SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Following yesterday’s 4-2 non-divisional loss to St. John’s of Shrewsbury, Xaverian coach Gerry Lambert stood on the top step of the dugout at Pioneer Field and emphasized to his team that this is not the time to push the panic button.
At least not yet anyway.
The Hawks dropped to 5-5 and, with 10 games remaining on the schedule, need to find at least five more wins to secure a spot in next month’s postseason tournament. But the road does not get any easier. Over the next two weeks, Xaverian faces St. John’s Prep, Malden Catholic, Brockton, Catholic Memorial, Bishop Hendricken (R.I.) and BC High -- all of whom have winning records.
“We knew going into our season given, the competition level of our schedule, that we don’t have a lot of room for error,” said Lambert. “Today we played OK, but St. John’s played better.”
Indeed. The Pioneers (8-1) were the better team in the early going. Hawks’ pitcher Mike LaVita ran into problems from the outset, unable to locate his pitches effectivley. When he did, St. John’s took full-advantage.
In the Pioneer first, leadoff batter Tom Petry started things by roping a single to left. LaVita retired the next two hitters before surrending a home run to No. 4 batter Owen Shea to straightaway center field that put St. John's in front 2-0.
“One guy who has really stepped up for us this year has been Owen,” said Pioneers coach Charlie Eppinger, whose team suffered its first loss 24 hours earlier against New Bedford. “That was his first home run. He’s not really our clean up hitter but he just happens to hit fourth in our lineup. But he certainly looked like a clean up hitter today with that shot he hit. He was ahead 1-0 in the count and took a really good swing on that pitch. That was big because you don’t want to squander an opportunity to score like that.”
LaVita, a senior lefty, ran into more trouble the following frame. Anthony Perry opened with a walk and was sacrificed to second. One out later, Petry, who went 0-for-5 against New Bedford, grounded a hard single down the left field line to plate Perry. Jimmy Smith next laid down a well-placed bunt single which allowed Petry to reach third. Moments later, Smith stole second but Hawks’ second baseman Chris Hoyt, fearing a double steal was in order, attempted to cut off the throw from catcher James Serra. However, Hoyt was unable to field the throw cleanly as the ball skipped off his glove and rolled to the left side of the mound which, in turn, allowed Petry to trot home with the Pioneers' fourth run.
“I tried to relax more up at the plate today," said Petry, a junior who finished 2-for-3 at the plate. “I was a little tense (on Wednesday) and today I just tried to not do to much other than put the ball in play. We’ve been getting ahead early in games and then we sort of become laid back a bit towards the end of games. Thankfully it didn’t hurt us to much today in the end."
While St. John's was able to stake its pitcher Ben White to an early lead, the junior righty did his part by maintaining it. White, the son of former Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots offensive lineman Bob White, was holding Xaverian in check with near pinpoint accuracy. Making only his second start, White had allowed just three hits through the first five innings.
Not to be overlooked was the work of Hawks reliever Mark Stefaniak. The senior took over for LaVita to start the third and held the Pioneers scoreless the rest of the way on only one hit.
In the sixth, the Hawks started to figure out White a bit as they were able to climb back into this tilt. After setting down the first two batters with ease, White surrendered a double by Alex Person. Senior Tim Duggan then followed by launcing an 0-2 fastball deep over the right field fence cutting the deficit to 4-2. But that would be all the offense Xaverian could muster as White finished his complete-game gem, having allowed just five hits while striking out 11.
“Their pitcher certainly deserved to get everything he got,” Lambert said. “He kept us off-balance throughout the game. He wasn’t overpowering us but was mixing and matching his pitches well. We really had a hard time picking up his change up out of his hand.”