BRISTOL >> The Road to Shelby for the RCP Legion team is short.
RCP (31-4) took command of the Northeast Regional with a 15-4, seven-inning Mercy Rule win over Upper Deck of Cumberland, Rhode Island (37-6) at Muzzy Field Friday night.
RCP will play Bristol, a 7-5 winner over Pittsfield, Mass., at 7 p.m. Saturday. RCP, by going 3-0, is guaranteed to play in Sunday’s championship game. The Regional champ will join the other seven regional winners at the World Series in Shelby, N.C. which opens Thursday.
Rochester, N.H. will play Cumberland, R.I. at 1 p.m.
RCP opened with a bang scoring five times in the first inning on eight hits. Cumberland starter Jeff Sheehan faced seven batters, all of whom got hits. He was replaced by Ryan Brehio, who brought order to the proceedings, although he allowed an RBI single to Kevin Radziewicz (3-for-4), who had two hits in the inning.
Cory Baldwin (4-for-6) singled home a run, Chris Bouchard (2-for-2) doubled in two and Austin White’s (3-for-3) single accounted for the other four runs.
“That was the most unexpected thing,” said RCP coach T.J. Grande. “I was very happy to get five runs in the first and I’ve been waiting for that kind of offensive explosion all year. We told the kids to be patient, that this wasn’t their No. 1 or 2 starter, and let’s make him work.”
The Connecticut champions built the lead to 7-0 with two more runs in the second. White singled home a run and Leo Thomas walked with the bases loaded. The onslaught continued in the third as RCP added two more on Baldwin’s third consecutive hit, an RBI single, and a sacrifice fly by White.
Cumberland picked up a pair of runs in the third on a two-run single by Sheehan off starter Tucker Lord. RCP answered with a two-run single by Baldwin. Leo Thomas singled home the 12th run in the fifth.
A triple by White and a wild pitch produced a sixth inning run and two runs in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Cole Ogorzalek and a throwing error built the lead to 15-4.
In six innings, Lord (10-0) had eight strikeouts. Kevin Larkin pitched a 12-3 seventh.
”This wasn’t Tucker’s best game,” said Grande. “But he battled, gave us six strong innings and won a regional tournament game. I can’t ask for more.”
Lord wasn’t thrilled with his effort, but put it all in perspective.
“This team is amazing,” he said. “My stuff wasn’t perfect and I walked some, but with our offense and defense and with Cole and Tommy [Seaver] pitching this is an awesome team.”
Although Saturday’s game can’t keep RCP out of the title game, Grande isn’t fooling around.
“I don’t want to go into Sunday with a loss. We’re playing to win.”