BROCKTON, Mass. -– Before Pope John Paul took the field in Sunday’s Div. 4 South Sectional showdown afternoon, they knew who awaited them on the other side if they emerged the victor, Lowell Catholic.
With a little added motivation behind them, the Lions captured their second straight Div. 4 South Sectional title behind a masterful performance from senior right-hander Austin Houlihan in the Lions 3-0 win over sixth-seeded Abington.
As the top seeds in their respective regionals, the Lions and Lowell Catholic appeared to be on a collision course throughout the tournament. Now in a rematch of last season’s Div. 4 State title game, where the Crusaders walked off with a 1-0 victory, the Lions will get a shot at revenge thanks to Houlihan’s gem.
The senior kept the Green Wave off balance with a steady diet off curveballs, allowing just three hits in the complete game effort, striking out two and walking none. Usually more of a strikeout pitcher, Houlihan utilized his defense this time around forcing 12 groundball outs.
“We knew this was a fastball hitting team and we showcased his curveball today to set up his fastball,” Lion coach Mark Santos said. “He spotted it well I think they had two hits but not any really hard hit.”
Houlihan added: “It was mainly my curveballs, that’s been my main pitch all year it has a sharp break and most likely I usually throw it for strikes. It seemed like my fastball had a little more of a pop than usual so it felt good today.”
On the other side, Bryan Dwyer was just as effective on the mound. Dwyer held one of the most potent offenses in the state to three hits and two earned runs in six innings of work.
‘You look at that scoreboard and we held them to three hits” Abington coach Perakslis said. “To hold this team to three hits is just an incredible job by Brian and our whole staff.”
The Lions were held to just one hit in the first five innings, but thanks to a leadoff error in the third inning, Brady Jones’s hit plated the first run of the game.
Houlihan worked his way out of two jams to keep the Green Wave off the scoreboard. In the third inning, he forced Matt Whelan to softly lineout to short with runners on the corners and in the fifth, picked off Scott Jenson at second with one point to end the threat.
With both pitchers mowing batters down, it looked like Houlihan would take the mound in the top of the seventh with a 1-0 lead, but Ben Gibson took out an insurance policy.
With two out in the bottom of the sixth, Gibson blasted a double to deep left. After back-to-back wild pitches, Gibson crossed the plate with the second Lions’ run. On the next pitch, Mike Young drew a walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. Collin Russell followed up with an RBI single to left to give Houlihan a three-run lead in the seventh.
“It didn’t change our mentality but it did change the momentum,” Perakslis said. “It’s 3-0 instead of 1-0 but we went down swinging with three hard hit ball to end the game.”
Shot at redemption: After losing last season’s state title in devastating fashion, a walk off single in the bottom of the seventh, the Lions have salivated at another shot at the Crusaders.
They will get just that on Tuesday in the Eastern Mass title game at Wheaton College.
“That’s a great program over there,” Santos said of Lowell Catholic. “I’m glad to see him again, the reason simply that we made it that far.”