Second season begins for middle schools

Second season begins for middle schools

North Smithfield Middle School catcher Devin Albino tags out Gallagher Middle School's Justin Gorgone as he tried to score from third on a ground ball during their regular season finale last week at Burgess Field. Gallagher won the game, 11-4, and earned a berth in the state playoffs in the process. (Valley Breeze & Observer photo by Paul R. Dubois)

The real season begins this week for the Rhode Island middle school baseball teams as the 16 playoff teams have been set.

Last week, Gallagher Middle School of Smithfield joined the sweet 16 by taking a must-win decision, 11-4, over North Smithfield, in the final Northern Division game of the regular season.

Had North Smithfield won, that team would have made the playoffs and Gallagher would be on the outs.

The Northmen started strong, plating three runs in the initial inning off Gallagher starter Kyle Haberle on a pair of bunt singles and several errors.

But the Gallagher boys roared back by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the frame. Gallagher juiced the bases on an error, walk and infield single by Haberle.

The next batter, Dante Lewis, hit a bouncer to third that was fielded cleanly by Kyle Davenport, and he fired a chest-high strike to the plate to get the lead runner, but the ball was dropped for an error. After Harrison Maio lined out, Morgan Doughty ripped an RBI single to left to plate the second run. A strikeout followed, and then the flood gates opened.

Jose Paiva's grounder to the left side found the hole between third and shortstop, knocking in the tying run. A walk forced in the go-ahead run, and leadoff batter Justin Tedeschi came through with a clutch RBI single up the middle for another run. A walk forced in the sixth run, and then Haberle lifted a routine pop to second base. With two down, the runners were on the move at the crack of the bat, and when the ball was dropped, two more runs had crossed the plate.

After the first inning, Haberle settled down, allowing only one run the rest of the way and setting the side down in order in the second and fourth innings.

Maio came on to close out the game.

"It was the best that Haberle has pitched all season, and after the first inning, he settled down and was dominant the rest of the way," said Gallagher coach Kyle Van Rossum. "North Smithfield is a very good team that finished 7-7, the same as other teams that made the playoffs. It's too bad they didn't get in. I think they could have made some noise."

Gallagher finished the regular season at 9-5, the same record as Lincoln, but Lincoln was awarded third place via tiebreakers.

North Cumberland is the division champs and earned the top seed in the state tournament by being the only team with an unblemished record, finishing at 14-0. Burrillville was second at 11-3.

"It's nice winning the division and being the top seed, but we've seen from previous experience, that while the home field advantage can help, it does not guarantee success," said NCMS coach Steve Cardoso. "We lost at home in the quarterfinals a year ago."

North Cumberland was scheduled to play Martin Middle School of East Providence, the fourth-place team in the Central Division, which finished the regular season at 7-7.

"Half of this tournament is figuring out your pitching rotation," said Cardoso. "Right now, we think we will hold back our ace, Zack Fogell, for the second round. We believe we can win in the first round with our other pitchers."

Lincoln will play at Burrillville. The teams split during the regular season, but since then, Lincoln has lost a number of players who left the squad for a variety of reasons.

Burrillville coach Dave Sherman said his team has come on, beat Lincoln the second time they played during the season, and only lost to North Cumberland the rest of the way.

"North is tough, especially with that Fogell kid pitching," said Sherman. "We've made a few changes as the season went along and they have worked out to make us a better team. We're hoping to make a deep run."

Gallagher's reward for making the playoffs will be to travel to Westerly.

Other pairings are Wickford against Feinstein, with the winner of that game scheduled to play the winner of the North Cumberland-Martin contest; Kickemuit, defending champs, against Riverside; Cole against Chariho; Ponaganset against Davisville, and Portsmouth hosting Ricci of North Providence. The initial rounds were scheduled to be played this week.