Cougars take over sole possession of first place

Cougars take over sole possession of first place

North Providence senior shortstop Tom Krikorian, shown getting ready to throw out a runner after scooping up a sharp grounder to his right during last Wednesday afternoon’s game against Classical, turned in a solid effort defensively and added a run-scoring single in the fourth inning to help the Cougars grab an 8-0 victory. The Cougars, who are 11-3 and in first place in the Division II-B standings, will take on Mount Pleasant in their two-game series this week. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Baseball team shuts out Classical, enters week with half-game lead over SRA in Division II-B standings

PROVIDENCE – It was on the North Providence High baseball team’s walk from right field to its dugout – following the Cougars’ 8-0 victory over Classical and post-game meeting in the outfield last Wednesday at Davis Park – when a player checked his phone and learned on social media that St. Raphael Academy had dropped a 3-2 decision to Westerly.

When that player shared that score with his teammates and coaches, it meant that the Cougars were no longer tied for first place with the Saints in the Division II-B standings. And while that news drew quite a few smiles among the players, it merely made head coach Dean Garganese shrug his shoulders.

“It’s too soon to get excited,” said Garganese. “We have four (league) games left, and I know what could happen in four games. To me, four games is an eternity.”
Garganese spent a couple of minutes after last Wednesday’s victory, which completed NP’s home-and-away series sweep of Classical, talking about the past and the present, but he clearly didn’t want to chat about his team’s future or hopes of winning the regular-season title.

“I don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse and start thinking about playoffs or anything like that,” he said. “I know we qualified for them, but I just want to focus on one game at a time. I know it’s cliché, but I don’t want anyone, based on our record, to maybe look ahead. I want to keep the attention where it needs to be, and that’s on the game or the practice that we have at that particular time.”

The previous week, the Cougars saw a seven-game win streak come undone when Mount Saint Charles Academy swept their series with NP by scores of 5-3 and 10-0 to jump into the race for first place. The Cougars enter this week with an 11-3 record that’s a half-game better than the Saints’ 10-3 mark, and a game-and-a-half behind SRA are Mount (9-5) and Westerly (8-4).

“I think Mount is strong in all aspects of the game,” said Garganese. “Last week, I thought they showed great pitching, hit the ball very well, and played excellent defense. To worry about a team that’s next to us (in the standings) and not worry about the teams that are right behind us is a big mistake, and I think Mount Saint Charles and Westerly are dangerous. You don’t want to underestimate them.”

It was tough for anyone not to underestimate Classical last Wednesday, especially after NP rolled to an 11-0 victory two afternoons earlier in the series opener. But for three innings, the Purple’s pitcher, Jason Hernandez, kept the Cougars off the board, allowing just one hit.

But the Cougars, who ended up with 11 hits in the game, erupted for five runs in the top of the fourth, as five of their first seven batters collected hits. John DeCarmo and Tom Krikorian socked RBI singles to kick off the rally, and after Ben Rastelli’s base hit to left field drove in two more runs, Matt Mandeville drove in Rastelli with a long double that hit off the base of the fence in left.

That was more than enough support for Rioles, who improved his record to 5-1 by blanking Classical in six strong innings of work. Rioles allowed just two hits, struck out 11 batters (include the side in order in the fourth), walked three, and retired the final 11 batters he faced.

Rioles, who pitched his first career varsity shutout against North Smithfield on April 25, didn’t come back out for the seventh after his pitch count reached 97. Southpaw Ryan O’Connell pitched the seventh and had no issues preserving the Cougars’ third shutout in their last six games.

“I just felt that P.J. had done his job and we established a comfortable lead,” Garganese said when asked about the late-inning hook. “And I really have been trying to give Ryan some time (on the mound) and let him get into a comfort zone. We’ve been basicially relying on (starting pitchers Dom) Pontarelli and Rioles, and I know that if we are going to be successful in the next few weeks, then I have to establish more than just those two guys.”

Offensively, Ron Baccala and DeCarmo each led the Cougars with three hits, while Mandeville ended up with two. Baccala also scored three runs, Christian Matarese drove in two, and Rastelli, who got beaned in the sixth inning, stole four bases.

The Cougars will next play Mount Pleasant in their two-game series this week, with the Cougars hosting this afternoon’s 4 p.m. opener and the Kilties entertaining NP in tomorrow’s 4 p.m. rematch.

Next week, all eyes will be on the Cougars’ important two-game series with the Saints, which will see SRA host next Monday’s 4 p.m. opener at Pawtucket’s Vets Park and the Cougars welcome the Saints to their field two afternoons later.

North Providence senior catcher Ben Rastelli get beaned in the helmet with a fastball during the top of the sixth inning of last Wednesday’s game against Classical. Rastelli reached base three times and had four of the Cougars’ seven stolen bases in helping NP roll to an 8-0 victory. The first-place Cougars entered this week with an 11-3 record and a half-game cushion over St. Raphael Academy in the Division II-B standings.