Andrew Selima and the Eagles will hope their third trip to the Super 8 final is the charm.
By MIKE ALONGI
For the third consecutive season, the St. John’s Prep baseball team has battled its way into the Division 1A “Super 8” Final, and hopefully for head coach Dan Letarte and the Eagles (18-6), the third time will be the charm.
“We’re certainly hoping that the third time’s the charm,” said Letarte. “The guys have put in a ton of hard work to get back to this point and I couldn’t be prouder of them. It would be great to cap it off with a title this time.”
The Eagles have fallen in the past two attempts at a state title, dropping to Braintree both times. This year the opponent will be top-ranked St. John’s of Shrewsbury (22-3), a team that the Eagles know all too well, having split two meetings during the regular season (3-2 loss on 5/15 and 4-1 win on 5/27) and then fell to the Pioneers, 4-3, just four days ago in the winner’s bracket semifinal.
“They are a team that has outstanding pitching, including a bunch of Division 1-caliber arms, plus they’re a good hitting team,” said Letarte. “So really, they’re a team that you just can’t make mistakes against either defensively or offensively.”
The Eagles, who earned a No. 2 seed in the Super 8 after a strong regular season, moved fairly quickly through the first two rounds of the tournament. After dispatching No. 7 Newton North, 18-3, in the first round, the Eagles went on to take down No. 3 Central Catholic, 7-4, to move on to the semifinal where they fell to the Pioneers.
Having already lost a game during the Super 8 tournament, the Eagles are now stuck with their backs against the proverbial wall and need to win two games in a row in order to capture the state title. It’s a challenge Letarte and his team are used to at this point, as they have been caught in the same situation for the past two years with Braintree. Both years the Eagles were able to win the first game and push the series to the limit, but both attempts ultimately ended with a second-place finish.
“Obviously it’s tough when you don’t win, but I think the guys who were here are just taking those feelings into this year,” Letarte said.
Besides knowing their opponent really well this year, the Eagles also are returning a host of players who have been through this “win-or-go-home” scenario before, some of them twice. Players like Andrew Selima, Frank Di’Orio and Chris Francoeur have all seen on-field experiences in games like this, so Letarte will look to those guys for the spark.
“It’s always good to have those guys simply for their experience in general because they don’t get rattled so easily,” said Letarte. “But for these guys who were on those other teams, it’s in the back of their minds every pitch, every out. So that’s a good edge to have too.”
As for how to approach this year’s final, the Eagles will be going at this game the same way they have all season. That includes a pitcher-by-committee approach on the mound, especially considering the Eagles are hoping to play 18 more innings of baseball.
“That’s the way we have to approach it, especially since if we count our last game we’ll have played 27 innings in four days,” said Letarte. “So we’ll be flipping a coin to decide the starter, look at pitch counts and see how it goes. If a guy is rolling we’ll stick with him, if he’s struggling then we’ll move to the next guy. That ‘next man up’ mentality is the only one we can have at this point.”
First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton.