SCITUATE — Showdowns don’t get any better than this – first place sitting on the line, ace pitchers dueling each other, and extra innings needed to decide the outcome.
For Tolman, victories don’t get any better than the ones they nailed down on the road on Monday afternoon against Division II-North foe Scituate at Manning Field.
Joey Fernandes and Nick Kempf delivered clutch two-out hits that knocked in runs late in the contest, and Carlos Sanabria was splendid in pitching a five-hitter to help Tolman bus home with a 5-4 victory and take over sole possession of first place in the standings.
The win was the 10th in a row – eighth in league action – for the surging Tigers, who are 10-1 in the division and 12-1 overall and suffered their defeat back on April 18 in an ugly 10-1 loss to the Spartans at Slater Park.
For 5½ innings, this day certainly looked like it was going to belong to Tolman. Not only was Sanabria dealing zeroes and working on a one-hit gem, but the Tigers also held a 3-0 lead with solo runs in the first, third, and fourth innings off Scituate ace Ryan Cabral.
The Tigers also caught a break in the top of the fourth, when with one out, Corey Hughes belted a long fly ball over the head of center fielder Evan Cabral and to the fence, where it appeared to roll under the fence near the 337-foot sign.
But instead of Hughes’ hit being ruled a ground-rule double, it was declared a home run, which drew the protests of Cabral, right fielder Nick Pietrantozzi, and Scituate first-year head coach Dave “Doc” Hanson, but remained a round-tripper.
But the Spartans, who are 9-2 and enjoying their best start in recent memory, refused to call it an early afternoon and battled back for four runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Singles by Scott Lynch and Jim Gianquitti opened the inning, and Evan Cabral, who four pitches into his at-bat, thought he struck out on an inside fastball that was called a ball, responded with a long double into the gap in left-center to drive in Lynch.
An intentional walk to Ryan Cabral then loaded the bases for Scott Iacobucci, who drove in Gianquitti and moved the Cabral brothers into scoring position with a groundout, and Pietrantozzi followed with a line single to left to bring in two runs and give the Spartans the lead.
Tolman then bravely responded in its final swings to force bonus baseball. An infield hit by Kempf was followed by an intentional walk to Sanabria, and after Nate Gagnon got both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, Alex Lopez, who tripled to right in his previous at-bat, flew out to shallow center for the second out,
But that’s when Fernandes stepped to the plate, and he promptly lined a single to right to drive in Kempf with the tying run and keep the game going.
“I called him over (before his at-bat) and I said to him, ‘You know, as a senior, this is a big spot. This is what big players do,’ recalled Tolman coach Theo Murray, “and Joey came through with the biggest hit of the year for not only us, but for him.”
In the eighth, it was Kempf’s turn to deliver a clutch hit. With two gone and no one on base, Jason Maynard reached on a two-base throwing error, and Kempf, who went 3-for-4 with two runs scored in the game, ripped a line single up the middle to plate Maynard.
“We’re up 3-0 and they come back and put a four-spot up, and it’s very easy for a team to just say, ‘You know what? It’s not our day. We had our chances and we let it go,’” noted Murray. “But I’m learning. I’m learning that this team has that fight in them, and they do. They challenged themselves and they kept fighting to the very end.”
Sanabria then finished off his 108-pitch outing by retiring the side in order in the eighth. After Pietrantozzi’s hit in the sixth, Sanabria set down eight of the final nine batters he faced, and while he only struck out three batters, he only had the one intentional walk and he didn’t allow his first hit until Iacobucci doubled with two outs in the fourth.
“Going into the game – and I’m sure Dave felt the same way – the Cy Young winner out of Division II-North is going to come out of this game,” said Murray. “I thought (Ryan Cabral) did a fantastic job. I take nothing away from him. I thought he was very good at times mixing his pitches up. He’s a very good pitcher, and that’s a good team over there.
“Carlos was tested a little bit today,” added Murray. “Those were the only earned runs he gave up this year. That’s a great team he faced, and he buckled down and he was getting stronger as we were getting toward the end.”
The Tigers, who collected 11 hits off Ryan Cabral, who went 7 2/3 innings before giving way to Evan Cabral after Kempf’s hit, also received a single and a long third-inning, run-scoring double to left-center from Sanabria, as well as two runs scored from Maynard.
The Tigers are back in action on Thursday with a 3:45 p.m. showdown at Max Read Field against crosstown rival Shea, and on Saturday at 11, they will visit third-place North Smithfield (7-3).
“We put ourselves in a good position today with this win,” added Murray, “but with five league games left, we need to continue to hold pace.”