Saturday, April 15, 2017

Central Catholic Baseball Tops St. Peter-Marian in a Thriller

 By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

WORCESTER - Outside of a blowout victory over Maynard, Central Catholic has been relegated to playing its games close to the vest thus far this season. In three other contests prior (versus Haverhill, Chelmsford and Lowell), the Raiders have needed to reach down deep to obtain victory.

Saturday was no different.

After watching St. Peter-Marian erase a two-run deficit and take a three run lead in the middle innings, Central Catholic was called upon, yet again, to play another game of tug of war. Staying composed throughout, the Raiders bided their time before erupting for four runs in their half of the fifth inning and hold on for a 6-5 victory.

With the triumph, Central Catholic improves to 5-0 on the young season. The defending Division 1 Central Mass. champion Guardians, who also came into this contest undefeated, drop to 2-1.
Known for their explosive offense, it was the Raiders bottom half of the line up that made solid contributions. Central Catholic's 6 through 9 batters combined for 4 hits and 4 RBIs. Mike Pierro, hitting in the seventh spot, inflicted most of the damage on the afternoon, finishing with a pair of hits and 3 RBIs, including the eventual game-winner.

"We knew we were never out of it," said Pierro, a junior. "We knew we had seven innings to work with so a three run deficit was nothing to us. The bottom half of our line up picked up the top half today. I feel this team has a lot of potential. Predominantly this is a young team but we are starting to gain more experience as the season goes on. I think we can do some big things this year."

Putting up a four spot in the bottom of the fourth to grab a 5-2 advantage, SPM's confidence level was rising mightily to open the fifth. Starting pitcher Dylan Fenuccio, albeit a bit shaky at times, allowed two runs over the first four frames but still manage to work himself out of serious trouble by inducing Central Catholic to swing and miss at his effective curve ball  and change-up. But, in the process, the senior's pitch count was beginning to rise. Fenuccio, a lefty, came out to start the fifth but surrendered a one out single to Noah Lucier. At that moment, Guardians head coach Ed Riley decided it was time to pull Fenuccio in favor of hard-throwing reliever Joe Powers.

But Powers, a senior, quickly ran into problems after throwing a wild pitch that moved Lucier into scoring position. Powers then hit Dominic Keegan with a pitch before serving up a bloop single to Steve Hajjar which loaded the bases.

The inning continued to fester for Powers after giving up a run-scoring single to Mike Borrelli. Sean Thompson's fielder's choice would result in another run for the Raiders, who were now down by just one. Pierro next came to the plate and wasted no time ripping a Powers first-pitch fastball into left for a two-run single to push Central Catholic in front to stay.

"I think the target on our backs just got a little bigger," Raiders head coach Marc Pelletier said. "St. Peter's is a very good team and should win a lot of games this year. They are certainly a quality opponent and they are a lot like us in terms of teams getting up to play you."

Now back in front, it was up to the Raiders to keep SPM's lethal offense in check for the remainder of this tilt. Relief pitcher Will Conaton, who entered the game in place of starter Nate Carpenter with one out in the fourth, did just that. The senior kept the Guardians' bats silent the rest of the way, allowing no hits from the fifth inning on.

"I thought Central Catholic had some real quality at bats today," said SPM head coach Ed Riley. "We had momentum after the fourth inning and they just took it right back and then just shut us down. They did a good job putting the ball in play. Today they were the better team. We made some adjustments at the plate after the first time through the order. I credit our kids for making the adjustments when they needed to which got us back into it. But give Central Catholic credit for coming back and handing it to us. When you play good teams you have to stay on top. Once we got five runs I felt we sort of relaxed a little bit. If you do that against a team like them, they are going to make you pay for it which they did."

After doing nothing at the plate over the course of the first two frames, Central Catholic finally struck for a run in the third. Jake Delaney opened with a single and moved to second following a sacrifice. Moments later, Lucier lined a single up the middle to make it 1-0. One inning later, the Raiders were back at it.

With one out, Thompson singled and took second on a wild pitch. That was followed up by a Pierro single. With Thompson being waved around third, the junior barreled into catcher Ian Wallace on a close play at the plate. But he was ruled safe as the ball skipped away. Wallace, taking the full brunt of the collision, laid on the ground for several minutes before being helped off with an apparent injury to his ribs.

While all of this was taking place, Central Catholic junior starting pitcher Nate Carpenter continued to hold the Guardians at bay. The righty surrendered a couple of singles over the first three innings but was never in any kind of serious danger. However control issues started to plague him during the SPM fourth.

All of a sudden, Carpenter could not find the strike zone as he did so well previous. He issued a walk to lead off batter Kosta Drosidis and then tried to aim a pitch into the strike zone that Zach Natale lined for a single. One out later, Frank Hernandez roped another single to center, scoring Drosidis. That would be all for Carpenter as Pelletier immediately brought Conaton into the game. But the senior entered a bit shaky, offering up a run-scoring single to Jeff Lamothe which evened things at 2-2.

Playing with new life, SPM continued to excel at the plate. Catching the Raiders defense off-guard, Dan Malm laid down a well-executed bunt single to load the bases. That brought up the Guardians' top hitter PJ Barry. Working the count to 3-2, the St. Leo commit, ripped a single into right which brought in a pair to make it 4-2. Shortly thereafter, a delayed steal by Barry resulted in Malm racing home from third without a throw to put SPM ahead by three runs.

But the ability to maintain the lead slipped through the Guardians' grasp as the Raiders shrugged off the SPM rally by putting together one of their own, and then making it stand the rest of the way.
"We had a meeting after they went ahead and we challenged the kids," said Pelletier. "You have to remember that they are still kids. But there was certainly a lot of resolve with our bats in that fifth inning. We did it without the big sticks today. If you look at our line up, it was the bottom half which set the table for us."

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