PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
St. John’s Christian Jordan and St. John’s Prep pitcher Jake Sanderson look at the umpire for the call on a play at the plate. Jordan was safe to make it 1-1.
By KATIE MORRISON
BROCKTON — Saturday’s Super 8 winners bracket semifinal was a classic good ballgame between two of the top two teams in the state, St. John’s of Shrewsbury and St. John’s Prep of Danvers.
Down a run in the top of the ninth, the Eagles rallied to take the lead. But the 22-3 Pioneers responded with two runs of their own in the bottom half and send the Eagles to the losers bracket with a 4-3 win at Campanelli Stadium.
The Eagles, no strangers to playing with their backs against the wall, will play tonight (7) against BC High for another chance at the Pioneers in the finals. And then, they’ll have to beat the Pioneers twice.
“We’re used to this spot,” Eagles coach Dan LeTarte said. “I think (the team is) probably just frustrated, you go up a run and then they come back. But that’s baseball. I felt bad for them, because they’ve been in this spot before but they’ve fought back. It was a tough one.”
It was the first time the two teams have meet in the Super 8, and the third time they’ve met this season, with the Pioneers winning the first game and the Eagles taking the second.
Early on, it looked like it’d be a slugfest. The Eagles jumped out to a 1-0 lead after a half an inning. Jacob Bolger knocked a leadoff double in the first off St. John’s starter Ian Seymour and scooted to third as Tyler MacGregor grounded back to the pitcher. Bolger came home on a wild pitch, and Seymour settled in to fan the next two batters.
The Pioneers responded with a run in the bottom of the frame, as Christian Jordan doubled with one out and came home on Jack Gardner’s single as the throw to the plate skipped away.
After that, however, pitchers on both sides got into a groove. Seymour retired the side in order the next two innings. Sanderson escaped a jam in the second, and Max Gieg took over and pitched well for 2 1/3 innings.
The Eagles made some noise in the sixth, as Bolger and MacGregor hit back-to-back singles with one out. Frank DiOrio grounded to the infield and Bolger was cut down at home. Dan Frey singled to load the bases, but Andrew Selima grounded to second to end the inning.
“His offspeed is excellent, and when he’s up in the count, he’s such an effective pitcher because you’re just flailing away at his offspeed,” LeTarte said of Seymour. “He pitched really well, and he shut us down.”
The one positive effect the long, fruitless inning had was driving starter Seymour out of the game a little earlier. Nick MacDonald came on in relief in the eighth, and the Eagles put two on with two outs, on a DiOrio walk and Frey single, but a strikeout ended the inning.
St. John’s took the lead in the eighth, plating a run on two hits and a hit batter off Prep reliever Dan Regan.
But the Eagles, who had stranded seven men on base to that point, rallied in the ninth to steal back the lead. Chris Francoeur singled to start the inning and pinch hitter Oliver Bergeron sacrificed him to second. Alex Lane singled, and the Eagles had a golden opportunity with runners on first and third with one out. Andrew Dembowski delivered one of the biggest hits of the afternoon, a single up the middle that scored Francoeur. With two outs, MacGregor followed with a single up the middle to bring home Lane.
“It was a big hit at the right time, we just couldn’t finish,” LeTarte said.
Matthew DeFalco relieved MacDonald and walked DiOrio, but got Frey to ground to the shortstop, whose throw beat Frey at first by just a step.
Casey Bussone took over for Regan on the bump and walked the first batter he faced in the bottom of the ninth. The Jack Gardner smacked a double to deep center, bringing home the tying run. Another single put runners on first and third, and after Bussone got the first out of the inning, Fields stepped up and shot a single past second base to bring home the winning run.
“They respect SJP so much, but they know they can compete with them,” Pioneers coach Charlie Eppinger said. “Though it was a little tough when they took the lead there. But we had 2-3-4 coming up and knew we needed one to tie, two to win.”
Now the Eagles find themselves in a familiar spot. The Prep will needed to beat either BC High or Braintree, who has beaten the Eagles for the Super 8 title the last two years, for another shot at the Pioneers. If they get there, the Eagles will have to beat St. John’s twice.
“We have to find a way to close, one game at a time now,” LeTarte said.