NORTON, Mass. –- The last thing No. 1 seed Pope John Paul II wanted to do was dig itself into an early hole in Friday’s MIAA Division 4 South semifinal game against No. 5 seed Archbishop Williams.
But that’s exactly what happened as the Bishops built a 4-0 lead after 3-1/2 innings.
Conversely, the second-to-last thing the Lions were going to do was mail in the rest of the game.
“We knew we hadn’t played well up to that point but we knew we had more in us,” winning pitcher Mike Young said after the Lions rallied for an improbable 6-5 victory. “We’ve scored runs in games before. We knew that four wasn’t insurmountable.
“Ben Gibson’s home run really swung the momentum for us. I don’t think they scored again except for the last inning. We just didn’t stop. That really turned things around. He’s a great player. He’s done that so many times for us. You just knew he was the one who was going to turn things around.”
Gibson’s solo shot came in the last of the fourth and, as Young alluded to, gave the Lions (24-1) reason to be optimistic.
As a result, the Lions will face Abington at 3 p.m. Sunday at Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium for the sectional championship.
What made the game improbable as much as anything was the fact each team played flawless defense until key spots.
The Bishops (15-6) trailed 5-4 entering the top of the seventh when Ed Riley doubled with one out and, one out later, scored the tying run when shortstop Collin Russell made an errant throw on Eric Keefe’s grounder.
Then, in the bottom of the frame, Gibson (3-for-4) led with a single off losing pitcher Ryan Earle. After Russell drew a one-out walk, Bishops coach Pat Clifford replaced Earle with Richie Ryan.
Kevin Marsh followed by grounding to Ryan who, in his haste to force Russell at second, threw the ball into center field which allowed Gibson to score the winning run.
“In games of this magnitude when you start getting closer to the finish line everyone tends to tighten up a little bit,” Lions coach Mark Santos said. “I think that was the case (in the seventh).
“We told our guys going into the bottom of the seventh to look for (Earle’s) fastball because he doesn’t want to get behind in the count and put a good swing on it. If we go extras, we go extras but let’s go out and have some fun.”
What transpired in the second wasn’t “fun” for the Lions.
Marsh singled with one out and appeared to score on Austin Houlian’s triple. But after huddling for an interminable amount of time, the umpires ruled Marsh had failed to touch second base which negated Houlian’s triple and, in turn, erased Marsh’s run.
“I thought in a game like this every run is crucial,” Lions coach Mark Santos said. “The fact that they took the run off the board I thought was very important. I thought it would come back at some point.
“My problem with it was it was an improper appeal. They never mentioned which runner they were going for. The third base umpire admitted that fact. I think he knew it but I’m not going to put words in his mouth. Bygones are bygones. I’m just happy to get out of here with a ‘W’.”
The Bishops bolted to a 4-0 lead when they scored three runs in the second and another in the fourth.
Casey Earle’s RBI single and Mike Sorenti’s two-run single accounted for the second inning runs while Earle’s sacrifice fly made it 4-0.
After Bishop’s homer, the Lions hung four runs on the board in the sixth for a 5-4 lead with Marsh and Blake Waters each collecting run-scoring infield hits and Brady Jones hitting a grounder to first baseman C.J. Goldbranson who booted it for an error that allowed Marsh to score the go-ahead run.
“I can’t say enough about our guys and you have to tip your cap to Archbishop Williams.” Santos said. “Their pitcher is equally as impressive. It was a good, old-fashioned dog fight.”