Great pitching, timely hitting propels ’Gansett to first title in baseball in school history
PAWTUCKET—Over the years a number of great baseball players have come through Narragansett but in that time the Mariners had never won a championship in the spring’s marquee sport – until now.
A six-run outburst in the bottom of the sixth inning helped ’Gansett beat Westerly 7-2 Thursday in the second game of their best-of-three series to lock up the Division II Championship.
“It’s just awesome, especially for me, Ross [Hodnett], Zack [McKanna], Taylor Fleet and Connor Butler,” senior shortstop Jimmy Kershaw said. “It’s just awesome to go out with a bang in your senior year.”
“It’s an honor and I’m so proud of these guys,” Narragansett coach Keith Vellone said.
“They’ve worked so hard all season. We knew we had a special team, we didn’t know if it was this special and the pieces of the puzzle fell in throughout the year.”
For the better part of the postseason the Mariners had mowed down their competition but in the clinching game against the Bulldogs, they had to grind their way to victory.
Kershaw – who reached base safely four times in the game – led off the top of the first with a single, moved to second on an Austin Butler sacrifice bunt and then stole third.
Kershaw ended up stranded at third though as McKanna and Hodnett followed by flying out to left and grounding out to second, respectively, to end the threat.
It marked the last time the Mariners challenged to get a run across until the sixth as Westerly starter Kyle Gencarelli faced just one batter over the minimum between the second and fifth innings.
The Bulldogs didn’t wait long to take their first lead of the series either, as Nate Cahoone belted one-out single and scored one batter later on a Gencarelli triple to right.
Hodnett – Narragansett’s starting pitcher – countered by striking out Anthony Garro but Cameron Newall followed with a single to plate Gencarelli.
“It’s tough, the whole playoffs we let up zero earned runs ,” Hodnett said. “We had a no-hitter the other day and a bunch of one-hitters so it’s really hard to have the confidence after they put up two runs very quickly.
“All of the other outs were nice hits into the outfield, but I had confidence in our offense, I just kept pitching and I knew our defense was going to make the right plays.”
The two runs were the most Hodnett gave up in the entire playoffs but just as it appeared the Mariners’ string of great pitching performances was coming to an end the senior right hander found his groove.
Hodnett allowed at least one runner to reach base in each of the next four innings but each time found a way to get out of trouble without giving up a run.
“It’s really tough when you sit through two innings down by two and it seems like almost every inning’s a one-two-three,” Hodnett said, “but our team has a history of putting a big inning up or coming from behind.
“We never hung our heads and that’s probably why we had that huge inning.”
That big inning finally came in the top of the sixth with the Mariners still trailing 2-0.
After Brad West struck out to begin the inning, Jimmy Kershaw was struck by a pitch and quickly advanced to second on a pass ball.
Austin Butler then laid down a bunt and beat Gencarelli’s throw to first to give the Mariners’ runners at the corners.
McKanna followed with an RBI single to plate Kershaw to once again put runners at the corners and then stole second.
Westerly then elected to intentionally walk Hodnett to bring the force out at the plate into play and take their chances with Kullen McGill, who was 0-for-2 on the day to that point with a strikeout and lineout to first.
It would prove to be a regrettable mistake for the Bulldogs as McGill blooped a single down the right field line to plate both Butler and McKanna and give the Mariners their first lead of the game at 3-2.
“He had been struggling and he knows it but he worked hard every day,” Vellone said of McGill. “…He laced it to right. That was key.”
The Mariners did not stop there, however, as Nick Schone followed with a single on a pitch at his eyes to plate Hodnett.
“That high pitch is my favorite one to swing at,” Schone said. “Not sure why, but I’m really good at tomahawking the ball.”
Connor Butler followed with a grounder back to the mound that was thrown away by Gencarelli, which allowed McGill to score and Quinn McLoughlin – pinch running for Schone – and Butler to reach third and second, respectively.
A balk on Gencarelli then allowed McLoughlin to score to cap off the scoring for the inning as the Mariners sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning.
“I just told the guys if I get on just watch what this could do and it started this huge rally,” Kershaw said. “When you just get on base you never know what can happen.
“We know what we can do and we’ve seen what we can do. We can put up 10 runs, we can put up five in an inning and that’s what it came down to just getting the guys ready.”
Hodnett responded by setting down the Bulldogs in order in the bottom half of the inning and in the top of the seventh Kershaw scored again on another RBI single from McKanna to push the lead to 7-2.
With only three outs standing between Narragansett and its first title, Hodnett kicked off the bottom of the seventh by striking out Vinny Terranova looking.
Sam Traver followed with a single but Hodnett answered back by getting Jon Gauvin to fly out to West at second and Kyle Allen to fly out to Justin Cronin in center to secure the championship.