In a typical scholastic calendar year, most student athletes are finished with athletic competitions well before the academic school year ends. Opening round games, playoffs, even championships happen before major school events like proms and even graduations. With the start of the Spring season pushed back a bit in 2021, as of Saturday June 26th, there were still Rhode Island student athletes, some of whom have already graduated/gone to prom/started to make post high school life plans who are still playing in meaningful Rhode Island Interscholastic League tournaments, events, and games – like baseball. Case in point, Saturday was the final game of the 3 game series to determine the Division 3 Varsity State Champion. The game featured Hope High School, who has 7 Seniors on their roster and Exeter West Greenwich (EWG), who has 3 Seniors on their roster. One final high school moment for some and I was eager to see how it would play out. Here is what I observed from Game 3 of the RIIL Division 3 Varsity Baseball Tournament featuring the Hope Blue Wave vs The Exeter West Greenwich Scarlet Knights.
McCarthy Field in West Warwick was the host field for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League D3 Varsity Baseball Finals. Hope High School had won game 1 and Exeter West Greenwich had taken Game 2. In this best of 3 format, Game 3 would decide the champion. I arrived at McCarthy Field under mostly cloudy skies. I caught a few sprinkles on my ride over from North Kingstown but nothing that would delay or even cancel a game. The wind was a factor and would eventually play a role in the game. It was blowing pretty significantly out to right field and gusting at times. Fast forwarding a bit, both Hope and EWG players struggled defensively at times with this game changing wind. Hope and EWG exchanged places on the field pre-game for warmups and game time was nearing at around 12 noon. Both teams looked ready to play and their fans were starting to pile into McCarthy, which has ample bleacher seating on both the first and third base sidelines.
I took a photo of the scoreboard just before game time. Honestly, it would be the quietest the scoreboard would get for the next 3 hours or so. I’ll explain that statement as the story unfolds here. For the first 2 innings, I had a great spot in the bleachers situated just to the left of the Hope Blue Wave dugout. From there I could see the entire field and the game action unfolding. Hope was the home team and started in the field defensively. First pitch was at 12:07, thrown by Hope starter Victor Suarez and Game 3 was off and running, literally. EWG started early with their intensity, players up against the protective fence in their dugout, fans stomping their feet for encouragement, and EWG hitters responded. EWG quickly put runners on base, moved them over due some early wildness by Suarez, and a timely hit by EWG Shortstop Josh Capwell. After an early mound visit by the Hope coaching staff, Suarez settled down and finished the top of the 1st inning yielding only 2 runs. Then it was EWG’s Zacheri Lorenzen’s turn to take the mound and he set the Hope Blue Wave hitters down quietly in the bottom of the 1st. After 1 inning, EWG 2 – Hope 0.
As with the top of the 1st inning, and seemingly throughout the game, the EWG players were standing up against the fence for their at bats in the top of the 2nd. This time Suarez was up to the task and set the EWG hitters down one by one for a quiet top of the 2nd. And then, the Hope Blue Wave hitters crashed the party with a TIDAL WAVE of hits. Batter after batter hit the ball hard, into gaps, over outfielders heads, one by one the Blue Wave hit the baseball. Runners would get on base, would steal one, then two bases, then score on base hits. The Hope High School fans were elated, they jumped up and down, they were screaming in both English and Spanish, the players in the Hope dugout were screaming in English and Spanish. The Blue Wave hitters had come to play and showcase their hitting ability in this final game. After 2 innings, it was now Hope 6 – EWG 2.
After the second inning finished, I made my way into the Hope cheering section behind the third base dugout. From this vantage point, I could clearly see the entire field, the fan bases, the TV cameraman from Channel 12 covering the game, and settled in for a few innings. Hope’s Suarez remained on the mound, now with a big lead in the game. After a quiet 2nd inning, Suarez had trouble finding a groove in the top of the 3rd. Walks, a few hit batters, some unfortunate bounces in the infield, some passed balls/wild pitches plagued Hope defensively and EWG took full advantage. EWG had runners on bases, even bases loaded, for most of the top of the 3rd, scoring on wild pitches, runners moving up from 1st to 2nd and 2nd to 3rd all inning long. The Hope fans remained positive and optimistic with their Pitcher and their players. EWG fans rejoiced as EWG hitters scored run after run to tie then overtake Hope. By then end of the top of the 3rd, EWG had come back and was now in the lead by a score of 9-6. Hope players looked a little dejected as they ran off the field, but their coach gathered them for a team huddle outside their dugout to give them words of encouragement. The Hope fans picked up their intensity in the stands, banging on cowbells and drums, and yelling as loud as they could. Hope fans were rewarded for their efforts by Livio Rodriguez Betancourt, who scorched a line drive home run to right field with a runner on. The score might have been different except for a tremendous diving play by EWG first basemen Michael Berek, who played the windy pop fly traveling over the pitcher’s mound into a highlight reel catch. Hope was cruising and running and may have score even more runs in that bottom of the 3rd if not for Berek’s heroics. 2 more runs for Hope after 7 were scored by EWG in the 3rd inning and it was now EWG 9 – Hope 8.
