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St. John’s Prep shortstop Chris Francoeur walks off the field as the Pioneers celebrate John Fields’ (second from left) game-winning hit in the Super 8 Winner’s Bracket game last Saturday afternoon.
By KATIE MORRISON
The St. John’s Prep baseball team’s loss in the Super 8 final Wednesday at Campanelli Stadium served as a reminder of how hard it is to win the tournament.
Not that the Eagles need that refresher. They’ve been on the losing end of three straight Super 8 finals. St. John’s Prep has had a special run over the past few years, with each one ending with a heartbreaking loss.
Each year’s tournament had a few things in common for The Prep. The first was the fact that every year, it was coming into the final from the losers’ bracket.
It’s tough enough to beat one of the state’s top two teams once, but having to beat them twice? On consecutive days? That’s quite the uphill battle. Add in the fact that the Eagles, each year, had to travel down to Brockton for a losers’ bracket game while the other team (Braintree in 2015 and 2016, and St. John’s of Shrewsbury in 2017) got a chance to rest for a couple of days.
St. John’s Prep coach Dan Letarte has always done a great job of trying to alleviate some of the fatigue that comes along with the tough schedule. Since I’ve been covering the team, he’s always used a number of pitchers in short stints in order to keep any one arm from getting too worn out. It also has the effect of keeping opposing hitters from getting too comfortable.
But even with the short stints, some SJP pitchers looked tired on Wednesday night. But there were bright spots; Casey Bussone got the chance to make his first Super 8 start, and he was able to hold the Pioneers to one run over three innings of work. Plus, players like sophomore pitcher Max Gieg and sophomore catcher Alex Lane were able to get valuable experience in a tournament environment, something that will help the Eagles as they try to get over the hump and win the last game of the season.
It has to be frustrating for the Eagles, especially seniors Andrew Selima, Chris Francoeur, Frank DiOrio and Bussone, four players who I know have been a part of all three Super 8 finalist teams. While St. John’s Prep hasn’t been the last one standing in any of those years, what they’ve accomplished can’t be overlooked.
When the team was packing up Wednesday night in Brockton, the MIAA and Campanelli Stadium staff all said ‘see you next year.’ It’s nearly a foregone conclusion that The Prep will be back in the Super 8 tournament, but after these past few years, it seems like a given that they’ll find a way back to the final yet again. And hopefully for Letarte and the rest of the Prep squad, they’ll be the ones hoisting the trophy.
But one thing you can always say about the Eagles is that win or lose, the players and coaches stay even-tempered and respectful of everyone: opponents, officials and the media. After some tough losses, no one would blame them for letting out a little frustration, but the Eagles remain a classy team. Hats off to them for what they’ve accomplished.
Speaking of playoff performances, there have been few players I’ve seen who handle the pressure of a tournament game better than Swampscott’s Hannah Leahy. The senior was a joy to watch pitch and hit for these past few years, and she managed to lead a team that didn’t have the best regular season (11-9, earning it the second-to-last seed in Division 2 North) all the way to the sectional final.
Unfortunately the magic ran out in the final, but that should take nothing away from what she and the Big Blue were able to do. Leahy seemed to shine the brightest on big stages. It’s never easy to have all eyes on you, but the two-time Northeastern Conference MVP never seemed intimidated in lose-or-go-home situations.
What’s Swampscott coach Gary Moran’s loss is the University of Rochester’s gain, as Leahy will continue her softball career in New York state as a Yellowjacket.
Best of luck to Classical’s Elie Kalambayi, who is down in Greensboro, North Carolina for the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Track and Field championships. Kalambayi has been improving on his distance time after time as the stages get bigger and bigger, so this weekend should be a blast for him. Congratulations as well to Rams boys track coach Angel Melendez, in his first season as head coach. Of course, you need the talent to be able to bring someone to the national competition, but it also wouldn’t be possible without a dedicated coach.