MALDEN, Mass. -- For those that were quick to write Malden Catholic off because of its auspicious start to the season: Do you feel a bit foolish now?
After starting the year 3-4, the Lancers seemed to have turned things around after winning three straight games, including Thursday's 7-4 triumph over St. Peter-Marian at Maplewood Park.
"We are starting to figure some things out," said Lancers multi-talented first baseman Steve Passatempo. "People are starting to hit and our pitching is coming through and our fielding is doing great. We feel we have a chance to score in every inning. People are getting on base and it doesn't matter who is up at the plate because we are finding ways to get those runners in."
Passatempo, a senior who will do a post-graduate season at Salisbury School (Conn.) next year, certainly found his way against the Guardians. The senior finished 3-for-3 at the plate, including a home run and 3 RBI.
Starting pitching on both sides was shaky in this one. MC's Anthony DeSouza struggled from the outset. The sophomore, who started Wednesday's tilt against SPM before rain halted things in the second inning, ran into difficulty in the first inning after the Guardians (5-2) plated three runs against him. DeSouza opened the second by walking the first batter he faced before being pulled in favor of Nick Puleio.
The junior lefty came on and gave the Lancers a much-needed spark by tossing six solid innings, having allowed just one unearned run on only 3 hits while striking out 9.
"I just basically came in and threw how I usually do," Puleio said. "I wasn't thinking about the deficit we were in when I came in. To be honest, pressure doesn't really affect me. I was going with my fastball and curve ball today and didn't really go with my change-up.
"I just tried to throw strikes and it worked out for us. Once we went ahead I felt a lot more comfortable. My teammates were supporting me so I knew that I needed to help them out."
MC (6-4) erased the deficit rather quickly after scoring five times in the second inning against righthander Dan Bushe. With one out, Zack Coles walked and Ryan Covelle proceeded to loop a double to left. Jake Witkowski next grounded a sharp single to right field scoring both runners to make it 3-2.
Dan Marini then followed with a walk thus setting the stage for Passatempo, who ripped a triple into right to move the Lancers ahead by a run. With Pat Gallagher now on in relief of Bushe, the sophomore struck out Ian Steckel swinging. However, catcher Brandon O'Connor couldn't field the pitch cleanly and needed throw down to first to retire Steckel.
The senior's throw deflected off of Steckel's left shoulder. Alertly, first baseman Jack Riley was able to catch the ball before Steckel reached the bag for the out. But, in the meantime, Passatempo who was creeping down the line, managed to sprint home with the Lancers' fifth run before Riley could make a throw.
Gallagher, a sophomore, did a nice job on the mound for the Guardians. The righty went the final 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on just 2 hits. He fanned 8.
"For a young guy he had an unbelievable outing for us," SPM head coach Ed Riley said. "He just turned 16 and for him to go out there he really picked us up. It is certainly a positive for us."
After striking out the side in the fourth, Puleio ran into trouble in the Guardians' fifth. With one out, O'Connor, considered the team's spark plug, opened the frame by legging out an infield single. Jon Crimmin next singled up the middle with O'Connor taking third on the play. Riley was then plunked by a pitch loading the bases.
At this juncture, it would have been easy for Puleio to start coming unglued in his attempts to hold onto the lead. Yet Instead, he displayed tremendous character by bearing down and retiring the next two SPM batters to come away unscathed.
"We didn't have the focus in the early going," said Lancers head coach Pat Driscoll, whose troops lost to SPM 3-2 back on April 12. "The guys that needed to get the big hits for us did just that. They are starting to believe in themselves a little bit more.
"When you need to win games you have to come up with big hits and be able to hit with runners in scoring position. Today we did that. I thought Nick did a great job today. That was his first varsity win. I was real proud of the way he came in and basically shut the door on them."
Knowing full-well that a two-run advantage was anything but safe, MC would add to its total in the bottom of the fifth. Despite a strong, gusty wind that was blowing from left-to-right all afternoon, Passatempo, on the first pitch he saw from Gallagher, belted a rocket deep over the centerfield fence to make it 6-3.
MC added a solo run in the sixth after Witkowski (2-for-4) doubled and came around to score on second baseman Mike Pezzano's error of an Ethan Harris' grounder. The Guardians got one back in the seventh. With two out, Crimmin (3-for-4), singled and scored after Covelle failed to catch Nate Frederick's deep fly to center. But that would be as close as SPM would get.
"Against a team like them you need to minimize the runs," Riley said. "Our effort was there but I felt we lost some focus after going up 3-0. We kind of sat on that instead of keeping the foot on the pedal. With a line up like theirs you cannot sit back. They are well-coached and you know Pat is going to keep them motivated over there. They are a very good team."