WESTERLY —Stonington's Connie Mack baseball team relied on pitching to carry the Stonington-Westerly co-op unit to a 12-3 regular season record and a berth into the state tournamentquarterfinals.
Pitching is usually a crucial ingredient for playoff success in this high school wooden-bat league. Unfortunately for Stonington, the summer squad ran into pitching a little stingier than theirs in a quarterfinal matchup between the two regular-season divisional second-place teams.
Cranston, 2018 league playoff runner-up last season, completed a two-game sweep of Stonington in the quarterfinals Saturday with a 6-2 victory at Cimalore Field. Quinn Lanigan fired a complete-game, five-hitter with nine strikeouts for the win. Cranston won the opener, 3-0, behind Noah Rennick's three-hitter Friday.
"We ran into some high-end pitching, especially Friday, but you expect that the deeper you go in the playoffs," Stonington coach Nate Cahoone said. "We did well in the regular season first half offensively with timely hits. Lately, we haven't produced quality contact. Pitching wise, we hung in there but we don't have a deep staff to attack the playoff schedule of a game nearly every day."
In playoff action, Stonington opened with a 13-1 win over East Providence in a preliminary series before being shut out, 3-0, in game two there. The locals won that series after East Providence forfeited the decisive third game.
After limiting Stonington to two runs in the quarterfinals, Cranston advances to the semifinals starting Tuesday against the winner of Chariho and Narragansett. The latter won the 2018 playoffs.
Dean Pons gave Stonington a quality start with five one-run innings Friday. Saturday, starter Drew Champagne and reliever Isaac Martin gave up four runs for a 4-1 deficit after four. Reliever Dorian White, usually an infielder, stabilized the game by getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth before retiring the side in order in the fifth and sixth.
Stonington tied the score at 1-1 in the first when Sam Casedei singled and scored on Jackson Shaffer's single.
Lanigan, using a fastball and curve to go with the home-plate umpire's wide strike zone, got stronger the second time around the Stonington batting order.
The right-hander pitched five scoreless innings from the second to seventh, striking out the side in the fourth and fanning two apiece in the fifth and sixth.
Stonington got on the board with a run in the seventh on Lukas McAlister's run-scoring double.
Though disappointed with Stonington's ouster, Cahoone labeled this season a success. Stonington and Westerly had planned to field separate Connie Mack teams this season. Because of a lack of coaching commits, the teams merged to form one squad of Stonington and Westerly players.
"It was a good group of kids," Cahoone said. "The kids got along well and bonded together. The point of this league is to give high school kids, especially those coming back, extra reps. The high school coaches do a good job of getting kids to come out and benefit by the extra playing experience. Whether this remains one team for two towns like this year depends on what kind of commitment there is after next high school season."