LOWELL — The most painful word in sports is almost.
The St. John’s Prep baseball team almost extended its record breaking winning streak here at LeLacheur Park in the Division 1 North final against a determined, fearless Billerica team.
This was baseball, though, not horseshoes. The only emotion delivered by almost was heartbreak.
The Prep left the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth and Billerica won their first North sectional title since 1983 with a 4-3 victory last night.
The final out snapped St. John’s school-record 22-game winning streak. What was a dominant season turned out to be bookended by losses as the Eagles finished 22-2, losing only their first and last games.
“Every time you get into the tournament, it ends with a loss unless you go all the way,” said Eagles coach Pat Yanchus, who is retiring and coached his last game for the Prep after 33 seasons.
The Indians (18-6, playing in the state semifinals tomorrow) got the first two outs of the ninth as SJP’s Brandon Bingel almost hit a game-tying homer with a 335-foot flyout to the warning track in left and Keith Leavitt fanned. David Bornstein drew a walk to keep the season alive and fellow senior Paul Crehan followed with a single, sending Bornstein to third. Sophomore Nick Latham grounded to second, though, and Billerica got the force out to end the Prep’s season.
“We probably should have stolen second to make it a harder play for the second baseman,” Yanchus said. “That’s what I’ll remember about this year: the way we fought right to the end.”
St. John’s had clobbered its state tournament opponents 32-1 coming into yesterday’s North final (the program’s 10th). Billerica wasn’t intimidated, though, and jumped ahead 2-0 with single runs in the second and third charged Prep starter Justin Snyder.