WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -- Their teams have met many, many times over the past four years, but Catholic Memorial’s John Gorman and St. John’s Prep’s Pat Connaughton have never gone mano a mano on the mound in a Catholic Conference tilt.
All that changed on Monday afternoon, and for all the fans, scouts and on-lookers it was well worth the wait. Gorman’s Knights got the better of Connaughton’s Eagles (11-3) for the second time this season thanks to a strange 1-0 extra-inning, walk-off win. But for seven innings the two battled pitch for pitch with zeroes piling up on the right field scoreboard at Todesca Field.
“Both guys threw great, obviously,” Knights head coach Hal Carey said. “Both guys are Div. 1 pitchers and they showed it today.”
The BC-bound Gorman eventually picked up the win as he gave up three hits, struck out eight and left two men on third base in back to back innings in the later stages of the game in a complete-game effort.
Connaughton needed 47 pitches to get through the first two innings, but he settled in to strike out 15 hitters in a 116-pitch, seven-inning performance.
“Just settling in,” Connaughton said of his early command issues. “For me sometimes that happens. I come out and I have a rough beginning. But it’s just settling in and getting my mechanics down.”
The soon-to-be Notre Dame freshman struck out the side in the second and third inning, but neither was a clean 1-2-3 inning. The Knights (12-3) only had one man reach third base, and Connaughton held them 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Gorman was sharp on the corners with his fastball in the early innings, but he did have to bear down and make some big pitches in big spots as the afternoon went on. Shortstop Shane O’Leary helped out his pitcher when he stepped on second and finished off a 6-3 double play to end the sixth-inning.
In the top of the seventh, Prep’s Brandon Bingel hit a sharp liner down the first base line that seemed to go over the bag and grab the foul line, but the home plate umpire ruled that the ball was foul. Gorman recouped and went to a gutsy breaking ball on a 3-2 count, to get the hitter looking and get out of the inning.
“He really went with the pitch down and away, so I knew I couldn’t make that pitch again,” said Gorman. “My curveball was really on today. That was my best pitch, so I wanted to go with that.”
Both pitchers did enough to grab a victory, so naturally a defensive play was the difference.
The Knights were happy to see Connaughton exit the game and take over duties at third base in the bottom of the eighth inning. O’Leary raced out of the box after hitting a cue shot into left-center field in front of the fielders, and due to that hustle he found himself diving headfirst into second base safely with a leadoff double.
“I just saw that they were bobbling it out there, went to second and slid in,” said O’Leary.
Nick Barker tried to bunt O’Leary over to third base, but he popped up the bunt and the reliever Bingel sprawled out to make a diving catch. Bingel sprung up and tried to get the overzealous O’Leary trying to get back to the second base bag, and his throw sailed into center field.
When the outfielder tried to charge the ball, he accidentally booted the ball away, allowing O’Leary to alertly trot home for the game-winning run.
“We didn’t do our job getting the bunt down, but it obviously works out well when the guy throws the ball away,” said Carey. “We did a bad job bunting and a bad job of base running, but the throw gets away and we luck out and score. I’d rather be lucky than good today”
It’s hard to miss the presence of the raucous O’Leary when the Knights are up to bat. The senior infielder is the vocal leader of the squad and it’s something that doesn’t go unnoticed by his head coach.
“He’s been big for us all year,” Carey said. “He’s kind of the heart and soul of the team. He’s always loud. He’s always into it. He’s just one of those kind of kids and he’s had a great year for us.”