Paul Bartell isn’t quite sure when his St. Francis baseball team decided to become so resilient but he’s thrilled it happened.
That little intangible helped the Red Raiders turn their ho-hum season into something magnificent and memorable.
St. Francis (16-10) ended its championship drought Wednesday as it rallied from an early four-run deficit to earn an 7-6 victory in eight innings over St. Mary’s of Lancaster in the second and final game of the Georgetown Cup championship series at Coca-Cola Field. An estimated crowd of about 200 watched as Joe Milkowski’s long bases-loaded single to left over a drawn-in outfield plated the run that enabled Red Raiders to complete the series sweep and secure their first title since 2008.
“I’m pretty sure this is the end of my baseball career and it’s a hell of a way to finish,” said Francisco Guzman, who will play football in college at Allegheny (Pa.). “Everyone came together at the end and shook away that we were losing 5-2 and we just did what needed to be done to win the game.”
St. Francis’ winning rally started with one out in the eighth. Ty Syta grounded a single to right. Andrew Michalski followed with a single to left. After a wild pitch advanced the runners, St. Mary’s had to intentionally walk Guzman to set up a force at home. Milkowski (2 for 4, two RBI) foiled that plan when he drove Zach Penska’s offering over every defender.
“I knew if I got good contact on it, which I did, I’d get the RBI and the game would be ours,” said Milkowski, who plans to attend Niagara County Community College.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Red Raiders turned a 5-2 deficit into a 6-5 lead. Brent Carmello’s blooper to right fell in front of a diving Alexander Bish, plating three runs. Guzman followed with a ground-rule double to right to drive in Carmello.
St. Mary’s (20-8), which led 4-0 after 2½ innings on a two-run single by Mitch DiPirro and a two-run double by Chris Greshman, tied the game in the top of the seventh on Greshman’s run-scoring single.
But the Lancers’ first title since 1980 just wasn’t in the cards.
“I think we overachieved a little bit this year,” said Lancers coach Mike Wagner. “Give St. Francis credit they have a good young team. So do we and I’m looking forward to next year.”
What was the turning point for these Red Raiders? An embarrassing, 14-1, loss to Canisius 11 days before Frannies’ first playoff game.
“It was probably the worst game we played all season,” said Guzman. “After that we realized we’re a better baseball team than that and we’ve just got to produce, have some fun, play for each other and win the Georgetown Cup.”
That was St. Francis’ final defeat as it closed on a seven-game winning streak, which included a 1-0 win over those Crusaders in the Georgetown Cup semifinals.
Nick Batchev earned the complete-game win for the Red Raiders.
“To bring one home my senior year, there’s no better feeling than that,” said Milkowski, who went 2 for 4 with two RBI. “Especially having to beat Canisius in the semifinals, they’ve won everything this year. Taking them down felt so good, and then being able to finish it off here just brought it together and made it a great day.”