DANVERS, Mass. -- We already know how powerful the Catholic Conference is -- undoubtedly the best in the state. What you may not have realized is this conference is also known for its cannibalization. Any of the five schools that make up the conference are capable of knocking one another off at any given time.
With that being said, any team able to gain some distance between themselves and rest of the pack is certainly well-ahead of the curve.
That was the message St. John's Prep head baseball coach Dan Letarte conveyed to his team following Monday's 3-1 victory over Malden Catholic at Brother Linus, C.F.X. Athletic Complex.
Prep (8-2 and 4-0 in the conference) scored three times in the third inning and made it count as Eagles starter Justin Foley was solid, pitching a complete game seven hitter. Foley blended his fastball and off-speed pitches well throughout his outing.
"Justin is now 4-0 on the mound this season," said Letarte. "He just wins. He's 16-2 as a starter with five saves from his freshman year to his JV year and now into his varsity year. It just seems like the kids want to win behind him. For me, it is really good to see that. When we got those three runs in the third I was extremely confident. We knew this would be a tough game and it was. Everyone else in our conference has two losses in the conference. So to be 4-0 is major for us right now."
Nearly equal to the task was MC counterpart Austin Batchelor (5 IP, 3 hits, 7 K's). The Boston College bound right-hander looked sharp early, ringing up up four strikeouts over the first two frames. With one out in the third, however, the Eagles finally got to him.
Jacob Spada reached on an error and Penn State commit Keith Leavitt followed by slapping a single the opposite way into left field. Jacob Yish, another BC commit, was plunked by his future teammate to load the bases. Moments later, a wild pitch plated Spada for Prep's first run. A ground out by Nick Latham, also off to BC, brought home Leavitt. The Eagles' third run, scored by Yish, came off the bat of Ted McNamara, who lined a hard single up the middle.
"I thought Austin did a great job but I also thought Foley pitched a great game for them," MC coach Pat Driscoll said. "The difference was they were able to get a couple of key hits with two outs and with guys in scoring position and we didn't."
The Lancers (4-4) have fallen on hard times of late, having now lost three straight. With the wealth of talent this club possesses, it would be foolish to think the Lancers are ready to ride off into the sunset.
"I told our kids that I am not worried and I believe in every one of them," said Driscoll. "We are a hit or two away from having 2 or 3 more wins. We have two games this week (vs. Oxford and Arlington) and the goal is to win those next two and be 6-4 after 10 games. If we do that then I think we will be OK. I told the kids to keep staying positive because I know we have a very good team."
The Lancers -- who left a pair of runners on base in the third and fourth innings with nothing to show for it -- finally converted some offensive magic in the fifth. A one out single by Will Montgomery got things started. After Foley induced Jake Witkowski into grounding out, senior Jimmy Sullivan came through by delivering a single down the right field line which scored Montgomery.
But the Lancers could not get to Foley any further. The Bates College-bound senior allowed just one hit over the final two innings in recording the triumph.
"It was important for me to keep their hitters off-balance because you can't really throw them too many fastballs because if you do that they'll pipe them right up the middle," Foley said. "My guys in the field today made some pretty good plays to help me out. You need to maintain your mental toughness in games like this. If you don't get a call or somebody gets a hit against you, you just have to shake it off and forget about it.
"I knew I wasn't going to over-power that team today so I basically just had to make them get outs so I pitched to outs. The three runs we scored fired me up and because when we have a lead we usually are in pretty good shape of holding onto it."