Lions 'ROAARR' to Connie Mack state title
Article by William Geoghegan
The Independent News
WEST WARWICK – How much did the members of the Narragansett Lions care about their success – and each other – this summer?
Wednesday’s win was celebrated in a dorm room 600 miles away. Aidan Burdick, a key player on the team, had to depart for Liberty University before the playoffs concluded. His teammates connected with him via FaceTime in the dugout after the game.
“All these guys have so much heart,” outfielder Declan Wholey said. “We care so much. We come out here and we have a blast, but we compete. It’s fun. We love it.”
In summer baseball, where chemistry and commitment are crucial ingredients, that attitude and plenty of talent added up to an improbable championship run for Narragansett in the Rhode Island Connie Mack League playoffs. The Lions were seeded eighth after a tough second half of the season. They lost the first game in each of their three postseason series but came back to win the next two each time. The final comeback was capped off by a 13-5 win over Chariho in game three of the title series Wednesday night at McCarthy Field.
“It’s pretty incredible,” manager Paul Rodman said. “I’ve been saying it the whole time – they’re gritty, they don’t give up, and they just play.”
It’s the second championship for the Lions program in the last four seasons, with the club having also won in 2018. This year’s roster featured players from Narragansett and South Kingstown, most of whom are just breaking into the varsity ranks of high school baseball. Several played junior or senior legion ball, as well.
The demands of summer ball – work schedules, players suiting up for multiple teams – took a toll when Narragansett scuffled a bit down the stretch after opening the season with six wins and a tie in its first seven games. Attrition shrunk the roster and the team dropped to eighth in the standings, but things clicked with the group that emerged for the postseason.
The Lions beat Westerly in the opening round of the playoffs before benefiting from some good fortune. Top-seeded Mt. Hope forfeited its quarterfinal series, sending Narragansett to the semis against Flood Auto. After a loss in game one, Narragansett won a 10-inning thriller in game two, then rolled to a 9-0 victory in game three.
In the finals, Narragansett matched up with another upstart in sixth-seeded Chariho. A 7-6 walk-off win on Monday gave Chariho the series lead, but the situation was nothing new for Narragansett.
The Lions started game two with a bang, getting two runs on four hits in the first inning. Gavin Rodman, Tyler Poirier and Colin Masseur singled. Patrick Ruhle plated one run with a sacrifice fly and Nolan Rodman knocked in another with a base hit.
Chariho starter John Pellegrino settled down, then helped himself in the third inning when he cranked a solo home run over the center field fence. The tying run scored on a base hit by Liam Flynn and an ensuing error.
Narragansett starter Brendan Flaherty didn’t allow another run until the seventh, following up a must-win performance in game two of the semifinals with another strong showing. He struck out five and scattered eight hits.
“Brendan has really been the ace of the team,” Rodman said. “When we needed a win, he did it against Westerly, he did it against Flood and he did it tonight.”
Narragansett broke the deadlock with four runs in the fifth inning. Ryan Camp singled, Wholey doubled and Jimmy Robbin brought in the go-ahead run with an RBI groundout. RBI singles by Ben Paskalides and Masseur made it 6-2.
Chariho tried to rally in the seventh. McGovern walked and Jack Stevens doubled. An RBI groundout by Pellegrino made it 6-3 and chased Flaherty. Robbin came on in relief and was greeted by an RBI single from Liam Goldstein that made it 6-4. The rally stopped there as Anthony Fusaro lined out to end the game.
“These guys battle,” Rodman said after game two. “They’re gutsy, they’re gritty. They’re a great group of young men.”
The Lions struck first again in the winner-take-all game. Ruhle had an RBI groundout and Wholey had an infield hit that led to a run for a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Chariho came back with two runs of its own in the bottom half thanks to two walks and a two-run single by Liam Currier.
A four-run outburst in the fourth inning put Narragansett in control. Masseur was hit by a pitch, Nolan Rodman walked and Ruhle smacked a single to load the bases. Wholey fell behind in the count 0-2, but laced the next pitch he saw to the left-center field gap. All three runners scored and Wholey slid into third with a triple. Ryan Camp made it back-to-back triples and plated Wholey for the 6-2 lead.
“I was just trying to put one out there, get the lead for the guys and it worked out,” Wholey said “Ryan coming up right after, back-to-back triples, it got the guys fired up. That was huge.”
“That was a huge turning point in the game,” Rodman said. “Declan, throughout the playoffs, has been awesome. He’s been fantastic.”
The game appeared to be headed for another tight finish when Chariho scored two runs in the fifth on RBI hits by Fusaro and Liam Flynn. Robbin escaped further trouble thanks to an out at home on Flynn’s hit, followed by a strikeout and a groundout. An inning prior, Robbin had help from the defense to escape a jam as Camp made a diving stop at third base with the bases loaded and fired home for an out.
“He had to grind tonight,” Rodman said. “They hit, they’re patient, they made him work. He had to battle, but he was able to keep his composure, get deep into the game and get us into a spot where we could bring Patrick in and get through it.”
The teams traded single tallies in the sixth, but instead of a dramatic ending, Narragansett turned out the lights with a six-run seventh inning. Five walks and two hits powered the push, with RBI from Flaherty, Ruhle, Tyler Poirier and Kerkor Kassabian.
“The flood gates kind of opened and we were able to capitalize,” Rodman said.
In relief of Robbin, Ruhle had stranded a runner on third in the sixth inning. He hit the leadoff batter in the seventh, but followed with three straight outs. Ben Paskalides caught a fly ball in left field for the final out and the championship.
Flaherty was named Tournament MVP thanks to his success as Narragansett’s go-to arm in must-win games, plus strong defense at shortstop when he wasn’t pitching.
“It came down to, ‘Would we be in this position without his pitching in game two?’” Rodman said. “Colin was incredible behind the plate, Nolan was incredible at first, Declan had all the hits. But if we don’t get the pitching performances from Brendan, we’re not here. He really came in and helped us through.”
The MVP choice was a difficult one, though, a nod to the pieces that made Narragansett a championship team.
“This is a great group of kids,” Rodman said. “There’s a group chat and they’re always going back and forth. Aidan made this Emoji with a Lion face and a roar, and he would send it to the group chat all the time. They had a lot of fun.”
The “ROAARR” became a goofy rallying cry for the team, the perfect tone for having fun and winning along the way.
“Just a great group of kids,” Rodman said. “They work hard, they’re dedicated. This is one of the best teams I’ve had the privilege of coaching.”
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