PAWTUCKET — According to skipper Andy Hallam, Lincoln High had spent too much time during the pre-season dwelling on which Division I-North stalwarts it would be playing and when instead of focusing on the task at hand: Winning.
“They got caught up in that,” Hallam stated. “Earlier this week, we talked about taking it one game at a time, and not getting too excited about any particular team.”
That philosophy worked rather well on Friday afternoon. Junior righty Justin Conti delivered a workmanlike, complete-game six-hitter with two walks and three strikeouts as the Lions posted a solid 4-1 triumph over St. Raphael Academy at Vets Park.
His batterymate, sophomore Jake Petrin, aided his hurler offensively, going 1-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored as the Lions moved to 4-3 in league action.
Prior to the tilt, Lincoln and the Saints had sat in a tie for third place in I-North at 3-3 (with Woonsocket), but Hallam's bunch gained the inside track – at least over SRA – for a playoff bid.
In a losing effort, senior southpaw Zach Mitsmenn pitched superbly – excepting one category. He yielded just two hits, both in a three-run fourth frame, and struck out a pair, but walked a whopping nine, including three in the top of the seventh.
As a result, he fell to 1-2 on the campaign.
“He's 125 pounds of heart; he always wants the ball,” Hallam grinned of Conti. “If he could, he'd pitch every day. He doesn't throw the ball real hard, but he keeps the ball in the strike zone and the hitters off-balance. I thought his breakers were excellent.
“As for Jake, he's had some big RBI for us this season,” he added. “His batting average isn't as gaudy
as Nick's (senior leadoff hitter Nick Zammarelli), but he has taken advantage of his opportunities in the fourth spot, and he was key here.
“Still, last year, our games with Saints were tight. Mitsmenn's a really tough lefty, and – obviously – Coach (Tom) Sorrentine always has them prepared. We're always excited to play them because they're so well-coached, and they compete.”
Sorrentine's club dropped to 3-4, despite outhitting its foe by four. It also stranded eight baserunners, including six in scoring position.
“(The victory) definitely puts them in a better situation,” Sorrentine said after the contest. “We really wanted this; we needed to win this one. Zach pitched OK, but he walked too many. I mean, nine walks are nine free bases. They only had two hits, but with the walks, it was like 11.
“We also made too many errors (three),” he continued, “so we gave them a lot of opportunities to score.”
It looked as if St. Raphael would draw first blood in the second, when senior Tom Calabro ripped a line-drive single to left to open the frame, then took second after freshman Dylan Boisclair reached on a bloop bunt hit, one just out of Conti's reach.
Ricky Vichroski laid down another bunt, this one a sacrifice out, to push the baserunners into scoring position, but Nick Sisto popped out to third baseman Zammarelli, who immediately spun and tagged third for the unassisted double play.
Lincoln seemed ready to assemble a rally in the third. With one out, senior Dan Cameron drew a base-on-balls, but Conti fouled out to right before Cameron robbed second. Zammarelli then walked, though – like Conti – junior designated hitter Jeff Cameron fouled out to right as well.
In the back half, Mitsmenn reached on a two-out fielding miscue, then hustled to second on a passed ball, but junior Bob Bracken grounded out to end it.
The Lions notched all the runs they would need on this day in the top of the fourth. McManus led the flurry with a double to left, then stole third. Petrin's opposite-field hit to the right-center gap plated McManus, and Petrin took second when Mitsmenn's pickoff attempt couldn't be handled by first baseman Ben Duarte.
Junior Alec Cronan immediately reached on a fielder's choice (Mitsmenn threw late to third to get Petrin), and Ryan Fournier raced to second on third baseman Sisto's skipping toss to first; the error allowed Petrin to scamper home.
Mitsmenn then walked junior Sam Brito to load the bags, though Cameron bounced to second baseman Chris Karalis, who threw to Boisclair at the plate to get Cronan. Conti fanned for the second out, but Zammarelli (who walked four times) drew a free bag to plate Fournier.
With Sheehan at the plate, the southpaw fired a wild pitch, but Boisclair threw back to Mitsmenn, who applied the tag to Brito trying to score. The Lions nevertheless held a pivotal 3-0 advantage.
The Saints had an opportunity to close the gap in the bottom of the fourth when Calabro beat out an infield hit and took second on Zammarelli's low throw to second, but Boisclair popped out to third and Vichroski grounded to short.
Sorrentine's bunch finally broke through in the fifth after Sisto reached on another infield throwing miscue, moved to second on Karalis' “swinging bunt” out and scored when Mitsmenn pounded a triple down the right-field line.
Bracken followed with a walk, but Conti forced Ben Roy to ground to second for the final out.
In the seventh, Mitsmenn issued walks to Conti, Zammarelli and Sheehan before Sorrentine replaced him with Karalis. He fanned McManus, though Petrin's sacrifice fly to center plated Conti with the insurance run.
In the bottom half, SRA seemed poised to create a surge after leadoff batter Sisto reached on a bad-hop single to short and Ben Duarte walked. Karalis, however, flew to right, Mitsmenn grounded to first and Bracken struck out to end it.
“We just had a lack of timely hitting,” Sorrentine noted afterward. “I thought (Lincoln) played pretty good defense overall. Now we've got to get back on track. We won our first two, lost two in a row, and now we're 3-4; we've lost four of our last five.
“We need to work on getting the big hit when we get guys in scoring position,” he added. “I think our pitching has been alright, and I'm happy with it. Those guys have kept us in games; it's not like we're getting blown out, but we're not playing well defensively. We've got get the whole package going again.”