BOSTON –- Chris Laliberte saw the sign he was looking for, let out an expression equal parts panic and excitement, then looked down the third base line with a chuckle to his Boston College High teammate and “prayed to God that Tommy Russo saw the sign as well”.
Oh, Tommy saw the sign alright.
With the bases loaded and one out, in the second pitch of Laliberte’s at bat, Eagles coach Norm Walsh called for a suicide squeeze. It was executed flawlessly. Russo sprinted down the third base line as St. John’s reliever Kendall Pomeroy went into his delivery, Laliberte laid down a bunt that chopped slowly towards the mound, and Russo made it home safe after the ensuing throw to catcher Scott Manea was off the mark, for a 4-3 walkoff win over the Pioneers in the bottom of the eighth.
“I was pumped, I’m not gonna lie,” said Russo. “It was a dream come true, because they are a great ball team, and we knew we had to play our best game. It was a perfect time to execute that.”
While it has been used conservatively thus far, Eagles (2-1) boast a deep amount of speed this year, and thus bunting has been an emphasis during practices in the early goings of this season. So while calling for a squeeze in such a situation mandates a bit of gumption, Walsh was confident in Laliberte's chances.
"He’s got great bat control, and he’s quick as hell," Walsh said. "I was really watching to see if the kid was going to find the strike zone, and he did. The worst thing that happens is he’s going to foul it off, and then he puts the next one into play. Once he settled in the strike zone, I thought we could make contact."
BC took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second thanks to two Pioneer fielding errors on Nick Viscariello's single that scored Laliberte and A.J. Ferrara. St. John's then took the lead again, 3-2, on sacrifice flies from sophomore Craig Corliss in the fourth and sixth innings. But at least one Pioneer, coach Charlie Eppinger, was left wondering what could have been on Corliss' second sacrifice, the Eagles escaping the frame with minimal damage thanks to a diving snag in the left-center by Laliberte.
"That was the play of the game," Eppinger said of Laliberte's catch. "It should have been 4-2 with a man on second, instead we only have a 3-2 lead. If it's 4-2, [I think] it's a lot tougher for them to come back."
Junior Ryan Tropeano led off the bottom of the sixth with a single, then took two bags on a pickoff error and came home on a line drive from Andrew Jaehnig (2-for-4, RBI), to make it 3-3. The Eagles had a chance to win it in walk-off fashion the seventh after Sean Webster blasted a two-out, stand-up double to the left-center gap, but he was left stranded.
North Carolina State-bound catcher Scott Manea led off the top of the eighth with a double to center. Joey Evangelista and Charlie McDonald then got plunked in back-to-back at bats to load up the bases with one out, but the Pioneers were unable to capitalize.
Russo led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, followed by a single from Jaehnig, who then moved to second after Nick Valicenti hit into a 1-3 putout. That was followed by an intentional walk to Pat Keohane, setting up the walk-off heroics for Laliberte.
"I like being in that position. The intensity of the game is why you play," Laliberte said.
Mental fortitude: The season is not two weeks old, and yet BC High has already developed an affirmative flair for the dramatic.
Monday, they opened the season at Xaverian, and had a forgettable start, spotting the Hawks a 9-0 lead through five innings that included a no-hitter from its starter (who, having reached his pitch count, was pulled in the sixth). Down to their final out, the Eagles plated seven runs to stun the Hawks 10-9. Wednesday, the Eagles lost a 6-5 walkoff thriller to Malden Catholic under the lights.
Today's result, an extra-innings walkoff by way of a squeeze play, was the piece de resistance on what was a wild opening week of the season for the Eagles. Players felt it should also serve as a litmus test for their resolve when pressed to the fire.
"We love two outs, because teams start to get comfortable out in the field," Laliberte said. "Overall, we're a scrappy team. We're going to be a team that's going to be bunting a lot, we're going to be a team that's moving runners over, sacrifices... and the same thing with our pitching. We buckled down at the end, that was a team win."
Solid start for Jaehnig: It's been a great first week for Jaehnig, who also went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI in Monday's win over Xaverian. There is noticeably more power in his swing to start the season, and Walsh credits some of that to a renewed dedication to the weight room this offseason.
"He's been crushing the ball," Walsh said. "He smoked the ball against Xaverian, he crushed the ball up at MC, he's just really swinging the ball well. He's in much better shape than he was a year ago. He's trimmed down."
With a laugh, Walsh added, "I think from what I understand, he got serious about working out instead of playing pickup hoop. That's the word on the street, which is great."