GLOUCESTER, Mass. --- The wind gusts blowing off the Atlantic Ocean, so strong at times, even made navigation difficult for the gulls flying high above Nate Ross Field.
But for a baseball player, it was a pure hitter's dream. With winds blowing out to all fields, any batted ball getting caught up in the jet stream had a favorable chance of seeing it go out.
No. 1 St. John's Prep managed to seize the opportunity quite well. The Eagles bashed five home runs which aided their cause immensely as they rallied back from a five run deficit to post an eight-inning, 11-9 victory over No. 12 Gloucester Friday afternoon.
Trailing 9-4 after four innings, Prep methodically crept back into this contest. In the sixth, the Eagles jumped on Fishermen starter Peter Clark for four runs to close to trail by one. With two out in the seventh, Sawyer Billings lifted a wind-aided opposite field solo homer to left off of reliever Tyler Favaloro to square things at 9-9.
The Eagles moved in front for good in their half of the eighth. Senior Mark Etherington (3-for-4, 4 RBI) opened by smashing Favaloro's first offering deep over the left field fence for his second round-tripper of the game.
"It's a great team win whether people contributed at the plate or in the field," Etherington said. "There was no panic when we were down. We've been through this before. I think a win like this is a great boost for this team heading into the playoffs. Everybody on this team fights all the time. It's always somebody different stepping up which is awesome to have on a baseball team."
One out later, Mike Geaslen (3-for-3, 3 RBI) belted the second of his two home runs on the day to put Prep ahead by a pair.
"As a team we just never give up," said Geaslen, a senior. "In baseball you can never give up when you are down. You just have to go out there and play as hard as you can at all times. If you keep going like we have been then everything seems to come together. That's the game of baseball."
Prep ace Evan Roberts -- who was brought in to start the sixth -- picked up the win, allowing just one hit over his three innings of work.
But it did not come without some final at-bat dramatics by the Fishermen. With one out and Clark (who reached on an error) standing on first, Jordan Pallazola barely got underneath a Roberts curve sending the ball deep to center before Etherington was able to snatch it to close things out.
"The kids found a way," said Eagles head coach Dan Letarte. "That is the third time this year they have done that in this kind of situation. Obviously the wind was blowing out today and both teams took advantage of that. I'm just proud of the kids. They battled the whole way and give Gloucester credit. They hit us hard throughout the whole game."
With the victory, Prep improves to 15-1, having now won 15 straight after losing its season-opener to Peabody. The Fishermen, winners of 12 in a row entering this tilt, drop to 15-2.
"It was a good game all the way till the end," Gloucester first-year head coach Bryan Lafata said. "Both teams gave some runs to each other but when pitchers made mistakes, these were two good hitting teams that made pitchers pay. Balls that were left up were hit out of the park.
"Prep is a tremendous team and for my team this was a measuring stick. I was pleased with how they played and how they acted. Our kids will only get better from this. Even with a lead I told out kids to play it like it's 0-0 because (Prep) is not going to give up and have good hitters 1-9 in their order."
The Fishermen (10 total hits) jumped on Eagles starter Dan Trulli for a run in the first thanks to Clark's two-out home run to left. But Prep, who finished with 12 hits, answered back in the top of the second. Back-to-back doubles by Rosario Missiti and Jacob Yish tied matters at 1-1.
Etherington followed that up by launching a hanging curve deep over the left field fence to make it 3-1. One out later, Geaslen drove an opposite field fly to right that caught some wind which carried beyond the fence to push the Eagles' lead to three runs.
"Mark and Mike, those are our seventh and ninth slots in the order," Letarte said. "You get that kind of production from those slots and then everyone starts to believe. This team is a bunch of believers. They've done this before."
But over the next three frames, it was the Fishermen gaining control of the offense. In the bottom of the second with two runners aboard, both came around to score after Yish, playing left field, allowed Curtis Quinn's single to get past him resulting in an error.
One frame later, Gloucester moved ahead 7-4. Clark led off with a double and came around to score moments later on Pallazola's blast to center (one of three Fishermen home runs). Trulli then allowed a single to Drew Shairs which put an end to his day. Frank Soucy was called upon but his wild pitch advanced Shairs to second. A base hit by Bart Margiotta was proceeded by an RBI bloop single off the bat of Favaloro.
Gloucester wasn't finished. In its half of the fourth and with one on, Margiotta, a junior, took relief pitcher Nolan Webb's high fastball deep over the left field fence to put Gloucester up by five.
But the tide swiftly turned in the Eagles' sixth after scoring four times. Clark retired the first two batters he faced with ease before surrendering a double and single to Billings and Yish, respectively. Etherington then smacked a single which scored pinch-runner Cael Schwartz. Pinch-hitter Andrew Attar, on a 3-2 pitch, lined a two-run double into the gap between right-centerfield.
With Favaloro now taking over on the mound, Geaslen was able to muscle an inside fastball to short left for a single, plating Attar with Prep's eighth run. Billings' homer in the ninth knotted things, and the Eagles' momentum carried in the eighth with two more runs being scored which proved to be the difference.
"Prep is a great program and we played with them the whole time," Lafata said. "I'll take our team and we'll play with anybody. That's how I feel. Our kids can only worry about what they control. Prep beat us on the scoreboard today but all in all we hit the ball very hard today."