The Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School’s baseball team had the best season in school history this year, but this past Thursday, the team came up just short of its ultimate goal.
After a 14-0 regular season and three playoff wins, top-seeded Immaculate Conception matched up with No. 2 North Cumberland in the Rhode Island Principal’s Committee on Athletics state finals last Thursday and fell 2-0 at McCarthy Stadium.
North Cumberland, which features a number of players who were on the Cumberland American Little League team that qualified for the Little League World Series last summer, allowed only one run during its four playoff games, and Immaculate Conception was close, but was unable to do any damage offensively.
“Obviously they were upset, because they wanted a perfect season,” Immaculate Conception head coach David Rathbun said. “Like I told them, ‘It’s extremely important to learn from this, and take it to high school. You’re all going to have careers in high school. Take this loss and build on it.’”
Immaculate Conception had eighth grader Matt Kennedy – who lives in Johnston – on the mound to start the game, and he kept North Cumberland scoreless through the first four innings.
But in the top of the fifth, with the game scoreless, Kennedy walked two batters before a hit up the middle that barely slipped by his glove plated two runners, giving North Cumberland a 2-0 lead.
“My pitcher let up two walks, close calls, but they were walks,” Rathbun said. “Then, just a line drive down the middle is what determined the game.”
Kennedy got out of the inning with no further damage, and Immaculate Conception quickly tried to get back in the game.
It loaded the bases in the sixth inning and put two runners on in the seventh inning, yet it came up with no runs both times.
It wasn’t that the team couldn’t hit the ball. Rather, the balls just didn’t seem to find the holes.
“Connor Kiernan hit a shot to the shortstop, and if it was three inches to the left, it would have been in and we would have scored,” Rathbun said of the sixth inning.
Steve Salisbury pitched the final two innings for Immaculate Conception, and he kept the deficit at 2-0, but that’s where it stayed.
Immaculate Conception even out-hit North Cumberland. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“I’ve been to these games for three years now and this was one of the best games I’ve seen in a long time,” Rathbun said. “Going into the fifth inning with a zero-zero score, going back and forth with both teams having people on base, it was very exciting. For a middle school game, it was a very exciting game.”
The loss closed the book on a terrific year for Immaculate Conception, as it had only 15 players come out for the team, none were cut, and the result was the undefeated regular season and a spot in the state championship game.
“Of course they were discouraged, but by the same token I told them that this was a history making team for the school,” Rathbun said. “The school has never had a record like that.”
And the hope is that it paved the way for the team members to move on to successful high school campaigns.
All but four players will be graduating – including Kennedy and fellow Johnston native John Willette – as the rest will be going to different schools around the state.
“That’s my ultimate goal – to prepare these kids to play high school ball,” Rathbun said. “We have seven kids going to Hendricken. We have, I believe, a couple kids going to La Salle, a kid going to Moses Brown, a kid going to West. If I can prepare them for high school, winning is just a bonus.”
Two players who started – Cole Ferguson and Janzel Liberata – will be back next season, as will Declan Smith and Jarred Brady.
Rathbun is hopeful that the school can build on this year’s success.
“They’ll still be a foundation,” Rathbun said. “And you never know who comes in. Now, obviously without middle school sports, it’s out there that this is a good program and if they want to have a good, Catholic education as well as a good athletic program, this school definitely is that.”