The game action on the field was super exciting. And the fans in the stands were building up momentum as well. Hope fans were banging on drums, stomping their feet in the bleachers, chanting from first pitch onward. Equaling them were the EWG fans, who were cheering on every pitch, every hit, stomping their feet, chanting and screaming encouragement to players. It was all in good fun but the intensity of Hope fans vs EWG fans was getting really intense and it got more and more intense as the game went on. Nothing derogatory or offensive was yelled or chanted from either fan base. Just passionate fans who were really, really, really into this game. And the game action and lead changes made the fans even more fired up as the game went on.
After Hope had tied the game in the bottom of the 4th inning, the game settled down a bit until the bottom of the 5th inning. After an intentional walk to Hope’s very impressive Ruben Ogando, EWG had Hope set up with 2 outs. Then the wind got involved in the game, as a towering fly ball to right center field was dropped by the EWG outfielder allowing 2 Hope runners to score. It was unfortunate because the center fielder had run a good distance to get to the ball, only for it to pop out of his glove. With 2 outs, runners are moving on the batted ball, so both Hope runners scored easily. After 5 innings, Hope 11 – EWG 9.
With 6 outs to go to decide the game, Hope took the field defensively and EWG got going at the plate. With one runner on, Hope was able to get 2 key strikeouts and was one out away from getting out of the inning. A wild play is always random in a baseball game, but one happened with the next EWG hitter. A slow roller to third, fielded cleanly by the Hope 3rd baseman, who threw to first a tad late awarded a single to the EWG hitter. Hope, however, thought the runner was out, so the runner from 2nd ran to 3rd base. Seeing that there was no one at 2nd, the EWG runner then took off for 2nd. There was a lot of confusion on the field and in the stands but the end result was a momentous play that moved the EWG runners from 2nd and 3rd with Senior Joshua Capwell coming up. And Capwell delivered a base hit to score 1 run and move the 2nd base runner to third. After a Hope fielding error on the next batter, another EWG run scored. It was now tied at 11-11, and with Hope going quietly in their half of the 6th inning, the fans and I would now be treated to a tie game going into the 7th and potentially final inning of this D3 Championship Instant Classic!
EWG stared the top of the 7th with a base hit, a stolen base, then a bunt to move EWG 90 feet from taking the lead. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, a pop fly in the infield was hit just passed home plate about 1/4 of the way up the first base line. The Hope catcher went out to retrieve it as the Hope first basemen ran into to retrieve it. The ball was caught but the two Hope defenders ran into each other and they both fell hard to the ground. The EWG runner, foot on the bag, tagged from third and sprinted home to score the go ahead run standing up. No one had covered home plate and EWG did the heads up thing and took full advantage. With an EWG runner at third, Hope was able to buckle down defensively and get 3 outs to push the game to their final at bats. Score after 6 1/2 innings – EWG 12 – Hope 11.
Hope’s Gerlin Reyes Calcano got the fans fired up with a double to start the bottom of the 7th inning. Hope’s Rodriguez, who had hit a towering home run earlier, skied a rocket just foul to put the Hope fans in a frenzy. But EWG’s Aiden Hartell remained calm and recorded a key strikeout looking against Rodriguez. 1 out in the bottom of the 7th. And then the wind made another play in the game, as a high fly ball to left field was misplayed by the EWG fielder to put Hope runners of 1st and 2nd. EWG coaches decided to once again intentionally walk Ruben Ogando to load the bases. Hope’s starting Pitcher Victor Suarez, who remained in the game as a defensive player after he was removed from the game in the 4th inning, stepped up and hit a deep fly ball to center field that was caught for out number 2. 2 outs, bases loaded, Championship game – what more could you ask for? Well this, the Hope catcher, Erick Cadete, who had a very long afternoon defensively behind the plate and played his heart out chasing wild pitches, blocking baseballs, being a fantastic leader came to the plate in a moment every baseball player dreams about. Calmly, Cadete took this gigantic moment in stride and drilled a single to left field which scored not one but two runs to win the game for Hope High School. Final score – Hope 13 – EWG 12.
Hope players, fans, family members were overjoyed and excited and they hugged and embraced each other during this special moment. The EWG fans stood and cheered for not only their players, but the Hope players as well. After congratulating each other, Hope and EWG players got together on the field to shake hands and congratulate each other on a very memorable game and incredible 3 game series. It was exciting and exhausting and emotional to be a part of.
Congratulations to the Hope High School Blue Wave Baseball Team, you are the 2021 Rhode Island High School Division 3 Champions. And congrats to the Exeter West Greenwich Scarlet Knights Baseball Team for an incredible season and for making a big time run in this year’s tournament. I was so happy to be at the game and to watch so much baseball joy being felt by so many great baseball players, fans, and families.