St. Laurence upsets touted Celtics

BURBANK, Ill. -- The word around St. Laurence’s dugout before Saturday’s baseball game was a few of Providence’s players had already stated they were going to roll to a win over the Vikings and eventually to the Catholic League Blue crown.

St. Laurence senior catcher Bryan Villanova hadn’t heard anyone say that first hand, but he believed the source as a number of his teammates were good friends with Providence’s players.

Whether the trash-talking was actually true or not, Villanova and company used it to fuel them to an 8-5 comeback win over nationally-ranked and previously-unbeaten Providence at St. Laurence on Saturday afternoon.

Providence, which was ranked No. 19 in ESPN RISE’s latest national rankings, fell to 14-1 overall and 4-1 in the Catholic League. The Vikings improved to 17-3 overall and 7-0 in conference.

“They thought they were going to walk all over us, walk all over the Catholic League, but we got them,” Villanova said. “We heard them say how they were going to walk through everyone.

“Everybody kind of wrote us off after the first couple of weeks after losing to Marist, thinking we’re not going to do anything. We’re going to prove them wrong.”

Villanova did his part in Saturday’s win.

After driving in two runs with a double in the fifth inning, Villanova came to bat with the bases loaded and St. Laurence down by 5-4 in the sixth. He sent the second pitch, a fastball from Providence reliever Cristian Ochoa, over the center-field wall for a grand slam and ultimately the win.

“That was awesome,” St. Laurence senior pitcher Charlie Naso said. “That was one of the best hits I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Villanova finished the day 2 for 4 with six RBIs.

After Villanova’s heroics, Naso, an Illinois recruit, took care of the rest in the seventh inning. He retired Providence’s 3-4-5 hitters on a total of nine pitches for the complete-game effort.

Naso pitched seven innings, allowed six hits, five runs and three earned runs, struck out eight and walked four. He often pitched out of trouble Saturday. He retired the side in just two innings against the Celtics.

“It’s a little stressful being out of the stretch all day,” said Naso, who also went 2 for 4 at the plate. “I could have done better, but I’m just happy we got the win today. I battled through. That’s what coach tells us to do, and that’s what I was trying to do all game. I know they’re all good hitters, but I just tried to fight and get my team the win today.”

Naso especially had to keep his cool in the top of the sixth inning. Two fielding errors by St. Laurence’s defense led to a three-run inning and gave the Celtics a 5-3 advantage.

St. Laurence’s Kevin Smith kicked off the bottom of sixth inning with a single to left field. Mike Solofra, who previously hit a solo home run, continued the rally with a walk. No. 9 hitter Steve Fiorella followed with a single up the middle to drive in Smith and pull the Vikings within a run.

“I don’t know if there’s a guy more clutch than Steve Fiorella,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “He hits nine for us, but he’s not the typical nine hitter. He just doesn’t feel pressure.”

Leadoff hitter Brandon Mallder came up next and walked to put the bases loaded for Villanova.

Providence starting pitcher Brandon Magallones, a Northwestern recruit, picked up the loss. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed six hits and seven earned runs, struck out six, walked four and hit three batters.

Kevin DeFilippis hit a solo home run for Providence, and Joe Houlihan went 2 for 3 with two RBIs for the Celtics.

St. Laurence will travel to Providence for a rematch on Monday.