Tuesday’s battle for first place in the West Catholic Athletic League at Frisella Field saw Serra erupt for its biggest comeback of the year.
The Padres (6-2 in WCAL, 15-4-1 overall) came roaring back to score a critical 7-6 come-from-behind victory over the Bells (5-3, 14-6). With both teams entering play tied atop the WCAL standings, Serra takes over outright possession of first place.
“If we want to be a great team,” Serra manager Craig Gianinno said, “and a championship team, which I think these guys are capable of being — and they’re on their way, hopefully, to being — they keep [momentum] for a majority of the game and they find ways to get it back in a heartbeat.”
That’s precisely what the Padres did. Trailing 4-0 in the fifth, Serra sent 13 batters to the plate in the bottom of the inning, rallying for seven runs to take the lead.
No. 9 hitter Kyle Roux started the rally, working an eight-pitch at-bat for a walk. Roux was the first of eight straight Padres to reach base, with senior Ryan Sambel roasting an RBI double to left to score Angelo Bortolin (Senior, LMU) with the tying run. Senior designated hitter James Halpin followed with a long RBI double to right-center to plate Sambel with the go-ahead run.
The left-handed hitting Halpin has platooned at DH this season against right-handed pitchers, but has seen plenty of pinch-hitting opportunities late in games.
“This year has been all pressure, whether I’m starting or coming in late where I needed to help my team in that particular situation,” Halpin said.
And Tuesday he rose to the occasion. Halpin had struck out in his previous two at-bats against Bellarmine starting pitcher Kyle Dean. So, in facing the Bells’ second reliever of the inning with sophomore right-hander Wes Harper just into the game, Halpin didn’t wait around, stroking a 1-0 fastball up the gap.
“I wasn’t going to let it get to two strikes again,” Halpin said. “I was ready to swing first pitch and try to jump on it. And then I got the fastball I was looking for … and from there I tried to put a good swing on it and it worked out in the end.”
Serra rallied for two insurance runs in the frame on RBI singles by Jack Mori and Tyler Villaroman. The insurance runs were put to good use as Bellarmine scored two in the top of the sixth to make it a one-run game.
But relief pitcher Chris Apecechea was able to escape the jam, stranding the tying run at third base. The senior right-hander worked 2 2/3 innings to earn the win, improving his record to 4-1.
Roux — in his first season as the starting varsity second baseman, after playing on the junior-varsity squad as a junior last season — turned in the play of the game amid the Bells’ sixth-inning rally with a tremendous diving stop.
With Serra clinging to a 7-5 lead, Bellarmine had runners at second and third with two outs when sophomore Connor Henriques shot a sharp grounder that looked destined for center field. Roux got a quick first step to the ball and dove with full extension merely to knock it down.
Henriques was credited with an RBI single on the play, but the Bellarmine base runner at second, Kieran Shaw, only reached third base, where he was stranded when the following batter flew out to center field to end the inning.
“Once I saw it coming to me I knew I had to knock it down to stop the runner from scoring,” Roux said. “So once I knocked it down I just scrambled to the ball, picked it up and hoped he didn’t score.”
Roux’s clutch defense was set up by a pair of big Padres miscues. After back-to-back one-out singles by Todd Jackson and Laurence Palmer, Shaw shot a potential double-play grounder towards Serra third baseman Angelo Bortolin (Senior, LMU), but the ball skipped under Bortolin’s backhand attempt and into left field. Then to add insult to injury, Sambel in left field missed the cutoff man, allowing Shaw to sneak into second base on the throw.
“That situation there, we’ve got to hit our relay man and give our infielder a chance to make a decision,” Gianinno said. “In that situation he airmailed it. It’s a freebie. … It can’t happen.”
But the Padres defense bounced back in a hurry. Prior to Roux’s gem, Bortolin recovered by making a nice play on a slow chopper up the third-base line, gathering and gunning to first on the run for the second out of the inning while keeping the base runners in check.
“We really just pride ourselves on team defense,” Roux said. “We’re all focused on making plays throughout the game. That play in particular might have sparked the team, but I think it was just an all-around team effort that helped us on defense.”
With two on and two out in the seventh, Serra turned to senior left-hander Vinny Venturi who faced one batter to earn his first save of the year. The Padres’ saves leader, John Besse, had started the game, working four innings in his longest outing of the year in this second start.
Besse worked three no-hit innings but ran into trouble in the fourth. Bellarmine senior Mark Gaffey led off the inning with a gritty nine-pitch at-bat, taking two two-strike curveballs that wrapped just wide of the plate, before shooting a single to center.
Kyle Horn followed with a two-run home run to get the Bells on the board. Bellarmine rallied for two more runs with an RBI single from Laurence Palmer and an RBI double from Shaw, but Besse settled down to get the final two outs to finish the inning.
“He was good,” Gianinno said. “That one inning is one inning. But he was good. We’ve got some things we can clean up. But it was good to extend him a little bit, especially down the stretch here.”
With six games remaining in WCAL play, Serra holds a one-game lead, with St. Francis, Mitty and Bellarmine tied for second.
“That’s going to last for about two days,” Gianinno said. “Now you’re going to have to earn it and keep it.”
Serra senior Ryan Sambel went 2 for 4, including the game-tying RBI double in the fifth inning in the Padres’ 7-6 comeback win over BellarmineTuesday at Frisella Field. With the victory, Serra takes over sole possession of first place in the West Catholic Athletic League.