BROCKTON, Mass. -– Simply put, this was a scary situation for Xaverian lefty Mark Stefaniak to launch himself into. Or to be more polite, one that demanded gumption.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning, under the lights at Campanelli Stadium, and with the meat of one of the state’s most feared lineups coming up, the senior came in to relieve Fairfield-bound lefty Tim Duggan. He promptly let Lowell load the bases up with no outs.
Stefaniak could have cracked after fielding Derek Reed’s bunt wildly with a bad relay to first to load the bases. And you couldn’t blame him if his heart skipped a beat when cleanup hitter Chad Gens, one of the state’s most feared deep-ball hitters, launched a 2-1 fastball over the left field fence -– but about 10 feet into foul territory.
Instead, Stefaniak went fastball again -– “I just thought hey, two strikes for me,” he later explained. Gens dunked the ball to third base, and the 5-2 putout at home was made cleanly. And then, an unreal sequence of events unraveled.
Matt Tulley popped up a fly ball to Xaverian second baseman Chris Hoyt. With the infield fly rule in play, Hoyt intentionally bobbled the pop-fly into the shallow infield grass, freezing pinch-runner Ricky Rosado at third with a quick throw to home.
Only, Hoyt’s throw sailed about 30 feet above catcher Andrew Elliott (unintentionally, of course), so Rosado gunned it for home after a split-second hesitation. First baseman Mike LaVita was there to cover, however, and Elliott fired from the backstop to make the 4-2-3 inning-ending double play.
And like that, the best threat of the night from Lowell (20-5) had been nullified. Six outs later, Xaverian (17-8) wrapped up its second Division 1 Eastern Mass. title in three years with a 3-2 win.
“We were all extremely fired up after that,” Hoyt said. “It was really, I thought, the momentum changer for them and for us. We were talking up real loud. It just changed the game, that whole entire play.”
Xaverian head coach Gerry Lambert commended his players for not giving up on the play.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he said. “You always hope that the guys have the presence of mind to realize something like that’s happening. Even as a coach who’s into the game and yelling all the time, I don’t have the time to communicate that. Guys just have to be able to react.
“You can’t practice that play right there, that situation. I’m proud of Mike, Andrew Elliott for getting back to the ball, Chris Hoyt for being able to initiate the play, and it just barely worked out in our favor. We’ll take it. It wasn’t executed picture-perfect, but we just did enough to get it done.”
Hoyt sends ‘em home: Years from now, Xaverian faithful are probably going to remember Hoyt’s throw to home more than they are the two-run single the inning prior that put the Hawks ahead for good. But it’s no less important.
With two outs, and runners on first and second, pinch-hitter Aaron Drummey got hit by a pitch from Cam Latta to load up the bases. Hoyt then shot a 1-0 dribbler through the left side of the infield, just out of reach of the outstretched arms of Gens, to score LaVita and Aidan Desrosiers. Wolfe was caught in a rundown trying to take an extra base during the sequence, but the runs came across before he was tagged out.
Hoyt finished the evening 3 for 5, with 2 RBI, a run and three stolen bases.
“He’s the guy we want,” Lambert said of Hoyt’s two-run single. “I remember when he stepped up with the bases loaded, I thought, you know, if I had to pick anybody on the team…that’s the guy. For him to come up the way he did, he’s done it for me for three years, and he did it again today. Obviously, that was an enormous single -- not his hardest-hit ball, but we’ll take it.”
Just Short: The Red Raiders came into this contest having completed one of the most impressive defensive runs in recent memory of the Division 1 tournament. Capped with two superb starts from Tulley, a Virginia Tech signee, the Raiders allowed just two runs in four games.
But on the flip side, they scored just 10 runs in the North sectional, with five of them coming in their semifinal win over Malden.
“The pitching, I couldn’t have been happier with,” head coach Danny Graham said. “Defense was good. It’s just, it would have been a little nice…I said, and my coaches agreed, at some point offense is going to have to win a game for us. Your luck’s going to run out.”