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Gloucester baseball fishing its case for Super 8

GLOUCESTER, Mass. -– As the regular season nears its’, end and some of the state’s best teams have started to separate themselves, the looming question at Nate Ross Field on Friday was this: Will this Gloucester team, ranked No. 12 in the latest ESPN Boston statewide poll, have the opportunity to qualify for the inaugural Division 1A "Super 8" tournament?

The Fishermen knocked on the door and had some opportunity on Friday, but ultimately fell to St. John’s Prep, the top ranked team in the state, 11-9 in a wild extra innings affair.

The Fishermen jumped out to an early lead thanks to their deep lineup and a couple errors from St. John’s Prep. Gloucester, led by Pete Clark (2-4, HR, 2B), Jordan Palazolla, (1-3, HR, 2 BB), and Bart Margiotta (2-4, HR, 3 RBI), led 9-4 in the fifth inning. Clark, the game starting pitcher, hit a solo home run in the first inning to set what St. John’s Prep coach Dan Letarte called “a tournament feel” for the rest of the game.

“It was nice when Pete started off the first inning, our go-to guy, and he hits a home run. He’s a great pitcher, he’s a great competitor," Gloucester coach Bryan Lafata said. "He’s not going to blow you away, but he’s a great competitor and the toughest thing for him is early on he was amped up too. The few pitches he left up, they made him pay."

The Eagles, led offensively by senior catcher Michael Geaslen (3-3, 2 HR), Mark Etherington (3-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Jacob Yish (3-4, 2 2B), and Sawyer Billings (2-4, HR, 2B), hit a total of five home runs in the victory. Clark finished with eight earned runs for Gloucester.

“Very well-coached team they are, a lot of respect for them. I think they’re right up with all the teams, I think they definitely deserve consideration [for Super 8],” Letarte said of Gloucester, “I’ve seen them play three times and I’ve always thought that from behind the backstop. And they battled, they hit the ball really well, I know with pitching depth it’s tough, but when you can hit like that you have a chance to beat anybody.”

Though still another tally in the loss column, Lafata said the game against St. John’s Prep was a measuring stick for his team in terms of how Gloucester shapes up against some of the state’s other top teams. The Fishermen's only other loss came to Winthrop, the only blemish on an otherwise solid resume that includes key victories over Peabody -- who happened to hand St. John’s Prep their one loss this year -- as well as Beverly and Danvers.

After playing Prep to the wire for eight innings, Lafata and his team feel as if they could compete among the state’s elite.

“That’s the best team in the state according to everyone. I know a lot of those players, they’re a great program,” Lafata said of St. John’s Prep. “We played with them the whole time in one game. I’ll take my team with anybody, they have the confidence and they go out and play that way. I told them that it was only about what they could control, those pitches we left up, if we missed a spot, if they made him play. We think we can play with anyone, that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Lafata also said there has been plenty of talk lately about the Super 8, particularly among those close to the program, of the possibility of the Fishermen being recognized as a finalist. Alongside Pope John Paul and Peabody, the Fishermen stand alone as one of the few non-Division 1 teams left in the state that have the potential to qualify for the Super 8.

“A lot of us have been talking about it, and from talking to a lot of people in the media it feels like a March Madness all of a sudden talking about the Super 8: the teams that are in, the teams that are out, the resume," Lafata said. "For us, we play who we’re told to play. Obviously that’s all we can do, that’s a tremendous conference, the Catholic schools, but we beat Peabody 2-1, that’s a top team, it wasn’t like some of the top teams were laying over to them. Like I tell my players, it’s out of our control, all we can do is go out and play and come in ready Monday.

“If we can go to the Super 8, that would be an unbelievable honor. If not, obviously we’ll be a higher seed in Division 2. Super 8 is a great honor, especially in the inaugural class...To be a Division 2 team would be amazing, but like I said, things in our control. I’m looking forward to the selection process, the announcements; it’s going to be pretty cool."