Despite opening the tournament as one of the favorites, the Cranston 14-year-old Babe Ruth all-star team found out just how hard it is to repeat as champions.
Playing in the New England regional tournament in Winooski, Vt., the Cranston stars couldn’t defend the New England title they won as 13-year-olds. The team won its opening game 9-6 over Central Maine, but dropped the next two to bow out of the tournament.
Still, nobody was hanging their heads when it was all said and done. After a run to the 13-year-old Babe Ruth World Series a year ago and a second consecutive state title this summer, Cranston has had an enviable two-year run.
“We represented the state well and the kids really handled it well as far as getting beat,” Cranston manger Mike Rice said. “It just didn’t fall for us. That’s why we play them, and that’s that metaphor for life.”
The regional started out well for Cranston, which grabbed its victory over Central Maine on Saturday.
Cranston went down 1-0 in the first, but rebounded to score two in the second, four in the third, one in the fifth and two in the top of the sixth to seize control late.
“It was a tight game all the way,” Rice said. “We kind of broke it open in the last couple innings.”
Travis Collins went 3-for-3 at the plate with two doubles and three RBI, while Matt Shapiro added a three-run home run and a double. Andrew Ciacciarelli went 2-for-2.
Dan Smith started on the mound, and Collins relieved him in the fourth. In the seventh, John Beneduce came in to finish the game.
Both teams finished with 11 hits, but it was Cranston that came away with the win. That gave it some confidence heading into its second game, a match-up on Sunday with Pomperaug, Conn.
Collins added to the confidence when he led off the game with a home run, putting Cranston up 1-0.
Yet, after that, there wasn’t very much to cheer about.
“We really were confident going into the game, but after that home run we didn’t do much,” Rice said.
When it was all said and done, Pomperaug had exploded for a 14-4, six-inning mercy-rule shortened victory.
Pomperaug scored in five of the six innings, getting two in the first, three in the second, one in the third, four in the fourth and four in the sixth.
Gersham Rainone, Beneduce, Ciacciarelli and Matt Sweeney shared the pitching duties for Cranston.
“We didn’t play well,” Rice said. “We made mental mistakes and physical errors.”
On Monday, facing elimination, a rough start against Franklin City, Vt., did Cranston in.
After falling behind 6-0, it rallied but eventually fell 8-4 to end its stay at the tournament.
Smith, Rainone, Sweeney and Collins all pitched, while Collins Beneduce and Ciacciarelli all had multiple hits.
But it just wasn’t enough to overcome Franklin City’s lead. Franklin City led 2-0 after two innings and it scored four more in the fourth to go up 6-0. Cranston scored two of its own in the fourth and two in the fifth, but Franklin City scored two in the fifth as well to keep Cranston at an arm’s length.
The loss was a combination of strong play from Franklin City and some tough luck for Cranston.
Late in the game, Mike Napolitano and Matt Shapiro both hit balls that nearly went out of the park but ended up just shy of the fence.
Those shots, combined with a number of balls that seemed to be hit right at people, added up to more outs than runs and didn’t allow Cranston to break out.
“We hit more balls at people,” Rice said. “In my 25 years I’ve never seen anything like that. We just hit liners. And all the teams hit the ball, so I’m not making excuses, but ours just didn’t fall in. It was just, ‘When are they going to fall?’ And they never fell.”
And as a result, Cranston finished its season a little earlier than it wanted to.
But Rice was proud of the whole team, and pointed to not only the starters but the bench players too for contributing and keeping a positive attitude throughout the tournament.
League president John Enright helped the team along the way, and assistant coaches Matt Rice and Vincent Marcaccio were also big parts of the team’s success over the summer,
“They did an incredible job of keeping the kids focused and together,” Rice said.
It just wasn’t meant to be this time around.
“We didn’t have a lot of luck, and you need luck,” Rice said. “I don’t care how good you are – you need a little luck.”