Just when it seemed the Georgetown Cup championship series would match one school looking to add to its title collection against a team trying to start one, a familiar face pulled off a stunner to end years of frustration.
Jared Baldinelli's booming two-run double to the gap in right-center with one out capped a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning for St. Joe's in its 4-3 triumph over upstart Christian Central. The Marauders rallied from a 3-0 deficit over the final two innings to earn their first berth in the best-of-three title series since winning the Georgetown Cup in 2005.
"When I stepped up to bat, my hands were shaking," Baldinelli said. "All I thought was, get that last hit. I just felt ecstatic after it happened."
St. Joe's wasn't the only team to rely on late-inning heroics to earn a spot in the Cup final during Tuesday's doubleheader at Northtown Center in Amherst. St. Francis scored 10 runs over the final two innings to deny St. Mary's, 12-6, and earn its seventh straight trip to the Georgetown Cup final.
"I told these guys [after the game] this is my 19th year coaching and that's one of the better comebacks I've seen," longtime Red Raiders coach Paul Bartell said. "To go up, 2-0, then down, 6-2, with the momentum swinging like that, and then to put up 10 runs over two innings like that we hadn't put up 10 runs in two innings all year."
The Cup final will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Coca-Cola Field.
For a while, it looked like Monsignor Martin Association fans were going to witness a Red Raiders-Crusaders showdown, the exception being that these Crusaders weren't the Canisius outfit St. Francis had faced the last six years.
Christian Central, in it second year in Monsignor Martin, took a 3-0 lead in the third with senior pitcher Peter Moran, who earned the shutout last Thursday against three-time defending champion Canisius, delivering the key two-run single.
That looked like it would be enough as Moran (five strikeouts) had limited the Marauders to three hits as he kept them off balance with his unorthodox delivery and by changing speeds.
St. Joe's pushed a run across in the sixth without a hit as winning pitcher Matt Matre scored on a wild pitch. In the seventh, Mike Szalach worked a walk on a full count to start the rally. Then Alex Kovacs reached on an error on a potential double-play grounder to keep hope alive. After a pop-out, Tyler Mills delivered a long RBI single, setting the stage for Baldinelli, a .492 hitter this year.
"Sometimes you battle and battle and you just have to find a way," St. Joe's coach Paul Nasca said, "and that's what we did."
So did St. Francis.
St. Mary's scored six times in the top of the fifth for a 6-2 lead. Brian Dudek drove in three of the runs with a triple, then scored himself on a mad dash for home after the cutoff man bobbled the outfield relay. Instead of being down after that bad inning, St. Francis remained in good spirits.
After tying the game at 6 in the bottom of the fifth, St. Francis scored six times with two outs in the sixth to settle matters. Sophomore Andrew Krakowski's three-run triple broke a 6-6 tie. He finished with four RBIs, while junior Mike Prentice drove in three runs during a 2-for-4 day.
"St. Mary's is a good team. They have kids who can play," Bartell said. "It's just that our kids rose to the occasion today."