Lincoln, CALL clash again today
Group trying to win third straight district title
Little League rivals face off in DIstrICt finAls
LINCOLN — There’s no detail too minor for Lincoln Little League Major Division all-star coach Dale O’Dell.
Even though he has one of the best Little League facilities in the state – Randy Hien Field – at his disposal in preparation for tonight’s District 4 title game against reigning state champion Cumberland American, O’Dell opted to drive a few miles up Old River Road to practice at Albion Field.
Because Albion Field has similar dimensions to Smithfield’s cozy Whipple Field, where Lincoln and CALL will do battle at 7 p.m.
“It’s been a long week and a weird kind of experience with only two games going into [tonight],” O’Dell said prior to Friday night’s practice. “We squeak by Cumberland and then we play a good game against Woonsocket, and then we get a whole week off. The big thing for us is to try and simulate as many game situations as we can.
“We’ve done a pretty good job, but it’s tough because no one will play us because teams are either knocked out or we could see them at states if we get by the districts. We’ve just given them a lot of live at-bats and the kids throw against each other.”
Neither O’Dell nor Cumberland American coach Anthony Martin would indicate who will toe the rubber in tonight’s game, but it’s likely that Jack LaRose will pitch against Ryan Thompson for the second time this tournament. Because CALL needs to win twice to keep the District 4 title, the onus is on Martin to do everything he can to win tonight’s game.
O’Dell is preparing to see LaRose for the second time. The lanky CALL righty allowed three runs and six hits in the first three innings of last week’s meeting, but he didn’t allow a hit in the last three innings of a 3-2 defeat. The first five hitters in Lincoln’s order – Jayden Champagne, Donavon Lopez, Thompson, Ryan Allen and Zach Evans – all had hits.
“It’s not really a mystery what we’re going to see,” O’Dell said. “He’s just a good pitcher and he probably made some adjustments in his own mind as the game went on. Obviously, we don’t always play our best nine kids through the whole game, so that changes things. It was just the way the game was going.”
Since watching O’Dell pitch around LaRose for most of that winners’ bracket semifinal, Martin has moved his best player to the top of the order, which not only ensures he will have the most plate appearances, but it challenges the opponent to pitch to him in the first inning with no outs. Martin also put Andy Ray, another player who played in Bristol last summer, in the No. 2 hole. Diego Benitez and Anthony Martin III make up the top of the order.
O’Dell said it’s a smart move because Lincoln coach Randy Hien did the same thing with O’Dell son, standout Ryan O’Dell, when Lincoln won the 2006 state title and advanced to Bristol.
“We have to be careful with LaRose. Him batting leadoff definitely can change the way we pitch to him,” O’Dell said. “It’s tough to pitch around a leadoff guy because if he has any wheels, he’ll be at second base on any anything in the infield. It’s obviously on my mind where he hits.”
While Martin can throw LaRose, Martin III or Alex Iannuccilli over the weekend, O’Dell will start either Thompson or Lopez tonight. Thompson allowed two earned runs in five innings against CALL, while Lopez is 1-0 with a save and an ERA of 0.00 in five innings of District 4 play. O’Dell also has Allen, Will Denio, Joey Conti and Champagne available in relief.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge and it should be a fun weekend,” Martin said. “We have to play perfect baseball because they’re a good team. No matter who [Lincoln] pitches, we have to hit the ball because both of those kids are great pitchers. We have to bring the bats and make sure we’re playing defense.”
It was just two years ago Lincoln came out of the losers’ bracket to defeat CALL in the District 4 final and go all the way to the state final. O’Dell hopes his Lincoln squad, which has won the 10-year-old and 11-year-old state titles in the last two years, can finish the job tonight and take another step toward their goal of playing in Bristol.
“We’re looking to obviously win every game we play,” O’Dell said. “If we don’t, then we’ll go to Plan B. I don’t want to get to Sunday – nobody does. I assume they’re going to throw their best and we’ll see what we do. I’m not 100 percent sure yet. I have two or three guys who can throw very well. Our advantage is we have depth on the mound.”
For the third straight summer, Lincoln and Cumberland American are playing in the District 4 Major Division final. Tonight at 7 at Whipple Field in Smithfield, Ryan Allen (left) and Lincoln take on Luke Plumer (right) and CALL.
Ryan Allen (15) and the Lincoln Little League Major Division all-star team faces Jack LaRose (42) and Cumberland American in the District 4 final tonight in Smithfield.