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Crosstown Rivalry Reignited Following ‘Bolts 5-4 Senior Night Victory

(L to R) Cranston East baseball seniors Adrian Pimental, Damon Asencio, Angell Garcia, John Varin, and Randy Guzman gather postgame


(Cranston, RI) - The crosstown rivalry seems to have more heat than ever following Thursday’s senior night. Despite both Cranston’s East and West securing playoff spots prior to the exhibition game, there was no question that both teams desperately wanted to win. Things got chippy late between the rivals, leading to the ejection of Falcons pitcher Luciano Leone in the bottom of the seventh. The ‘Bolts capitalized on this as Jayden Tolentino’s walk-off double drove in the two runs the ‘Bolts needed to win, 5-4.

John Devine started the game on the mound for Cranston East, pitching five shutout innings, as his offense provided him a 3-run lead. He’d run into trouble in the sixth, being relieved after allowing two runners to score. With just one out and inheriting two runners in scoring position, Jayven Alexandre came in and was able to keep the ‘Bolts lead intact by striking out Brendan Smith before Ethan White grounded out to second base to stop the scoring threat.

Entering the top of the seventh leading 3-2, it was a surprise for many to see the Thunderbolts ace pitcher Randy Guzman warming up in search of the save. Guzman had just thrown 99 pitches in Monday's game. However, Cranston East’s Coach Gary Bucci reasoned after the game, “He needed to do a bullpen on Thursday and our first playoff game wasn’t until the following Wednesday, so it was a perfect situation for him to throw about 20 pitches.”

Guzman struggled with command early, walking the lead-off batter. With one out and the lead-off runner now at third, a successful slash bunt grounded up the middle by Chris Piscione tied the game. Leone worked a full-count walk in the next at-bat, bringing up the Falcons' cleanup hitter George Threats with two runners on base. Threats rolled a seemingly tailor-made double play to shortstop, but a hard slide into second by Leone forced a throwing error from second-baseman Damon Asencio that allowed the go-ahead run to score.

After leading for nearly the entirety of the game, the ‘Bolts trailed 4-3. Leone entered his second inning of work on the mound and would have to face the top of the Thunderbolts in order to close out the game. Asencio led off against the man who had forced his throwing error just minutes prior, “After getting cleated the inning before, I went up to the plate not looking to make friends.” Leone seemed to make it clear that he wasn’t there to make friends either, hitting the batter square in the back on his 1-1 pitch. He and Asencio exchanged words back and forth before being separated by coaches and umpires, Leone was ejected from the game following the hit-by-pitch. When asked about the ejection Asencio stated, “That was the most electric point of the game and that moment right there won us the game.”

The Falcons were forced to turn to Ryan Zarella in relief, immediately West coaches elected to intentionally walk Carlos Merejo for the second time of the night. A passed ball from Cranston West put both runners in scoring position and Jayden Tolentino at the plate with nobody out.

Tolentino had been a massive contributor in the previous two games played between Cranston East and West. He recorded three doubles in their first matchup that the Thunderbolts took decidedly, 12-4. In their second meeting, he had the ‘Bolts only two hits as Nick Masse’s complete game shutout led the Falcons to a 5-0 victory. With the season series tied, the pivotal rubber match again saw Tolentino having to come through for his team.

Come through he did, driving a ground ball down the third-base line just hard enough to get past the defense playing on the infield grass. Pinch-runner Tyler Chisholm scored the winning run from second base as the Thunderbolts walked off on senior night. Tolentino credited his performance to the excitement surrounding the rivalry, “The energy and attention that was brought to the game from the stands gave me the confidence and self-assurance needed to perform to the best of my abilities.”

Both the Thunderbolts and Falcons will be in Division-I playoff action. The Falcons will travel to play the South Kingstown Rebels on May 31st for a 4 pm matchup. Cranston East will host their opening playoff game later that day as they take on Smithfield High School. If both teams can pull out a win, there’s a high likelihood that they will meet once more this season in the playoffs.

Looking towards the playoffs, Coach Bucci didn’t shy away from his team’s shortcomings, “The one thing that has been consistent with us this year is our inconsistency.” Bucci attributed injuries and a lack of energy as key factors in their below-par performances.

Tolentino sees the group’s potential if they can keep riding this wave of momentum, “I know that if we are able to play to our full capability we can be a feared team come playoff time.”

The Thunderbolts will compete in a preliminary round of the playoffs against the Smithfield Sentinels vying for a matchup against LaSalle Academy. The Sentinels were mercy ruled, 11-0, by the ‘Bolts in their only match-up this season. Merejo homered three times while catching five no-hit innings by Guzman on the mound for Cranston East. Smithfield should be a greater challenge this time around considering the improvements they made to propel them into the playoffs.

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