BROCKTON, Mass. -- Patience is a virtue, and St. John’s Prep displayed plenty of it in a 10-5 grinder of a win over Boston College High to advance to the Super 8 final.
St. John’s Prep (21-3) took advantage of some unsure pitching by BC High (14-11), as Prep batters were hit by pitches five times and drew 12 walks on Sunday night at Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium. Prep took a 2-1 lead on Ryan Spurr’s two-run single in the bottom of the first, and ran away from BC High with a five-run rally in the third inning.
“We knew [BC High] was throwing a freshman pitcher, so we were even more patient than usual,” explained Prep head coach Dan Letarte. “We were able to get ahead 2-0, or 3-1 in the count, and put the pressure on their pitchers. I really loved our approach against a very talented BC High team.”
Because BC High made an incredible run to make the Super 8 tournament, and had to overcome an early loss by winning three straight tournament tilts in five days, they started freshman Mike Valis against a very dangerous Prep lineup.
“We definitely knew that [Valis] was inexperienced,” confirmed Spurr. “He pitched well, but we knew that when a freshman is out there, he’s going to be more rattled than you, so we wanted to take a lot of pitches and make him work.”
Now Prep will face a Braintree team that defeated the Eagles 8-6 in an extra innings thriller last Friday night. Because Braintree is undefeated in Super 8 play, the Eagles will have to defeat the Wamps on Tuesday night, and beat them one more time at a later date if they want to become state champs.
“It’s going to be a very tough challenge for us,” admitted Letarte, “But it feels great to get another crack at Braintree.”
Remarkable Run: These two teams met twice in conference play during the regular season, with St. John’s Prep winning both contests (3-0, 5-0).
BC High would fall to 3-9 after a couple more losses, but rattled off eight straight wins to make the Super 8 tournament.
While their run came to an end tonight, BC High head coach Norm Walsh said, “I give these guys an unbelievable amount of credit. They turned what started as a disastrous season into finishing in the final three of this elite tournament. Everybody on the roster contributed. We played great baseball, and they deserved to end up here.”
Things might have gone differently for BC High if not for a couple of pivotal plays, including a close call at third base that appeared to cost the Eagles a run in the early going. With one out in the top of the third inning, Pat Keohane (3-5, RBI, R, 2 SB) appeared to tag on a fly ball off the bat of Steve Ohanesian, and would have tied the game at 2 by scoring.
Yet when St. John’s Prep checked the call by throwing over to third, the umpire ruled Keohane had left early, and ended the inning with the out signal. Prep would rally for five runs in the bottom half of the third, and never looked in danger of relinquishing that lead.
“Baseball is funny, because there are a lot of momentum swings like that,” recognized Letarte. “The first thing we said to our kids is to take advantage, and to put that 5 spot on the board a couple innings later, especially in a game like this, was so big.”
Stepping Up Late: It’s late in the season. Both of these teams have played several nine-inning baseball games over the past couple weeks, and the pitching staffs were depleted.
That’s why Letarte felt it was necessary to shake up his lineup, by moving Spurr (3-5, 2 RBI, 2 R, SB) into the five-hole, and starting sophomore Andrew Selima (2-5, HBP, RBI, R) at first base. The gamble seemed to help Prep jump ahead, and stay ahead, which Letarte recognized as the key in a contest between two fatigued sides.
“I made a gut call, and both kids played very well,” Letarte said when asked about the change. “Ryan [Spurr]’s been getting some clutch hits recently. He changed the complexion of the Wachusett game [in the second round of the Super 8] with a two-run single, and he did it again tonight.”
Along with several other Prep fielders, Spurr was clutch defensively as well. He ended a big threat in the seventh inning with a fantastic diving play up the middle, and worked seamlessly with shortstop Jacob Spada to cut off lead runners at second base all night.
Letarte said, “I feel so confident with [Spurr and Spada] up the middle. Spurr’s a vacuum out there. He’s an extremely talented defensive player, and they both have such quick hands, which makes turning the double play easy.”
For Walsh, the opposition’s defensive prowess was yet another example of how his team failed to execute in a few key situations.
“We didn’t make a couple plays that could’ve settled things down, while they made a couple of great plays defensively,” said Walsh. “I think one of the big factors tonight was their ability to stop the bleeding with those plays.”
He concluded, “But in the end, we just walked too many batters, and really it’s amazing that they didn’t score more runs given how many runners we put on base.”
St. John’s Prep will have to execute flawlessly, and Letarte may have to produce some more magic by tinkering with his lineup if they are going to defeat an excellent Braintree squad in consecutive meetings.
Yet thanks to a relentless effort on Sunday night, they earned a chance to fight for a championship, which is all the tournament’s number one seed can ask for.