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WESTERLY — Arguably more than any unit of the team, Westerly High’s pitching depth carried the Bulldogs to a 15-4-1 overall record and the Division II-South regular season title.
It will be severely tested if the Bulldogs hope to make another long run in the Division II playoffs this season.
The No. 3 seed Bulldogs opened Region III play Thursday with a 2-1 loss in eight innings to No. 14 Central High of Providence at Cimalore Field in a game where pitching came through again.
But now Westerly, which reached the Division II final series last season, must stay alive in an elimination game on Saturday at home against Chariho, 1 p.m.
The Bulldogs likely will be without ace Kyle Gencarelli, who threw six arduous innings of one-run ball Thursday.
“Any time you get down in the losers’ bracket after the first game it’s huge,” Westerly coach Bob Cahoone said. “But this team is capable of bouncing back. We have to score runs and not rely so much on our pitching and defense. We needed to push across a second run to get some breathing room but couldn’t.”
After Gencarelli escaped a jam in the first inning with no runs, Westerly answered like a higher-seeded team with a run in the bottom of the inning.
Leadoff batter Kyle Allen singled and scored on Bryce Lombardo’s double, but Lombardi was left stranded in scoring position.
Pitching dominated the rest of the game.
Central (11-9-1, 10-6 for fifth place in Division-II Central) used three right-handers, and all three threw pretty hard and mixed curveballs to keep the Bulldogs off balance and limit them to four hits. The Knights also played tighter defense than the Bulldogs, picking a runner off base and showing good outfield arms.
Central’s batters ran up Gencarelli’s pitch count by fouling off numerous pitches. Gencarelli (3-2, 1.88 ERA) allowed four hits, walked three and hit a batter while striking out three.
Westerly and Central played to a 5-5 tie in the season opener in March. The Bulldogs used five pitchers in that nonleague game.
“We have some good pitchers, but we’ve been a little inconsistent this year overall,” Central coach David Hanson said. “It’s been one good game and one bad game, but we have potential to be a sound team. We finished fifth in a good division and looked at this region as being pretty wide open.”
Westerly threatened in the third when Allen led off with a single and moved to third on a wild pitch. Lombardo moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt. With one out, Cam Newell lined out to center field. Allen was held at third base after a strong, one-hop throw to the plate. The Bulldogs, though, could not get a two-out hit and the score remained 1-0.
In Westerly’s fifth, designated hitter Chris Lombardo walked to lead off. But Central snuffed out one threat by picking off the pinch-runner at second base. Still Allen and Lombardo walked to pose another threat before relief pitcher Kevin Alvarez fanned Westerly’s top hitter Cam Newell with a curveball.
Central’s Juan Reyes walked, stole second and was moved to third on a sacrifice bunt in the sixth. He scored on a one-out single to tie the score at 1-1.
Reyes again came through in the eighth off Westerly reliever Brenton Rayner, hitting a sinking liner to right-center that center-fielder Joey Baldini just missed on a diving catch. Reyes moved to third on a wild pitch with one out.
Central was calling for a suicide squeeze bunt for the go-ahead run, but Rayner seemingly picked the runner off third base only to see his throw not caught, allowing Reyes to score the second run.
“We’re not sure what happened yet on that play,” Cahoone said.
“Still, the batter ended up hitting a shot to left that Bryce caught with a diving catch, so the run would have scored on a sacrifice fly.
“This was an evenly-match game with two good teams. Central is not your everyday lowest seed in a four-team regional. They play good fundamental ball and play great defense on the infield. We’ve battled them before in the playoffs.”
In 2011, Westerly beat Central in a Region 4 winners’ bracket game, 14-2, only to see the Knights come back to win 3-1 and 6-5 to advance. Last year, Westerly did not play Central, winning three straight in Region 1 before upending higher-seeded Chariho in three games in the semifinals.
Westerly swept Chariho in two games this season, 13-9, April 10 at Chariho and 10-5 at Cimalore May 5. Cahoone listed Jake Garro as the starting pitcher.