Eight first inning runs served as the catalyst for the Cranston Bulldogs’ 12-2 demolishing of Westerly in Game 1 of the teams’ best-of-three playoff series.
Cranston sent 13 batters to the plate in the first inning at Fay Field on Monday night, removing any and all suspense from a game that ended after 4 1/2 innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
“This is the way the Bulldogs should play, right here,” Cranston interim manager Mike Pagano said after the game. “Aggressive at the plate, take advantage of mistakes, solid pitching…this is what we’ve expected every night. They showed up for the playoffs ready to go.”
Pagano was filling in for regular Bulldogs skipper David Ciolfi.
Danny Estman and Jake Palazzo drew walks as the first two batters of the game for Cranston. Sam Franco grounded into a fielder’s choice, but Justin Neary smoked an opposite field two-run double to right to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Cranston truly broke the game wide open with two outs, however. Jordan Lugo began a string of five straight hits for the Bulldogs to load the bases, with Anthony Melise delivering an RBI single for what stood as the game-winning hit.
Marty Goldberg had a two-run single to make it 5-0 Cranston and back at the top of the lineup, Estman doubled to center to bring home two more runs. Palazzo, also up for the second time in the frame, plated Estman with a single to conclude the first inning explosion.
“Walks will kill you,” Pagano said of Westerly’s misfortune out of the gate. “Those two walks set things up, and then the line drives started coming. We told them ‘just swing the bats, play Bulldogs baseball.’”
Melise was solid and then some on the mound for the Bulldogs, giving them four innings of work to pick up the win. He allowed just one run – unearned – on three hits while walking only one Westerly hitter and striking out seven.
The large lead afforded Pagano to give Melise the rest of the night off, thus saving him for the weekend should Cranston advance beyond Westerly.
“His pitch count was down,” Pagano said. “Hopefully we can do this thing rather quickly and save the pitchers because we’re a little bit light still. We want to be economical. But you can’t take anything for granted.”
Franco pitched the final inning for the Bulldogs, getting two quick outs before giving up a single and a double. But he recovered in plenty of time to retire the side without allowing Westerly within eight runs, thus facilitating an elimination game on Tuesday night.
“I was very comfortable,” Melise said after the game. “I just had to settle in and throw. It’s eight runs, it’s hard to come back.”
Cranston scored a single run in the second inning – Melise singled to make it 9-0 – and two more in the third, both runs coming home on a Stefan DiLeone double.
Caleb Joubert made it an even dozen for the Bulldogs in the home half of the fourth with an RBI single off the bench.
“Even at the end, we bring guys off the bench and they’re hitting the ball hard,” Pagano said. “There’s really nothing to complain about. These guys work really hard, we played a lot of makeup games in a short period of time and we’ve had to travel and go all over the place. A lot of respect for these guys, they showed up.”
Estman, Neary, DiLeone, Melise and Goldberg all tied for the team lead with two RBIs for Cranston.
Lugo led the team with three hits – he was the lone Bulldog to finish 3-for-3 – but Estman, Palazzo and DiLeone also reached base three times each for Cranston.
Cranston was set to travel to Westerly for Game 2 on Tuesday evening, but results were unavailable at press time.