The Cranston West baseball team has a 7-3 record this season, which is tied for the fifth-best mark in all of Division I. The Falcons are firmly in the upper echelon.
But they also can’t help but feel that they’ve missed a few opportunities to climb higher.
Monday’s game with St. Raphael was another one.
After rebounding from consecutive losses with two victories last week, the Falcons were sent back in the other direction by the Saints. Nick Cesino struck out 12 in a complete-game two-hitter, and the Saints did enough damage offensively to post a 5-1 victory.
For the Falcons, the game felt just like a 3-1 loss to Warwick Vets on April 20. And it was just as frustrating.
“We’ve lost three times, and two of those losses, we’ve had two hits in each game,” said West head coach Rob Malo. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a freshman team or St. Ray’s in this matter – two hits is not going to win.”
The Saints came in with a 2-7 record. But like Warwick Vets, which was 1-5 when it beat West two weeks ago, the Saints got a gem from a veteran pitcher. Cesino, a senior right-hander, allowed an infield hit in the fourth, a base hit in the sixth and nothing else.
“Their pitcher did a great job,” Malo said. “He kept the ball low. Our guys had a tough time with the low fastball, and he continued to live downstairs. We didn’t really do a good job adjusting to it.”
On the other side, West starter Rich Reo only allowed four hits, but walks came back to haunt him. Reo was charged with four runs, and all four of the runners who scored reached base on walks.
“We’ve said it since day one: walks, errors, extra baserunners, extra outs hurt you,” Malo said. “That was the case with this. We gave them runs just by putting guys on.”
The Saints took a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Zach Mitsmenn led off with a walk and stole second before Nicholas Karalekas delivered the first hit off Reo, a single to center. Andrew Veiga plated Mittsmen with a sacrifice fly to right. Reo walked the next two batters, but got out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a line drive that Anthony Crudale caught at second base.
It seemed like that escape might be a spark for the Falcons, and they did manage to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth. Joe Nicolace walked with one out, moved to second on a hit by pitch, took third on an infield hit by Billy Clarkin and scored on a passed ball.
But the Falcons quickly found themselves trailing again. In the top of the fifth, a one-out walk and singles by Karalekas and Veiga put the Saints back in front 2-1.
And this time, the Falcons couldn’t get out of the hole. Cesino worked around a one-out walk to pitch a scoreless fifth. Nicolace led off the sixth with a single to left and pinch runner Anthony Meola got all the way to third on a steal and a wild pitch. But he was stranded there as Cesino struck out two and induced a pop-out to shallow right field.
“We tried to make adjustments throughout the game,” Malo said. “We just didn’t do it. We kind of always take the approach of looking fastball and adjusting to the off-speed pitches. And take that good swing you had in the cage or on soft toss to the plate. A lot of times, we just didn’t have that same swing.”
That meant one run was going to be tough enough. Four looked almost insurmountable, and that’s the deficit West would soon face. The Saints tacked on three runs in the top of the seventh. Reo got the first out before the walking the next two batters, letting a run score on a wild pitch and leaving the game. Matt Rousseau came in and walked the first batter he faced. After a pop-out, the Saints’ Henry Mota cracked a single up the middle to score two.
The Falcons then went down in order in the bottom of the seventh, with Cesino striking out the side in impressive fashion.
“Even in a hitter’s count, we were just chasing balls that we shouldn’t have,” Malo said. “And when we got behind with two strikes, we didn’t do anything to protect.”
While the loss was another tough one to take, the Falcons are still in good position to chase one of the top four seeds.
Now it’s just about making it happen.
“It’s going to be a grind, and we kind of knew that coming in,” Malo said. “Nothing’s going to be easy. The season is a little more than half over. Now it’s playing for playoff seeds. It would be hard for us to win our division, being three games behind Hendricken. Our next thing is to play for that fourth seed and still be a No. 1 seed in a bracket. We want to stay up as high as we can. The next eight games, we’re playing for playoff seed, and that’s what it’s going to come down to.”