By Matt Williams
---- — Among the mottos of the St. John’s Prep baseball team is the phrase ‘One Way.’
It’s a team-first mantra that pushes every player on the roster to pull in the same direction. It’s also a bit ironic, since what makes the Eagles special is that they have much, much more than one way to hurt their opposition.
One of the deepest Prep teams in recent memory has won its last 22 games, an incredible ride that has them in the Division 1 North final for the ninth time. The top-ranked, top-seeded Eagles (22-1) will play Billerica or Westford Academy (who play their semifinal tonight) for the North final.
If seventh-seeded Billerica (16-6) beats No. 11 Westford Academy (15-7), they’ll face St. John’s Prep tomorrow at LeLacheur Park in Lowell (4 p.m.). If Westford Academy wins, however, they have graduation Sunday afternoon, so they’d face St. John’s on Monday (time and location TBD).
“Our goal from Day 1 was to win the conference, then try to get to the North final and go from there,” said co-captain and Catholic Conference MVP Brandon Bingel. “Right now all we’re looking at is (tomorrow). It’s one at a time.”
In three postseason wins the Eagles have scored 32 runs, and they’re getting contributions from all over the lineup. The top of the order did the job in the 18-1 tourney opener against Malden, with leadoff man Tommy Buonopane supplying three hits, No. 3 hitter Nick Bragole homering and cleanup man Keith Leavitt going yard as well.
In a 6-0 win over Chelmsford, Leavitt and David Bornstein homered. Senior Tyler Noe had a pair of hits and an RBI, as did sophomore Nick Latham and senior Alex Moore.
“I think 1-through-9 we’re pretty strong,” said longtime coach Pat Yanchus, enjoying his last tourney run since he’s retiring at the end of the season. “One day somebody is carrying us, and the next day it’ll be somebody else.”
In all, six different Eagles have RBI in the postseason, and all nine regulars have at least one hit. For opposing pitchers, there are no rests and no easy outs.
“That’s what I love about our lineup. Everybody wants to do a job,” said Bingel. “It doesn’t matter who’s up; everyone is a threat to get on and everyone can execute.”
Bornstein, a senior from Peabody, was one of the heroes in the semifinal win over his hometown Tanners. He had three of his team’s five hits, drove in the crucial third run in the first inning and made some nice scoops at first base.
After beginning the season as the regular designated hitter, Bornstein moved to first base when Noe injured his shoulder midway through the season. Bragole slid from first to the hot corner, and Noe later got back into the lineup as the DH, making the Eagles as dangerous as ever.
“It’s been an awesome few weeks,” said the Bentley-bound Bornstein, who clubbed a walkoff homer in extra innings in the Catholic Conference clinching the win over possible state semifinal opponent BC High. “I knew when I started playing in the field that I’d start hitting even better than I had been. It feels great to be contributing to a team as talented as this one.”
The Prep’s depth reaches the bench, where senior Natty Cabral and junior Sawyer Billings are more than capable to stepping in and producing if called on.
The Eagles defense has been outstanding as well. They’ve played nearly errorless ball in the playoffs, with two shutouts and a plus-31 run differential. In 23 games, St. John’s has six shutouts and has allowed more than two runs only three times.
“We have a ton of confidence from our lineup, but it’s our defense too,” said Bornstein, who pointed out that his team is determined to stay grounded despite being favored in most games and lauded in state-wide and regional rankings.
“We know we can’t get lazy. Our coaches have done a good job keeping us focused, and we’re so grateful for how much they’ve helped us with that.”
Bingel has two postseason wins and has thrown 12 of his team’s 23 innings. Lefty Justin Snyder earned the other win and could get the start in the North final. Senior fireballer Dustin Hunt also has two spotless appearances, and Evan Roberts threw one inning against Malden. Senior Jack Burke was strong against Chelmsford, and classmate Mike Driscoll can induce outs.
The North champion will face the South champion in a state semifinal Tuesday at a to-be-determined North site. Bridgewater-Raynham and B.C. High play in the Division 1 South final tomorrow night.
St. John's Prep baseball Division 1 North final history 2013: Playing tomorrow 2010: Defeated Lawrence, 5-1 2009: Lost to Gloucester, 8-7 2006: Defeated Malden Catholic, 17-0 2005: Lost to Andover, 13-5 2002: Defeated Central Catholic, 13-4 2000: Defeated Peabody, 10-5 1999: Defeated Andover, 13-7 1997: Lost to Andover, 9-2