WORCESTER, Mass. -- Bitter rivalries are commonplace at the high school level. We have seen it take place in football, basketball and, to a certain extent, in hockey as well. But rarely do we witness it on the baseball diamond.
That is, until you take in a St. John's (Shrewsbury)-St. Peter-Marian match-up. There is no sugarcoating the fact that these two programs have had a dislike for one another over the years. Players and coaches may come go in this long-standing affair, but the fierce rivalry between the two Central Mass. powers never gets old.
On Tuesday, these two teams squared off for the second time this season. SPM, which defeated the Pioneers back on April 9th, had all intentions of sweeping the series. As both teams will attest, their seasons are broken into two parts -- the 18 games against various opponents and the two against each another. St. John's (10-3) took advantage of some rare wildness from Guardians ace pitcher Jack Riley to secure a 7-0 triumph.
Riley, a senior committed to play at UConn next season, never seemed to find his rhythm on this cool, blustery afternoon. The lefty labored through five innings, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits and walked 5. His defense did him no favors either by committing three of its five errors while he was on the mound.
Riley got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first but ran into further problems in the third as the Pioneers once again filled the bases. Riley then issued consecutive free passes to Charlie McDonald and Joey Evangelista giving St. John's a 2-0 lead.
Riley's counterpart Shane Combs wasn't all that sharp as he pitched deep into counts but still had yet to allow a hit through the first four innings. Back on April 27 in a game versus Leominster, the hard-throwing junior Notre Dame commit fired a no-hitter. Although Combs' control was in far different contrast against the Blue Devils as compared to Tuesday, he still managed to keep the SPM bats quiet.
"We were a little sloppy defensively today," Pioneers head coach Charlie Eppinger said. "But Shane pitched us though it. He clearly didn't have his best stuff but he competed. When he was down in counts he made pitches to get back into counts.
"We have a lot of respect for SPM. They compete hard and we know that they're always going to give us their best shot. It's always been that way. We know we need to bring our "A" game if we want to get a win against them. Obviously in this rivalry our kids always seem to have a little extra motivation to get a win against them. It's fun to play SPM because it is fun to compete."
In the top half of the fifth, the Pioneers would add a pair more to their total. After Riley retired the first two batters with ease, Evangelista and Kevin Quinlivan each singled. Evangelista came around to score a short time later on Cam Murphy's single to lead 3-0. Sophomore Sam Shaw followed by ripping a single to left plating Quinlivan.
"When we get into this kind of game against (SPM) the intensity level is always up," said Shaw. "A lot of people have their emotions at a high level. It was a good day to come into their field and get this win. We've been starting to come around and today's game just adds to it. We're starting to hit and our pitching has been there the whole year. Everything seems to be coming together right now."
The Guardians (8-4) finally broke Combs' hitless streak in the bottom of the frame after Jon Crimmin was able to leg out an infield single. But, following a St. John's error (one of 4 committed on the day by the Pioneers), Crimmin rounded third but stopped halfway down the line. A brief rundown followed before Crimmin was tagged out thus keeping SPM off the board.
After 101 pitches, Combs departed after five innings giving way to reliever Danny Barlok, who allowed just one hit over the final two frames.
St. John's scored twice more in the seventh off of reliever Pat Gallagher. Back-to-back Guardian errors and a single by Shaw, his second of the game, had the bases full. Jake Rosen (2 hits) brought home the Pioneers' sixth run with a sharp single to left. Scott Manea (2 hits) next lined an RBI single to right for the Pioneers' seventh tally.
"It was an ugly game with a lot off errors and a lot of walks," said SPM head coach Ed Riley. "Jack wasn't himself today. He battled through it but said he couldn't get a feel for the ball. But we have no excuses. He just looked rusty out there today. St. John's has the type of line-up where they put the ball in play quite a bit. But a split is good. Anytime you can split against a team like that is a good thing."