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St. Joe's throws out St. Francis' hopes; Play at the plate completes sweep

Twice down to their final strike, down a run and facing elimination, St. Francis coach Paul Bartell stood down the third-base line waving his arm frantically and hoping for the best.

After Paul Wujek doubled with a full count and two outs to keep the Red Raiders' season alive, Matthew Michalski hit a 1-2 pitch into left, and Bartell didn't think twice about what call he had to make.

"There's no choice. You have to send him. It wasn't even a thought," he said later. "If it's a base hit, he's got to go."

But St. Joe's left fielder Jake Kopacz -- eager to redeem himself for coming in on Wujek's double that ended up over his head -- charged the ball hard and came up throwing. His heave brought catcher Alex Kovacs slightly up the line, but he held on to the ball and applied a tag to Wujek's leg for the final out of the game, giving St. Joe's a 4-3 win to complete the sweep in the best-of-three Georgetown Cup, the Marauders' first title since 2005.

"Hits were few and far between, and when you put them back to back like that, you got to make them make a good throw, and they did," Bartell said.

Kopacz only had one thing on his mind: "I was thinking if it comes to me, I'm just throwing straight home. No [cutoff]. If you've got the arm, you don't need it," he said, a wide grin forming below a brim with the Twitter hashtag "#RTTGC" inscribed on it.

"Road to the Georgetown Cup" has been the motto among the players this year, something coach Paul Nasca can attest to.

"[A championship] is all they talked about, morning, noon and night. They just worked as hard as they could to get to this point and all they wanted was a chance to play for the title, and then they said, 'We'll take it from here, coach.' "

St. Joe's sophomore Tyler Falk got the start on the mound and kept St. Francis hitless the first time through the order. But he allowed an unearned run in the fourth and was in trouble again in the fifth, facing a bases-loaded jam with nobody out. After a mound visit, St. Joe's coaches opted to let their starter try to work out of a tight spot for the second day in a row, and it worked once again.

A fielder's choice and sacrifice fly from two- and three-hitters Matthew Michalski and Michael Prentice plated two, but Falk struck out the cleanup hitter to get out of the inning without giving up the lead.

Falk induced two groundouts to the shortstop in the top of the seventh -- the first on a broken bat -- before Kopacz made the throw for the final out. Falk struck out six in the complete-game win while giving up just four hits -- one in the fourth, one in the fifth and two in seventh -- while only one of the three runs was earned.

Matthew Minnick started for St. Francis and was dominant early, recording the first six outs of the game by strikeout, but was relieved after 2 2/3 innings at the first sign of trouble in the elimination game. Andrew Krakowski came on in relief and went the final 3 1/3 , allowing just one unearned run.

Kevin Kabacinski was the unsung hero for St. Joe's, giving himself up in his first two at-bats to advance Kovacs, who ended up scoring both times, with the second run going on to be the winning run.

The Georgetown Cup is the end of the line for Catholic schools, so Kopacz and St. Joe's are already thinking about next year's motto.

"We already talked about it after the game," he said, "It's B2B: back-to-back."

email: nveronica@buffnews.com