DANVERS — Determined not to let last year’s second-round playoff exit happen again, the seniors on the St. John’s Prep baseball team are proving their point with their bats, their gloves and pitching arms this time around.
The top-ranked Eagles, behind the fine pitching of junior Justin Snyder, recorded their 21st straight win yesterday in blanking Chelmsford, 9-0, in the Division 1 North quarterfinals.
It was fitting for longtime head coach Pat Yanchus, who is retiring at the end of the season after 33 years and won the final home game of his career yesterday.
Sophomore Keith Leavitt, whose three-run homer in the bottom of the first helped set the tone offensively, said the Eagles (now 21-1) have the right mind-set for tournament success.
“We focus on playing the game the same way all the time, and if you do that, you get good results,” he said. “We take it one game at a time and focus on winning that one.”
St. John’s Prep will now have a much-anticipated rematch with Peabody High (a winner over Central Catholic last night) in the Division 1 North semifinals Thursday at Fraser Field in Lynn (7 p.m.). The Prep hammered the Tanners, 14-1, back in April.
“My cousin Steve plays for Peabody and (it’ll be) cool to face his team,” said Leavitt. “It’s always fun to play against somebody in your family.”
Nick Bragole and Brandon Bingel worked walks off of Lions’ starter Andrew Knightly before Leavitt belted his three-run shot over the fence in right. It was his fourth dinger of 2013.
“It was a fastball low and I jumped on it,” said Leavitt. “I wanted to hit the ball hard and got a real good piece of it.”
The Eagles added a run in the fifth on a solo homer to left by Bragole. Two more runs crossed the plate in the fifth when DH Tyler Noe (2 hits, RBI) was hit by a pitch, stole both second and third, and scored on a passed ball. After Knightly walked Nick Latham and was replaced by Joe St. Hilaire, Alex Moore greeted the new hurler with a great at-bat, fouling off several pitches before hitting a long sacrifice fly to plate Latham.
“That’s a very difficult team because all nine guys swing the bat well,” said Chelmsford (15-7) head coach Mike O’Keefe. “After they got out to that quick three-run lead, we were pressing. They capitalized on too many free passes (5 Prep runs scored on 6 walks and 2 HBPs). Their bottom-of-the-order guys got on after being hit or walking; then, the heart of the order was up to drive them in.”
Snyder had a no-hitter going until St. Hilaire laced a two-run single in the fifth. