandem of Randy and Charlie Hien used to follow.
“It IS a Hien thing,” Kelly smiled afterward. “It’s something they always did, and it’s become kind of a Lincoln tradition. There are many theories behind it, and the reason I think they went that direction was because they wanted to jump on (the opponent) right away.
“It’s not an automatic with me, though,” he added. It’s going to depend on who we’re playing and where, as well as other circumstances, but it sure worked here.”
Kelly applauded Voccola for assembling a solid outing; in 4 1/3 frames, he allowed only two hits, two runs (both earned) and three walks while fanning eight. He also tossed a wild pitch.
East Woonsocket starter Jimmy Cabral, who had a key, solo sixth-inning blast to knot Glocester at 4-4 on Saturday, had problems with his location from the beginning. He lasted just 2 1/3, yielding five hits, five runs (all earned) and four walks while whiffing a quintet.
In addition, he had four wild offerings and hit a batter.
“Our goal coming in was to make Cabral throw a lot of pitches from the outset, and that’s just what happened,” Kelly stated. “I knew the kid threw gas, but he could be a little wild. We knew coming in that, if we got Cabral out of the game on his pitch count, we’d probably face a lefty (in Flynn). He threw, what, 40 pitches in the first inning? That was key.”
In the top of the first, Connor Sheehan roped a leadoff single to left and immediately moved to second on Cabral’s first wild pitch. Kyle Marrapese then worked a walk, and both moved up on a passed ball before Sheehan scored on his second wild throw.
With Marrapese at third, Cabral again unleashed a low pitch to Derek Degnan, and as he raced to first on the fourth ball, Marrapese came in for the 2-0 cushion.
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It appeared East Woonsocket would slice the deficit in half in the bottom half, when Cabral reached on a one-out fielder’s choice, took second on an infield fielding error and attempted to score when Kevin Fragoso laced a grounder into left. Degnan, though, delivered a perfect throw to the plate, and backstop Connor Benbenek applied the tag for the final out.
Lincoln stranded two in the second, but didn’t make the same mistake in the third. Steven Andrews led off the frame by pounding a full-count fastball 220 feet over the center-field fence, and – with one down – pinch-hitter Isaac Taylor ripped a double to right-center before fellow pinch-batter Evan Grivers walloped his two-run dinger over the fence in left. That one traveled at least 230 feet.
East Woonsocket mentor Bob Cahill replaced Cabral, who finished with 79 deliveries, with his catcher, southpaw Sean Flynn, though pinch-hitter Kyle Smith reached on a two-out, infield miscue. Smith moved to second on a wild pitch, and Sheehan’s rope single to center plated him. That gave Lincoln what seemed an insurmountable 6-0 cushion.
The home team would not go quietly. On a 1-1 count, Hezekiah Adeyeye drilled a leadoff homer to right-center, and – with one down – Voccola walked T.J. Cahill; that’s when Kelly decided to bring in Degnan, who quickly struck out Zach Lorusso for the middle out.
“We pulled (Voccola) at 80 (pitches) because he only had five left (per Little League Baseball, Inc. regulations), and I thought he was tiring. We also wanted to chang it up and go with Degnan, who throws heat.”
But Cabral singled to center, and Flynn drew a base-on-balls to juice the bags. Cahill scored on another wild pitch, and a walk to Fragoso re-loaded the bases before Jaelin Jackson punched a two-run hit to right.
The flurry ended there when Degnan fanned Noah Desplaines for the last out.
In the bottom of the sixth, Degnan struck out the side, and Lincoln celebrated the win that pushed it to 2-0 in Pool B action.
“We just fell a little short; we spotted them too many runs early on,” the elder Cahill said following the defeat. “I thought we helped (Voccola) out; we knew he threw heat, but he was all over the place, and we weren’t as disciplined as I had hoped.
“I had told out guys to come out ready from the outset,” he added. “We had a lot of walks, and a few wild pitches turned out to be the difference.”
Offered Kelly: “I’m sure some people were thinking East Woonsocket was a pushover, but I knew it wasn’t. That’s a good team they have over there. I must admit I was surprised with a pinch-hit double and then a pinch-hit home run back-to-back. I was hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, and Taylor and Grivers supplied it.”
Undefeated Lincoln will travel to Glocester for Game No. 3 (there are five teams in D-IV’s Pool A, so each squad plays four) at 5:30 p.m., Friday. East Woonsocket, on the other hand, will trek to Smithfield, a 14-4 victor over North Smithfield also Monday), at the same time.
“We really need to get to the crossover game,” Kelly noted of the semifinal, one in which the champion of Pool B will face the Pool A runner-up, and vice-versa. “It’s going to be at Randy Hien Field (beside Lonsdale Elementary School) on Saturday, July 14, so – obviously – we want to be there.
“But there’s still a long way to go. You never know with Little League ball.”