By Lance Reynolds, HockomockSports.com Contributor
FRANKLIN, Mass. – The top of the sixth inning of Monday’s contest between King Philip and Franklin could very well be what defines the Warriors’ season, and what ignites them into a lengthy tournament run.
Losers of three straight coming into the marquee showdown against the Panthers, circumstances were not looking promising for KP as Franklin tacked on four runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a commanding 5-0 lead going into the sixth. However, that’s when everything began to go in the Warriors’ favor.
In the top of the sixth, KP ‘answered the bell’ by plating a game winning seven runs en route to clinching at least a share of the Kelley Rex title with a pivotal 9-5 victory over the Panthers, who also had a chance at claiming a split of the title entering Monday.
“That’s something that we haven’t been able to do all year. That’s a great Franklin team – they answered the bell there with the five runs. We haven’t been able to come back deep in games,” KP coach Pat Weir said. “I brought the kids in between that inning, and they understood what was on the line here. Coming off of three losses last week, I asked them to answer the bell, and every single one of those kids stepped up to the plate and answered the bell. There’s no one that stood out from nobody else – that was a complete team effort in that inning.”
Franklin sophomore Jason Ulrickson was nearly unhittable through the first five innings. The left-handed starter’s only blemish coming on a single off the bat of Will Weir in the top of the first. From there on, Ulrickson retired the next 13 KP batters – getting the Warriors to go down in order in the second, third, fourth, and fifth innings. However, King Philip was finally able to solve Ulrickson’s mastery the third time through the order.
The Warriors promptly put the first two batters on base in the decisive top of the sixth in the form of pinch hitter Ben Furfari, who was hit-by-pitch, and a Ryan Guenette single to right. Two batters later, Jon Rolfe loaded the bases on an infield single. Hitting in the third spot of KP’s lineup, Will Weir drove in Furfari for the first Warriors run on a sacrifice fly to center.
Cleanup hitter Jack DiCenso chipped in with a two run double to right bringing in Guenette and Rolfe to trim the Panthers lead to two at 5-3. Kyle Guenthner then drilled a double into left driving in DiCenso for a one-run ballgame at 5-4. Ryan Coulter followed with a game-tying single to right and quickly scored the go-ahead sixth run on a single that dropped into left field off Patrick Limerick’s bat. The seventh and final run of the inning came on a Guenette single to left scoring Limerick.
“I think it was a matter of us going through a few times and seeing [Ulrickson] for that second and third time,” Weir said of the KP’s offensive attack in the sixth. “He definitely kept us off balance – his breaking stuff kept us off balance – I think we were off on our front foot quite a bit. I think our guys relaxed there late in the game. Second, third time through, some of those guys sat back and kept their hands back, and I think we saw some good results from it.”
The Warriors were not quite done as they tacked on two more runs in the top of the seventh. Rolfe and Weir led off with back-to-back singles through the right side. The duo then converted a double steal during a Guenette at-bat with Rolfe successfully coming home for the eighth run. Weir came around on a Guenette single to score the ninth run and put KP on top 9-5.
“We have two games left in the season, and we’re fortunate enough for the first time in seven years to go into tournament play,” Weir said. “There is nothing worse going into tournament play on a losing streak. Nothing better than having an inning like that and being able to roll in to our next two games and enter the tournament hitting like we hit in that sixth inning.”
DiCenso started on the mound for the Warriors and tossed four innings of one run ball before Franklin tagged him for four runs in the bottom of the fifth. The first run came in second on a Corey Langevin single plating Mike Skaza.
Langevin got things going in the fifth by reaching on a leadoff error in the KP infield. Number nine hitter Alex Bissanti put two runners on a hit-by-pitch, and leadoff hitter Nick Santucci bunted his way on to first base to load the bases with no outs. Ryan Hodgkins followed through with a two-run knock on a double to right scoring Langevin and Bissanti for the second and third runs. Skaza brought in Santucci and Hodgkins was able to get around the tag of KP catcher Nolan Bradley for Franklin’s fifth and last run.
DiCenso was pulled after five innings of work allowing four runs on seven hits while striking out three. Weir elected to go with Jake Cavanagh for the final two innings. The senior first baseman and pitcher retired all six batters he faced – two of them coming on strikeouts – to pick up the win for the Warriors.
“Jack (DiCenso) is a kid that’s done it all year long. I think this was the first time that he’s given up an earned run in this game here today,” Weir said. “I think he battled hard. Don’t forget that that’s a Franklin team that’s been hitting the cover off the baseball as of late.
“Jack got in a little trouble there in the end, but we then decided to go to Cavanagh. Jake Cavanagh is someone that has come in time and time again in a save situation or starting a baseball game, and being able to finish it. I can’t say enough about that kid as a person and as a player.”
After combining to score just four runs in three games last week, Weir is nothing but thrilled with how his Warriors were able to come back with a nine run explosion on Monday.
“How can you not feel good after that sixth inning?,” Weir chuckled. “I’m extremely proud of these boys.”
King Philip baseball (11-4 in league-play, 14-4 overall) hopes things continue to roll when they travel to North Quincy on Wednesday for a non-league game while Franklin (10-6 in league-play, 12-8) looks to get back in the win column on Wednesday when they take on Hopkinton at Natick High School.