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Lions in do-or-die mode following playoff loss to baseball Hawks

May 30, 2014

With his teammates looking on from the bench, Lincoln's Ryan Fournier (8) gets the bat on the ball during the top of the fourth inning of Friday’s Division I playoff game at Hendricken. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

WARWICK -- The way Lincoln had been swinging the bats during its eight-game win streak, it was going to take a remarkable pitching performance to cool off the Lions’ assault.

Anthony Graziano provided such an outing on Friday afternoon.

The Bishop Hendricken senior tossed a superb one-hitter that included eight strikeouts and two walks to lead the two-time defending state champs to a 5-0 shutout of the Lions in a Region I winners’ bracket game of the Division I playoffs at Ray Pepin Field.

Graziano, who will continue his career later this fall at Division III Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., only allowed two runners to get as far as second base in helping the Hawks (19-1) advance to Wednesday’s 4 p.m. winners’ bracket final back on their campus.

“We’ve been swinging the bats well, but (Graziano) kept us off balance and we couldn’t really get anything going,” said Lincoln coach Andrew Hallam, whose club averaged a hair over 10 runs and 10 hits a game during their win streak. “We had runners on second, but we couldn’t get them in.”

As for the Lions, who slipped to 10-10, they drop into the losers’ bracket and will do their best to stay alive in Monday’s 4 p.m. losers’ bracket final versus South Kingstown, which posted a 6-3 win in its losers’ bracket game against Middletown.

The Lions will travel to Wakefield’s Old Mountain Field, the scene of their 16-3 trouncing of the Rebels in their playoff opener on Wednesday, a victory the saw Lincoln pound out a season-high 17 hits. The winner of this contest will advance to Wednesday’s showdown with the Hawks.

“We’re a tough team,” said Hallam. “We keep hanging around and we keep fighting. I have a feeling we’ll be back [at Hendricken]. This is a great group of guys, so I hope so.”

Lincoln marched its ace to the mound, junior Mason Palmieri, and while he put up decent numbers in his five innings of work (seven strikeouts, seven hits, one walk), he couldn’t match Graziano’s brilliance.

The Hawks scored the only run they needed in the first when Ryan Rotondo tripled into the gap in left-center field (past the dive of left fielder Will Britt) and came home on a sacrifice fly lined to right by John Toppa.

They produced their second run in the third when Christian Aybar and John Willette singled with one gone and Aybar dashed home on a wild pitch that bounced over catcher Jake Petrin and went to the backstop.

The Lions tried to get something going in their half of the fifth when Petrin drew a leadoff walk, and after Sam Brito dropped a sacrifice bunt, Palmieri worked a walk. But Graziano bounced back to retire the next two batters on a pop out behind first base and a strikeout.

Hendricken then came back with its final three runs in the fifth. The Hawks produced the first two on a base hit to right-center by Rotondo that bounced over a drawn-in infield, and R.I. Gatorade Player of the Year Gian Martellini drove in the third with a soft two-out single to center.

Alec Cronan came in from right field to pitch the sixth inning for the Lions and strike out the side in order, and earlier in the game, he made two sliding catches, the latter ending the third and leaving Willette stranded at third.

Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24

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