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Sports editor emeritus
EAST PROVIDENCE â€” North Smithfieldâ€™s baseball team doesnâ€™t get serious until it is backed against the wall.
â€śWeâ€™re resilient, thatâ€™s for sure,â€ť head coach Jon Leddy said on Sunday evening after his Northmen erased a 3-0 deficit to beat Classical 5-3 in 10 innings. Game Two of this best-of-three series is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday back at Pierce Field.
The Northmen got a 10-inning complete game from junior right-hander Ian Pascoe. Leadoff hitter Nick Cicerone reached base four times, scored two runs, and made a game-saving catch of a line drive in the bottom of the 10th, turning it into a back-breaking double play, the Northmenâ€™s third DP of the game. And Dylan Narodowy knocked in three runs with two clutch base hits.
All this from the 10th-seeded team in the Division II tourney, a club that lost a stunning six games in a row late in the regular season and still made the playoffs with a pair of wins in its final two games.
And then came the playoffs and a thrilling 2-1 victory over second-seeded Mount St. Charles, which had defeated the Northmen twice during the regular season.
And finally, on Sunday afternoon at Pierce Field, the Northmen managed just one hit over the first five innings as Classical took a 3-0 lead into the top of the sixth inning.
No. 9 hitter Riley Boucher led off the sixth with a single and Nick Cicerone followed with a walk off Classicalâ€™s Dan Polanco, who had faced only two batters over the minimum during the first five innings.
With runners on first and second, Leddy asked No. 2 hitter Brad Shatraw to lay down a bunt, and the lefty swinger did his job, getting on top of a high fastball and pushing it down the third base line. A high throw to first base loaded the bases for Narodowy, who promptly singled in two runs, making it a 3-2 game.
Conor DiSpirito walked to re-load the bases. Chris Forbes popped up for the first out. With the infield playing in, Pascoe hit a hard grounder to shortstop that was booted momentarily, allowing Shatraw to score the tying run as a force play at third provided the second out. Classical then got out of the inning thanks to a base-running gaffe at third base by the Northmen.
Classical, which stole seven bases in seven tries, got a runner aboard with one out in the bottom of the sixth when Polanco walked. He stole second on the first pitch. Noah Kim then hit a grounder up the middle that was misplayed, setting up first and third for leadoff hitter Al Candelier, who promptly hit a Texas League fly ball to center.
Shatraw came on to make a running catch, firing to home in one motion. Catcher Mike Cicerone made a leaping catch of the throw and tagged Polanco on the back before he touched home plate, ending the inning in dramatic fashion. Just typical stuff from the Northmen with their backs against the wall.
Pascoe pitched out of more trouble in the bottom of the seventh after walking leadoff hitter Dennis Fernandez, who stole second on the first pitch. A grounder to second base sent Fernandez to third base with one out. Cleanup hitter Tim Shea hit a hard grounder back to Pascoe, who checked the runner at third and then got the out at first base ... textbook fielding by the composed right-hander. A fly ball to center sent the game to extra innings.
There were no threats to speak of in the next two innings. Finally, in the top of the 10th, Nick Cicerone singled to right field with nobody out. Lefty reliever Griffin Clark then picked Cicerone off first base so cleanly that the only thing the runner could do was take off for second base, where he beat the throw from first by the skin on his fingertips.
Shatraw then sacrificed Cicerone to third with another great bunt, one that hugged the foul line all the way into the first basemanâ€™s glove. That brought up Narodowy with the go-ahead run at second base.
â€śDylan always comes through in these situations,â€ť Leddy would say after the game.
The Northmenâ€™s team leader looked at a strike, then laced one of Clarkâ€™s looping curveballs into right-centerfield for a 4-3 lead. Not content with a one-run lead, Narodowy then stole second base and went to third on a throwing error by the catcher. He scored one wild pitch later for a 5-3 lead. That was two crucial stolen bases in the inning for the Northmen, who ran when it mattered.
Leddy had no intentions of pulling Pascoe after nine innings.
â€śI made a commitment to his heart,â€ť the coach said. His right-hander had pitched efficiently all game and actually got stronger in the middle innings. Still, it was the bottom of the 10th. Leddy has never coached a high school pitcher who pitched 10 innings in one game. But this is a team that the coach has grown to understand over the last two months. He knows their collective team heart. And so here came Ian Pascoe back to the mound one more time.
Clark led off with a single and Zach Odsen crushed a line drive down the left field line that went 10 feet foul, trailing sparks as it landed on the grass. Odsen then squared up another pitch, hitting a line drive towards Cicerone at second base. The junior leaped in the air and snagged the bullet, came back down on the ground and quickly tossed to first base for an easy double play. This was the kind of miraculous play Pascoe needed to survive the 10th and Cicerone made it happen.
Pascoe did the rest, getting Kim for the final out.
â€śNick Cicerone is an on-base machine for us,â€ť Leddy said. â€śHe got on base four times today. And then he made the great play at the end. Dylan (Narodowy) came through for us twice with big hits. And Ian Pascoe, well, me and my pitching coach (Paul Lefebvre) talked about it as the game went on. If we hadnâ€™t scored in the sixth inning, we were taking Ian out but then we tied the game. We kind of owed it to Ian to let him finish this.â€ť
The Northmen are now one game away from the D-II championship series next week at McCoy Stadium. East Providence, the No. 1 seed, defeated Central 12-2 in Sundayâ€™s other semifinal opener.
Classical has a graduation to attend tonight, which pushed Game Two back to Tuesday evening. And the Northmen graduate on Wednesday, so if Classical ties up the series, Game Three would be played on Thursday.