WORCESTER, Mass. -- With the minimal amount of run-scoring opportunities each team had, both Malden Catholic and St. Peter-Marian needed to play beyond the Saturday’s seventh-inning affair to claim a victor.
It finally came in the bottom of the ninth. With two out and Jon Roy standing on first base, Guardian right handed batter Desi Garcia ripped a Joe Velozo fastball deep into the gap between right and center field. With Roy, who was running on contact, chugging around the bases, the senior was sent all the way home by head coach Ed Riley once Riley noticed Lancers’ center fielder Dan Marini slip on the grass after retrieving the ball of the fence.
As Roy crossed the plate, the senior was mobbed by jubilant teammates in celebration of SPM’s hard-earned 2-1 triumph.
Velozo and Guardians starter Zach Zona refused to give an inch against one another in this duel between two of the state’s top hurlers. Both were outstanding in attacking zones and shutting down the opposition’s offense. Velozo, a Merrimack College commit, allowed six hits and struck out 10. Zona, who is UMass-bound, worked eight innings, surrendering five hits and also recorded 10 Ks.
"This was an absolute team win," said Riley, his team now 5-5 after starting the season 1-5. “The pitching on both sides was phenomenal. Zach came out and pounded the strike zone. That’s a very good baseball team on the other side and, to date, the best team we have played against this year.
"They’re a very good fastball hitting team so our game plan was to pitch a little backwards to them where we go off-speed early and fastballs later in the count. For Desi, he really deserved that. He’s been with me since his freshman year and this is the first year he has had an opportunity to get into the lineup regularly. I couldn’t be more happier for him to come up with a hit like that."
In the top of the ninth, MC (6-4) threatened to grab the lead after loading the bases with one out. After issuing a single and walk to begin the frame, Zona was removed for Steve Albert. Following a sacrifice bunt and a walk, Albert, a junior, got out of the jam after striking out Nick Turco and Jeremy Roberts.
In the bottom of the inning, Velozo opened by walking Roy. After retiring the next two Guardian batters, Garcia, on an 0-1 pitch, lined his run-producing shot as the Lancer outfield was playing straight up against him.
"I had been seeing the ball good all day but just hadn’t hit the ball square," said Garcia, a senior. "(Velozo) had really good movement on his ball so I tried to stay back. I was able to hit a nice seed the other way into the outfield and Johnny Roy got in to win the ball game. As a team we feel really good right now. We have momentum and we are a team. We’ve all been working very hard and now we’re starting to get wins. Hopefully more will come."
Zona and Velozo were locked in from the outset, keeping the game scoreless through the first five innings. SPM had an opportunity to go up in the first inning after loading the bases. But Velozo, a lefty, got out of the fracas unscathed.
"Velozo pitched a great game," said Lancers coach Pat Driscoll, whose club defeated SPM 3-1 back on April 13th. "That’s how he has been all year for us. He throws strikes, attacks the zone and gives us a chance to win every time he’s out there. It was two great pitchers going at it today. They capitalized in the end and we didn’t.
"When you have two good starters on the mound for both teams like today it’s going to be a difference of who gets a timely hit with two outs and who executes. Today they got that hit and we didn’t."
In the top of the second, MC's Steve Passatempo doubled to lead off the frame and took third following Cam Lanzilli’s sacrifice bunt. But the junior got no further as Zona rung up Dan DiMare and Paul Garozzo to get out of the inning.
The Guardians would break up the scoreless deadlock in their half of the sixth. Velozo quickly retired the first two batters he faced before Brandon O’Connor belted a triple to left. Roy followed with a ground single up the middle for a 1-0 lead.
Just three outs away from a complete game victory, Zona began things by striking out Passatempo. With Lanzilli next up, the junior drove Zona’s first offering deep over the left field fence to knot the game at 1-1. Following the home run, MC put two more runners on base with only one out. But Zona bore down by getting the next two hitters and avoid further damage.
"To hold a team like that to one run over nine innings, that’s no mistake," Riley said. "It says you have some pretty good pitching. Both Zach and Steve Albert did a great job today."