DANVERS, Mass. –- For just about everyone on the St. John’s Prep bench, seeing Evan Roberts’ celebratory shout and fist pump was the most emotion they’d seen from their stoic ace all year.
Roberts has dominated the very best that the state has had to offer this season, but when he caught a steaming line drive back up the middle and threw out a helpless Lowell High base runner to end the top of the seventh inning, he knew he had overcome his toughest challenge of the game.
The line drive came off the bat of Lowell cleanup hitter Conor Callery with runners on first and second in the seventh inning. It was the second and final time that a Lowell runner had reached second base on the day.
“That was their four hitter, he’s a big guy and I knew I needed to get that kid out,” Roberts said, “The double play, that was exactly what I wanted. It was very exciting.”
Added Prep coach Dan Letarte, “The key play was the game was the liner hit right back to him. That was hit harder than the home runs, the umpire said. That takes [Lowell] out of their threa."
The Davidson-bound Roberts threw a complete game shutout for the Eagles, putting in perhaps his best pitching performance of the season in the first game in the history of the Super 8. Penn State commit Keath Leavitt single-handedly took over the game offensively for the Eagles, hitting two home runs and driving in three of the Prep’s four runs on their way to a 4-0 victory.
“Four hits given up, and most of those early. We had a couple balls that I hoped would sneak through, but everything is pretty true on the turf with hops,” Lowell coach Dan Graham said of Roberts. “We needed to catch some breaks early on in the game to chip away after they put that three run inning on us. He pitched a very good game. We knew he wasn’t going to be overpowering, but his change of speeds...and obviously the numbers speak for themselves in the Catholic Conference."
The fact that zero Lowell runners reached third base displays just how dominant Roberts was, placing his fastball seemingly wherever he wanted to in order to set Lowell’s hitters up for his hooking curve ball. He walked just one batter in the game, throwing nearly three out of every four pitches for a strike.
“Taking a lead with Evan is crucial cause when he gets a lead it’s a good feeling. You feel like you’re not going to lose with a lead and the ball in his hand. It’s just a matter of the time of day we’re all leaving,” Letarte said with a laugh. “In two extra innings, he was so strong his pitch count was fine.”
Leavitt was one of the few Prep hitters who was able to get to Lowell pitcher Brock Riley, who had no walks and pitched a complete game. Leavitt, who had three hits, smacked a home run to left-center field in the second inning. Ted McNamara added a solo shot two batters later.
“We were watching [Riley] before the game and you could tell he had a little bit of a herky-jerky wind-up," Leavitt said. "Coach [Ryan] Leahy pointed out that a lot of his pitches were going to drop off because of the way he was delivering the ball. The first one was a fastball on the outer part of the plate, so I was able to wait on it, sit back, and drive it the other way."
Just for good measure, Leavitt added one more run to the scoreboard in the fifth inning, this time taking a Riley curve ball deep to right field.
“The second one he started off with a first-pitch offspeed, so I knew ‘okay, he’s going to work offspeed, he’s going to work in'," Leavitt said. "Then he threw a curve ball the next pitch and I was able to sit back and drive it. Good pitches for me to hit, I’m glad I took advantage of it,” Leavitt said of the second home run, his sixth round-tripper of the year.
Said Letarted, “Keith’s the type of hitter who can get hot, like any power hitter. He’s been focused and those were two really quality at-bats."
The Eagles will take on the winner of tomorrow’s game between third-seeded Bridgewater-Raynham and sixth-seeded Lincoln-Sudbury. Letarte said the Eagles will have a rare late practice Thursday so that the team can go and scout out their next-round opponent.
Regardless of opponent, Leavitt reiterated that it’s all about plate confidence for the power-hitting Eagles, who were able to get to Riley by working their way into good counts and taking advantage of pitches to hit around the strike zone:
“It’s difficult to pick up at first, but after the first time around you kind of get used to the wind up. At that point, it’s just seeing the baseball, reacting, and hitting it. I think we all got used to him after the first time through and it was a good day for us.”