If you want proof that baseball can sometimes be a cruel game of inches, look no further than what happened to the Portsmouth Little League Major All-Stars during their quest for a state championship in North Providence Saturday night.
PORTSMOUTH — If you want proof that baseball can sometimes be a cruel game of inches, look no further than what happened to the Portsmouth Little League Major All-Stars during their quest for a state championship in North Providence Saturday night.
After being drubbed 8-0 by District 4 champs Cumberland on Friday at Lee Romano Field, Portsmouth, being in the winner’s bracket, still had another chance to win it all the next night against the same team.
But the team soon found itself down early again — 4-0 after the second inning. A first-pitch home run to left-center by Portsmouth’s Lachlan Bronson cut the lead to 4-1 in the third, but his teammates couldn’t manufacture any hits in the next two innings, striking out five times.
So things looked pretty bleak going into the top of the sixth and final inning, with Portsmouth still down by three runs. And when leadoff hitter Tyler Doucet’s screaming liner to right — one of the hardest-hit balls of the night — was somehow snagged by Cumberland first baseman Evan Vitti on a leaping grab, it looked all but over.
But then catcher Ryan Campion singled to left and, on a 2-2 count, Portsmouth centerfielder Tyler Boiani drove one over the right field fence. Suddenly, it was 4-3, and shortstop Ben Humm snaked a ball up the middle for a single with only one out.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, as Mason Smith popped up and Brady Fanning struck out, sending Cumberland players to the middle of the field to celebrate their state championship.
After the game, Portsmouth manager Bob Campion lamented over could have been. If Doucet’s hard liner hadn’t been snared before Boiani came to the plate, Portsmouth could have at least knotted things up.
“That saves the tie,” he said of the impressive catch for the out. “That’s easily a double well down the line. Then Ryan hits one into center, and (there would be) two runners on for (Boiani). That’s baseball.”
It was a tough loss, but Campion said he was proud of the way his team battled back after being down early for the second night in a row.
“After last night’s fiasco, I think everybody counted us out right away. There were a couple of knockout punches last night, and I think they thought we weren’t going to get off the canvas,” he said.
He also paid tribute to Cumberland, who Portsmouth had edged in the opening round of the tournament, 3-2 (Portsmouth then topped North Kingstown/Wickford, 7-6).
“Good pitching stops good hitting. (Cumberland) did that yesterday, and for the longest time they did that today. They did better on the mound,” Campion said. “You have to tip your cap to good pitching, and timely hitting for Cumberland. I hope Cumberland represents Rhode Island well in the Metro Regional down in Bristol (Conn.).”
Paxton Chenevert, Cumberland’s starter Saturday, seemed to have most of the Portsmouth hitters off balance all night, quick-pitching them at times and mixing up speeds.
It was an unfortunate way to go out for Portsmouth, especially seeing how the team played up until the weekend.
“They lost two games the whole season,” Campion said. “Unfortunately, it had to be these two. But they were among the last two teams playing the state of Rhode Island and they shouldn’t hang their heads."
His players “are an eclectic bunch, to say the least,” he said.
“They’re a good bunch of kids and I’ve been working with some of them since they were 7, and most of them since they were 8. I’m proud of what they did,” said Campion, adding that the boys out-performed expectations all year.
“On paper, I didn’t even figure them on winning the district,” he said, noting that eight players were on the same team last year, with nowhere near the same success. “What a difference a year makes.”
Friday’s “fiasco,” as Campion termed it, was a game that Portsmouth just never was in. The second inning was a disaster, with starter Boiani — who had pretty much dominated this same Cumberland team just a week earlier — gave up a grand slam to third baseman Cameron Slack after one batter had reached on an error and another walked. That made it 5-0 Cumberland, which added runs in the third and fifth innings to win it 8-0.
Riven Patel started on the mound for Portsmouth on Saturday. He threw a lot of pitches — 60 — in the first two innings, and had to be relieved by Mason Smith by the fourth inning.
Patel hit a batter with the bases loaded in the first inning, scoring Cumberland’s first run. He and Portsmouth’s defense struggled in the fourth inning, when Cumberland scored all of its four runs. After getting Colby Pare to ground out, Patel gave up a base hit to Dean Corvello before Tyler Lamora popped out. With two outs, Cumberland’s Cameron Slack’s grounder got through to the outfield, and Corvello scored from first, just barely beating the tag by catcher Campion.
Cumberland’s Ryan Amaral then struck out, but the ball got away and he safely made it to first as Slack came home to score, making it 3-0. Dylan Slack then singled, putting runners on first and second, and Chenabert doubled to right, scoring a run to make it 4-0.
Smith pitched well in relief, getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth and needing only eight pitches in the fifth, both scoreless innings for Cumberland.