DANVERS, Mass. -- St. John's Prep coach Dan Letarte has no explanation for it other than to say, "The kid just wins."
That simple phrase pretty much sums up the distinguished career of the Eagles' staff ace, senior righthander Justin Foley. In two seasons with the varsity, the senior has never tasted defeat on the mound.
You can now attach another milestone to his accending resume. On an overcast Wednesday afternoon, Foley recorded his first no-hitter after blanking No. 8 Newton North, 1-0, in the opening round of the Division 1A tournament held at Father Linus, C.F.X Athletic Complex.
Never once, before a large gathering of curious onlookers, did Foley allow his nerves to get in the way of his performance. In spite his team only handing him a single run lead to work with, the Bates College-bound right-hander continued to go out with each passing inning with his usual calm, cool demeanor.
Only once during his nine-inning masterpiece, did the Tigers place a runner beyond first base. Foley allowed just three baserunners total -- all coming via the walk. He also struck out five.
"I was keeping the ball down, threw pitches to get ground balls and had them hit it right to my guys which was awesome," said Foley, who is 10-0 this season and 13-0 for his career. "We only had the one run but certainly a few more runs would've been nice. With a one run lead you need to be strong the whole way through and you can't let anything up. I was just staying focused. You might say a sort of tunnel vision focus."
Prep (19-2) will face No. 5 Wachusett Regional (16-5 and a 5-2 first round victor over Xaverian) in a winner's bracket game scheduled for either Sunday or Monday at Brockton's Campenelli Stadium at a time to be announced. Newton North (16-7) faces No. 4 Xaverian (14-7) in a loser's bracket tilt, also to be played in Brockton, at a time and date to be dertermined.
As he has demonstrated throughout his time here, Foley is not your typical over-powering pitcher, and would be the first one to say so. He doesn't blow hitters away with an 88-90 MPH fastball. Instead, he is considered more craftsman-like, able to set up his low-80's fastball with an on-the-mark curve and change-up. Able to spot pitches on a dime is Foley's main weapon.
On this day, Newton North never got completely comfortable inside the batter's box against Foley, not knowing what he may throw next. In many cases, the Tigers were seen caught out on their front foot and completely off-balanced in their stride. Eleven of their outs came from balls hit on the ground.
"I don't think Justin was clearly in any sort of trouble during this entire game," Letarte said. "I give him all the credit in the world. To come into this type of caliber game and come up with that kind of performance has been indicative of how he has been the whole year for us."
With Newton North pitcher Curtis Beatrice matching zeros with Foley on the board over the first three innings, it certainly appeared as though a premium to score runs was in store. Indeed, it was.
"Curtis pitched really well and he's done that for us all year," said Tigers 29 year head coach Joe Siciliano. "The kid they had going for them is a very good pitcher. But that team can also hit and they got clutch hits at the right time. I thought we made some great plays behind Curtis today. But for us, offensively, everytime we hit the ball they also made a good play. We hit a lot of ground balls today and they made every play."
Beatrice, a senior, went seven innings and allowed five hits. The righty encountered just one bad inning and, as a result, it would prove costly.
In the Eagles half of the fourth, Keith Leavitt opened with an opposite single to left for Prep's first hit of the game. Jacob Yish next walked on a full-count. After Beatrice got Nick Latham looking at a called third strike, Ted McNamara followed by ripping a ground-rule double to left-centerfield that scored Leavitt and put Yish on third. Dan Trulli then popped to second for the Eagles second out.
Moments later, Ryan Spurr, on a 3-2 pitch, lined a bullet destined for right-centerfield. However, second baseman Kane Medina made a diving stab, saving two runs in the process and keeping Prep's damage to a minimum.
The Eagles rode their one run advantage the rest of the way as the offense after the fourth had been grounded thanks to Beatrice and reliever Spencer Anderson.
In the seventh, Prep was looking for a little insurance. Spurr led off the frame by reaching second on an error. But a short time later, on an attempted delayed steal, he was picked off at third by Beatrice to end the threat.
Meanwhile, Foley continued in his dominance of the defending Division 1A champions. In six of his nine innings, Foley set down the Tigers in order. Newton North did shows a bit of life in the top half of the seventh. Ben Porter started the inning with a walk and stole second. With a golden opportunity for the Tigers to finally do something on offense, Foley would have none of it as he retired the next three batters with ease to come away unscathed.
With the start of the ninth inning, the decibel level throughout the field, and from inside the Eagles dugout, increased mightily in anticipation of a possible no-hitter and victory. Foley (118 pitches) did not disappoint as he induced the Tigers to bow out quietly in the frame, sparking off a joyous celebration by Prep players as they engulfed their newfound hero inside the diamond.
"All the credit to Newton North, especially defensively where they were making some major league-type plays," said Letarte. "I have a lot of trust in Justin. He just knows how to win and the players behind him play with that same feeling when he's on the mound. His performance today against the defending Super 8 champs was simply phenomenal."