The Cumberland Major Division All-Star softball team joyfully parade around Pacheco Park with its state championship banner after defeating Warwick West Side, 3-1, in the title game on Thursday night. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
NORTH SMITHFIELD â€” After steamrolling its opposition in its first eight games by a combined score of 107-17, Chris Bodington knew that his Cumberland All-Star team needed to sweat out a close contest somewhere down the line if it planned to take on the finest teams in New England in the extra-competitive Eastern Regionals.
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The Cumberland manager got exactly what he wanted for six action-packed innings on Thursday night from the Warwick West Side All-Star team, which entered its contest determined to turn the tables on Cumberland after suffering a 14-3 loss to the locals in Sundayâ€™s winnersâ€™ bracket final of the state tournament, Warwickâ€™s most lopsided defeat of the summer.
But Cumberland passed its toughest test by holding off Warwick, 3-1, and in the process, winning its third straight state championship before a full house at Pacheco Park.
The victory sends Cumberland (9-0) back to the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Center in Bristol, Conn. for the Eastern Regional tournament that begins a week from today. Cumberland, which advanced as far as the regional semifinals in last yearâ€™s tourney, will face the Massachusetts state champion in the opening game of New England pool play at 12:30 p.m.
That game, as well as the other ones against the state champions from Vermont (Sunday, July 21), Maine (Tuesday, July 23), and Connecticut (Wednesday, July 24), promise to be tight affairs, unlike the ones that Cumberland had cruised through on its way to Thursdayâ€™s title game.
â€śObviously we want to be playing this caliber [of softball] like these girls put out there today,â€ť admitted Bodington. â€śThatâ€™s going to make us better. The lopsided wins, theyâ€™re good for the batting [averages] and everything, but they donâ€™t help you out on the other side of it. The girls played a good, tight game today, and you want to see those games.â€ť
While Cumberland experienced its closest game since its 8-2 triumph over North Smithfield in the District IV championship game on July 2, it also had its fewest number of hits in the playoffs -- four. Thatâ€™s because the locals fell prey to a standout outing from Warwick pitcher Katrina Kazen, who worked all six innings, struck out five batters, walked one, and hit another with a pitch.
Cumberland, meanwhile, limited Warwick to three singles behind the splendid pitching of starter Alex Pina and reliever Jocelyn Bodington, who teamed up to fan six batters, issue four walks, and allow just four batted balls to reach the outfield grass.
Offensively, Chloe Kessler gave Cumberland a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning with a home run, as she turned on an 0-1 fastball from Kazen and deposited it over the fence in left field.
Cumberland then doubled its lead in the second, thanks to a mental mistake by Warwick. With one gone, Cassidy Carr led off with a bunt single, and after Abby Goncalves got hit by a pitch, Renae Lacroix lofted a towering fly ball near the second base bag.
With the infield fly rule being called for the second out, the ball was dropped as the shortstop and second baseman camped under the ball. Carr dashed to third, and when the shortstop held onto the ball, not knowing where to throw it, the Cumberland manager sent Carr to the plate, and she slid home safely to beat the high throw there.
â€śI knew what was going on, and once I saw the confusion, it actually made that decision easier for me to send her home from third,â€ť added Bodington. â€śThey didnâ€™t know where to go with the ball, so I sent her home and it paid off.â€ť
Cumberland added its final run in the fourth when Hailey Ballou (the only player in the game with two hits) doubled to left and then tagged up and went to third on a long fly to the warning track in straightaway center by Kessler. But when the throw to third sailed wide of the base and went into left field, Kessler was able to cross the plate with ease.
Pina, meanwhile, was quietly carrying a no-hit bid into the fifth inning, but with one out in that frame, she lost it on a bloop single down the right-field line by Lexi Brown. That was followed by a sharp single down the third-base line by Danaja Alpaio and a walk to Kaylyn Ciesielski that loaded the bases for the top of Warwickâ€™s order.
At that point, Bodington brought in his daughter to put out the fire, and even though the hard-throwing southpaw walked the first batter she faced, Gianna Altieri, to force in a run, she came back to strike out the next two batters she faced to silence the threat.
In the sixth, Warwick tried one more time to get back into the game. With one out, Karly Evans lined a single to left and stole second base, but Bodington came back to retire the next two batters and set off her teamâ€™s celebration.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24