So close: Tolman falls to MSC in D-II semis

So close: Tolman falls to MSC in D-II semis

Tolman runner Bellamy Gutierrez, left, keeps his right hand on second base under a cloud of dust as he steals the base by sliding around the tag of Mount Saint Charles shortstop Isaiah Lee during the first inning of last Wednesday’s playoff game at Pierce Field. The Mounties advanced to this week’s finals at McCoy Stadium by posting a 2-1 victory. (Breeze photo by Kayla Panu)
Tigers suffer 2-1 loss in deciding game of best-of-three series

EAST PROVIDENCE – A close best-of-three semifinal-round series between Tolman High and Mount Saint Charles Academy for a spot in this week’s Division II championship series went down to the wire in their third and deciding game last Wednesday night at Pierce Field.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Mount came out with the decisive 2-1 victory by erasing a 1-0 deficit with runs in the top of the fifth and sixth innings.

“That was exciting high school baseball,” Tolman head coach Theo Murray said.

The Mounties had taken the series opener, 6-5, but the Tigers came back the next day to post a 4-0 win. With all three games being played in as many days, there was no time for resting pitchers. Andrew Roy and Izaiah Rivera-Lopez had worked the first two games, so senior Steven Kent was called upon to make his most important start of the season.

Thomas Burke got the start for the Mounties, and this game ended up as a pitcher’s duel and defensive affair. Both teams each had one error, but also made excellent great plays, and Roy and Burke went the distance.

While Burke ended up with a five-hitter, Kent scattered eight hits and walked just one batter. As for the defense behind him, Murray decided to put sophomore Lonnie Santiago in left field. Santiago had been playing second base, but showed his pension for great plays by making a full-out, diving grab on a long foul ball in the fourth inning.

“(Kent) can peck, he can peck, and he’d get behind, but battle back and throw a lot of pitches,” Murray said. “Today, he was great. We had our chances with him throwing and Lonnie (Santiago) making plays out there.”

Both pitchers were on point to start the game, but the Tigers struck for their run in the bottom of the third inning. Kent led off with a base hit into center field, and after he took second on a wild pitch and tagged up and went to third on a flyout to right, he scored on a two-out infield throwing error.

Kent had pitched two-hit ball through the first four innings, but in the fifth, Mount tied the score when Dan Johnson scored on a two-out single up the middle by Anthony Cook.

Johnson led off with a line single to left and went to second on a passed ball, but Kent retired the next two batters on a popout to first and a flyout to right that allowed Johnson to tag up and head to third. Cook then hit the first pitch he saw to center to drive in Johnson.

Things got dicey in the sixth for the Tigers, as Trey Bourque and Everett Misto both led off with singles. Kent got the next batter to fly out, but he walked Burke to load the bases. Johnson then hit a line drive to Santiago that was deep enough to allow Bourque to tag up and score the go-ahead run.

But the Tigers did not count themselves out, as they tried to battle back in their half of the sixth. Justin Klemanchuck led off with a single to right and was sacrificed over to second on a bunt from Gutierrez, and after Rivera-Lopez walked, Jeff LaRose flew out to left for the second out.

That brought Alex Medeiros to the plate, and on a 1-1 count, Klemanchuck took off for third. Medeiros smoked a single into left, and Klemanchuck was being waved around third, but left fielder Bryan Testa fielded the hit cleanly and fired a strike to his catcher, Trey Bourque.

It was a perfect one-hop throw that beat Klemanchuck, and despite his slight collision at the plate with Klemanchuck, Bourque was able to hold onto the ball for the final out.

Murray said that in the middle of the season, his team was not scoring a lot of runs and losing close one-run games, so they amped up the pressure on the bases and began to produce more scoring.

“He’s my fastest guy,” Murray said about sending Klemanchuck. “The kid made a great, perfect throw, a textbook, one-hopper. We had our fastest guy going and we had to take a chance. I told the guys I would (wave him home) again 100 times over.”

The Mounties tried to add an insurance run in the seventh, but Kent and the Tigers got out of the jam by getting a 4-6-3 double play. But in the bottom of the inning, Burke induced a fly out to right and back-to-back strikeouts to give Mount the win and a spot in this week’s finals against Barrington.

“I’m proud of my kids,” said Murray, whose team ends its D-II season with a 14-9 mark and was seeking its first berth in the finals since 2015. “We started out slow and fell into a lull, and I wasn’t sure if we were going to make the playoffs. Then we started turning it around, and we went on a good run where we won eight out of nine games.”

In order to reach the semifinals, the Tigers defeated Woonsocket in their playoff opener, 4-2, and West Warwick two days later in the quarterfinals, 6-0, and Murray said his team had its hands full in its game with Woonsocket.

“We got pressured in that game,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t know how we got out of that game. We were getting no-hit into the fifth, but we scraped three hits together, and the next thing you know, we won, 4-2. I’m proud. We had a good year.”

After realigning the divisions into two separate groups, the RIIL also changed the makeup of the playoffs. Instead of a double-elimination format, the preliminary round and quarterfinals were single elimination. That caused some upsets, as the top teams from both D-II brackets, were ousted quickly in Middletown, North Providence, St. Raphael Academy, and Mount Hope.

“From my point of view, obviously, I’m going to say that I like it,” Murray said of the new format. “I like the two (single-elimination games) to get here, because even when it was double elimination, you really needed to win three games in a row to get in a good position in the winner’s bracket of your pod.

“But if you win two games in a row, you get to a best-of-three. I like it. I think in the future, what we’re going to ask for is maybe instead of just two teams getting a bye, maybe four get one. We’ll see.”