DANVERS, Mass. -- St. John’s Prep hosted Newton North in a highly anticipated tilt between two elite programs on Friday afternoon, but the game seemed to be over in a flash.
Senior pitcher Justin Kerhulas (7 IP, 4 hits, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 ER) pounded the zone in aggressive fashion, and the Eagles supported their starter by plating three runs over the first two innings. Kerhulas did the rest, as he allowed just three hits over the final five frames, and capped a solid performance with a 1-2-3 seventh inning to give the Eagles a 5-0 win.
Pitching may be one of the weaker aspects of head coach Den Letarte’s Eagles, yet the way his No. 3 starter pitched against one of the best teams in the state should inspire plenty of confidence going forward.
“Justin [Kerhulas] waited for his turn last year, and now he’s doing a great job,” said Letarte. “Today, he kept the ball down, and when he can keep it down, keep it in the park, and let our defense do the work, that’s primarily what works best.”
Newton North won the inaugural MIAA Division 1A ("Super Eight") Championship last season, while Prep made an early exit after earning the tournament's No. 2 seed, so Kerhulas said he was fired up for the opportunity to face the Tigers.
“We really wanted this win, and I even thought about pitching a shutout before the game,” admitted Kerhulas.
He continued, “I really was feeling it out there today. Even when I missed with my fastball, I missed low, and felt good about putting the ball in play because we have one of the best defenses in the state. Everyone was making plays today, and with a defense like that you didn’t really need to strike anyone out. You just pitch.”
Tough Outs: The fact that Prep’s vaunted offense produced a few early runs certainly helped Kerhulas pitch with such confidence.
With five dangerous hitters atop the Eagles order, Tigers starter Theo Resnick may have been a bit too cautious, as he walked three of the first four batters he faced. With the bases loaded, senior shortstop Dan Trulli came through with an RBI single to put the Eagles ahead in the first inning, and senior captain Keith Leavitt (2-3, BB, 3 RBI) drove in two more runs with a bases loaded single in the second.
“You have to have command against that lineup, because they make you pay for your mistakes. We gave up five walks, and against a team like that, you absolutely can’t do that,” recognized Newton North head coach Joe Siciliano.
Eagles leadoff hitter Nick Latham (3-3, BB, 3 runs) did an excellent job of setting the table, as he reached base in all four of his plate appearances. With senior Dan Rose and junior catcher Jack Arend helping to turn over the lineup from the 8 and 9 spots, St. John’s Prep put runners on base in every inning.
“I have a lot of confidence in our order 1 through 9,” Letarte said. “The top of our order is great with [Jacob] Yish, [Keith] Leavitt, and [Nick] Latham, but even when those guys aren’t hitting, some days our bottom of the order picks them up.”
Poised For A Postseason Run: Newton North and St. John’s Prep were the only unanimous selections to the inaugural Super 8 tournament last season, and both are capable of making another run this spring.
While Siciliano’s Tigers couldn’t get much going in this mid-April contest, they will likely continue to improve in defense of their Super 8 title.
Both coaches effused praise for the other’s program, and recognized the importance of facing a quality opponent in an effort accelerate the competitive nature of a season that’s been delayed due to weather.
Letarte said, “I have a lot of respect for Newton North. That’s a team that doesn’t lose much. Our goal from day one is to get back to where we were last season [Lost in The Super 8]. I’ve always felt that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and handing [Newton North] only their second loss in the last two seasons is a step in that direction.”