Prep bats come alive in win over Xaverian

WESTWOOD, Mass. -- Between the wooden bats and overall depth of quality pitching, it's uncommon to see a high-scoring baseball affair in the Catholic Conference.

Yet that's exactly what went down today at Xaverian High, as visiting No. 3 St. John's Prep plated seven runs in the first two innings to down their archrivals going away, 12-6, to improve to 11-2 overall and take sole possession of first place in the Catholic Conference at 5-1.

No. 9 Xaverian fell to 8-5, 2-3 in the Catholic Conference.

Right away, the Eagles sat back in the batter's box and preyed on missed opportunities by Xaverian lefty starter Tim Duggan. They didn't wait long, as Anthony Capuano and Tyler Coppola both walked to start the game. On the fourth at bat, Pat Connaughton (2 for 3, 2 RBI, solo HR, 2 BB) drove a 2-2 fastball up the middle to score Capuano from second base. Coppola and Connaughton were sent home on a hit batsmen and walk, respectively, for a 3-0 lead after one inning.

The next trip up, Coppola smashed a three-run shot over the wall in centerfield for a 6-0 lead, retiring Duggan for the day and bringing in senior Mike Uradnik for long relief. His first batter, the Notre Dame-bound Connaughton, proceeded to sent a 2-0 fastball far over the fence in left-center for a solo homer and 7-0 lead.

"I was looking for my one pitch, and he threw me the pitch," Connaughton said. "I was just trying to look for a line drive, and that's usually the way it happens on home runs. You just look for a line drive, and if it's your pitch, and you're dialed in on it, then next thing you know it took off."

Said Prep head coach Pat Yanchus, "Back to back, that got us sparked. It's always good to jump out to a lead, get your pitcher (Dillon Gonzalez) comfortable.

The Hawks closed the gap to 8-5 in the bottom of the fourth, when Matt Rubino touched home after Mike Muir tried to run out a grounder back to the mound. But the Eagles responded in resounding fashion, scoring four more runs -- including three in the seventh off RBI's from Justin Paluso and Gonzalez.

"That was huge," Prep head coach Pat Yanchus said of the first two innings. "They battle back, though. At 8-5, that's anyone's game, so I was happy to see Ryan come in and throw strikes, creating ground balls."

Xaverian head coach Gerry Lambert came away less than pleased with the way his team played at the bookends of the game -- "we became very flat mentally in the late innings, and that's the thing I'm most frustrated about," he said -- but satisfied with how they rallied to cut the lead to three in the fifth.

"We talk about having good at bats," Lambert said. "We talk about not worrying about the score and just putting together a good at bat, and I think in the middle innings with that....but we have to be able to sustain the right way to play mentally for all seven innings. It wasn't that we were mentally unsharp in the first inning, it was that we were physically unsharp. But late in the game, we got very ragged on the bases, [and] offensively, and we gave them [the Eagles] extra chances."

Web Gem at the hot corner

Connaughton impressed major league scouts again last Tuesday when he hit 93 miles per hour on the radar gun, in the Eagles' 7-4 loss to St. John's of Shrewsbury. But not to be overlooked is his play in the field, explicated by a heads-up play at third base where he dove and threw it to first base from his knees in time to get the baserunner out.

"I knew when I had to dive for that ball, freshman year I made a throw from my knees, so I knew I could do it," Connaughton said. "I figured to save time, I'd just get down on my knees and throw from there."