PROVIDENCE – The baseball always has a way of finding the player who least wants it hit in his direction. On Monday at Davis Park, that was North Smithfield second baseman Tyler Albino.
But after a tough sixth inning against Classical, the freshman made the play that mattered most.
Albino got a boost of confidence by getting on base and scoring an insurance run in the seventh, then stabbed a one-hop shot to start a routine 4-6-3 double play that sealed the Northmen’s 5-1 win over the Purple in a battle of the two top teams in Division III.
“I can not speak for everyone else, but I was excited going into it,” said Danny White, after North Smithfield improved to 8-0 in D-III with the win. “I was ready to step up our game and step it up to the next level.”
For the first five innings, the story of the game was the pitching of North Smithfield’s Ethan Harnois and reliever Kayden Artruc, who had a combined no-hitter and a 2-0 lead heading to the sixth. They needed it against a stellar pitching performance from Classica’s Tyler Lee.
Then what looked like a routine pop fly from Classical’s James Ninneman to second turned into a wind-aided single.
After a line drive, Lee hit a ground ball to Albino who threw to first, but it might have been a double play had he gone to second.
Classical’s Max DeLuca hit another towering pop fly that Albino, battling the sun and the strong wind, lost track of. It dropped in and cut the deficit to one.
After Kayden Artuc got a strikeout to end the inning, Albino walked back to the dugout. Coach Jon Leddy gave him a quick pep talk. The freshman kept his head in the game and reached base on an error to open the seventh. Albino moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, then scored on a two-run triple by White that gave North Smithfield some breathing room.
Down 5-1 with one out in the seventh, Classical’s Nathan Corcoran ripped a single up the middle, bringing Jalen Dennis to the plate. Dennis ripped a shot between first and second base that Albino grabbed on one hop and fired to shortstop David Doherty, who completed the double play.
“It felt really good,” Albino said. “And it felt even better because I made a play I messed up on in the previous inning and almost cost us the game.”
“That’s big to just be able to come back from making that error to close the game with a double play,” Harnois said. “That says a lot about him as a freshman.”
“One important thing about being a new player on a team is finding your role,” White said. “[Albino] has been really good at the plate and his ability to bounce back from mistakes and keep learning as a player are really good for our team. ”
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North Smithfield is a team that’s undefeated in Division III, but it learned a lot about who it was with Monday’s win.
The Northmen’s previous victories came against two winless teams in Central Falls and Shea and a rebuilding Blackstone Valley Prep. Monday’s game was their first test and they passed with flying colors.
Harnois was a big part in that. The 6-foot-2 lefty was not shy about working the plate, daring Classical’s aggressive hitters to chase pitches. Harnois struck out two batters in the first two innings, then fanned three after a leadoff walk in the third and added a sixth K in the fourth inning.
On a limited pitch count coming off an arm injury, Harnois was removed from the game despite having a no-hitter through four innings.
Artuc overpowered Classical and struck out three batters before the theatrics of the sixth.
“I felt great,” Harnois said. “I felt in control most of the game and coming back from injury, that’s what’s most important.”
North Smithfield’s offense struggled against Lee, a sophomore right-hander. The Northmen manufactured a run in the second inning before taking advantage of a Classical error in the fourth. It wasn’t until the seventh that the bats really came alive.
“If we made the pitcher throw more and made the pitcher really work for the outs, I think that would have been a lot better for us in the long run,” White said, “and we could have busted out earlier.”
The loss drops Classical to 8-2 in Division III, but the Purple will have a chance to make up some ground when the teams get together Wednesday at North Smithfield. The win pushes the Northmen to the top of the standings but, more importantly, makes them believe they belong there.
“It definitely gives us confidence,” Harnois said. “We feel we’re one of the best teams in the league and that just continues the mindset.”
“We’re going to keep building on our confidence,” White said. “[Then] push forward to playoffs, push through to the championship. ”