LINCOLN â Itâs very safe to say Cumberland High skipper Paul Murphy had hoped Thursday afternoonâs intense winds would affect rival Lincolnâs pitchers and fielders more than his own.
Through the first four frames of a Division I tilt at Chet Nichols Memorial Field, he didnât get his wish.
The Lions rushed out to a quick 5-2 lead after the third, but Cumberlandâs fortunes changed on a dime in the fifth. Behind only two hits but a pair of Lincoln errors, Murphyâs crew manufactured five runs and raced to what had seemed an improbable but satisfying 7-5 victory.
To his credit, junior righty Ryan OâNeill assembled a superb outing in relief of senior co-captain John Sikie. Over the final five, he yielded only three hits and a walk while whiffing a trio to gain for his squad its fifth straight triumph.
For junior starter Mason Palmieri, who had kept the Clippers at bay through four innings, it was pure frustration in the fifth. The righty fireballer, who has given a verbal agreement to play at Bryant University following graduation, took the loss after surrendering six hits, seven runs (three earned) and four walks while striking out a quartet.
When asked about the swirling gusts, Murphy answered this way: âActually, a week ago at Johnston, we had a really strong wind blowing in from left and funneling out to right, but we did a better job of fielding that day than here.
âWhen it blows this strong, I even had to talk to my pitcher because it can blow him a bit off kilter during his delivery,â he continued. âIt also affected his curveball; it was hanging a little bit more, and they hit it hard. It was just a tough day to do anything.
âBut Ryan did an outstanding job in relief. I canât say enough good things about his stint.â
The Clippers, who had started 0-3, moved to 5-3 on the campaign. Lincoln dropped to 2-6.
Offensively, junior Jake Rockefeller went 3-for-4 with an RBI, while senior Tyler Calabro finished 2-for-4 with a double and two runs and junior Nick Provost 0-for-1 with a pair of RBI.
Classmate Kyle Opiekun didnât muster a hit, but did post two runs and an RBI, and fellow junior Joe Fine (who had exhibited stellar defense at third) went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run.
Cumberland looked destined to gain an advantage in the first when Palmieri walked sophomore leadoff batter Josh Brodeur, who later stole second. He nevertheless fanned Calabro and Fine before forcing Sikie to ground harmlessly to short.
The Lions collected three in the back half, though it came in unusual fashion.
Senior Jeff Sheehan drilled a one-out single up the middle, then stole second before classmate Alec Cronan grounded to third. Sikie, though, hit junior Jake Petrin, then walked Trevor Marques to load the bags.
At that point, junior Ryan Havunen knocked a grounder to Calabro at short, who looked to make the play at first, but he fired low to first baseman Kyle McKenna. When the ball got past him, Sheehan, Petrin and Marques stunned their foes by rushing home, though Marques was thrown out by catcher Opiekun at third.
Murphyâs men immediately knifed the deficit to 3-1 after Opiekun reached on an infield error and took second on Rockefellerâs hit down the left-field line. The tandem moved up on McKennaâs groundout to second, and the former hustled in on Provostâs sacrifice fly to center.
Lincoln tacked on another in the second after Palmieri roped a hit to left, took second on Sikieâs wild pitch and third on senior Will Brittâs single before junior Nathan Taylorâs fielderâs choice. It nevertheless left two stranded.
Cumberland sliced it to 4-2 in the top of the third after Calabro crushed a one-out double down the left-field line and scored on Fineâs opposite-field hit to right.
The Lions answered that with a run immediately to make it 5-2. Petrin led off with a single to left and reached second following Marquesâ walk. Thatâs when Murphy chose to replace Sikie with OâNeill, but his wild offering pushed up the baserunners.
Palmieriâs one-out sacrifice fly to right plated Petrin.
The Clippers seemed in dire straits in the fourth after Sam Britto lined a one-out hit to center, Sheehan reached on a dropped pop in left and Alec Cronan laid down a perfect bunt single to juice the bases.
But Petrin grounded hard to third, and Fine threw to the plate and Opiekun fired to first to complete the 5-2-3 twin killing; more importantly, the visitors dodged a bullet, keeping it 5-2.
âThey had the bases loaded with one down, and that home-to-first double play was huge,â Murphy noted. âWe didnât give up any runs; if we had, the game wouldâve been over. I thought that was the key to the game.â
It certainly provided momentum. Cumberland sent 10 to the plate in the top of the fifth, though the flurry started so simply.
Junior Jax Domonte, batting ninth, and Brodeur both drew freebies from Palmieri, and Calabro singled up the middle to load the bags. Fine then whacked a grounder up the middle, one second baseman Taylor couldnât corral, and Domonte sprinted in.
Following a strikeout, Opiekun walked to plate Brodeur, and Rockefellerâs single scored Calabro.
When McKenna beat out another infield miscue, one that pulled in Fine, CHS had taken the lead for good at 6-5.
Opiekun eventually notched the clincher on Provostâs second sacrifice pop to right.
With two out in the bottom half of the fifth, Palmieri drew a two-out walk, and OâNeill struck Britt with a breaker, but he got pinch-hitter John Guarino to bounce into a fielderâs choice to end the frame.
OâNeill didnât pitch flawlessly, but it was good enough to secure the victory.
âAll I told the kids afterward was that we have to play a complete game,â head coach Andy Hallam said. âWe did make some adjustments, but we didnât play a full seven. The wind was giving everybody trouble.
âI will say that Mason battled out there; I think heâd tell you himself he didnât have his best stuff out there, but the wind was blowing, and baseball happened. When you play in this type of situation, itâs tough.
âI also told the kids after we scored three in the first, âDonât let up!ââ he added. âI said that we have good hitters, no real boppers, but we work hard on our hitting. Unfortunately, pitching and defense wins games, and we just didnât do that better than Cumberland. Kudos to them.â