Bishop Hendricken’s baseball team does not often need magic. At McCoy Stadium, the Hawks’ usual magic trick is making their opponents disappear – quickly. The magic of a late-inning rally? Of weathering the storm in a back-and-forth game? They don’t need it. Before Tuesday night, the Hawks had won their last eight championship-round games at McCoy by an average of almost six runs. They also hadn’t lost at McCoy since 2001.
And then Tuesday happened.
It was a struggle and a triumph rolled into one, and though it wasn’t how the Hawks drew it up, their extra-innings victory charted the course for the series.
It charted the course for a championship.
The Hawks clinched their third straight title the next night, riding momentum and getting back to their old, magic-less selves in a 6-0 victory. They delivered timely hits and got a big performance on the mound from Anthony Cofone, who was thrust into the No. 2 starter’s role.
It was an impressive finish – one that was built on the start.
Hendricken trailed by a run in the bottom of the eighth of that first game, down to its last out and then to its last strike. The Hawks somehow pulled it off, winning on a John Toppa two-run, walk-off single.
It was hard to understate the importance.
You always want to win the first game of a three-game series, but this was about how Hendricken won it. The Hawks won La Salle’s game. The Rams chased Hendricken ace Mike McCaffrey in the fifth and got a good start from their No. 2, Tyler Shemick. They got key hits and big plays, and when they put themselves on the verge of the win, it was also the verge of a series-changer. La Salle ace C.J. Dandeneau was lying in wait as the starter in game two. He’d authored a complete-game shutout in his last playoff start. If he could do it again, he’d send the Hawks home. It was just what La Salle envisioned.
Hendricken’s rally meant he wouldn’t get a chance. Dandeneau was pitching to keep his team alive on Wednesday, not to finish Hendricken off.
“The first game is really important,” said head coach Ed Holloway. “It gives you a little wiggle room. Last night was a great game for us to come back and win. It just builds momentum coming in here. We were confident today before we got here.”
The rally started with two outs, when momentum was sliding rapidly toward La Salle. With a runner on first, a popped up bunt led to a crushing double play. Hendricken appeared dead in the water.
But Ryan Rotondo, a senior in his first year as a starter, lined a base hit with a two-strike count. Gian Martellini hit a liner to center that La Salle couldn’t come up with. And Toppa, mired in what he called the worst slump of his life, cracked a single into left to win the game.
They always say in baseball that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. But when momentum is built on a comeback that improbable, it’s good for a little more.
If game one was La Salle’s, game two was Hendricken’s.
The Hawks took a 1-0 lead in the first inning against Dandeneau and the Rams on Wednesday, and they never trailed. Toppa, fully out of his slump, had two more hits on his way to MVP honors.
Hendricken added a run in the second and blew the game open with four in the sixth. Cofone did the rest. The junior right-hander was used sparingly in the regular season, but shined on the big stage, tossing a complete-game shutout. He scattered five hits and didn’t allow a leadoff man to reach until the seventh inning.
When it was over, the Hawks celebrated on the field at McCoy Stadium, just like they’ve done so many times before. This one felt a little different, a little more improbable.
They had no complaints.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @RhodyWill.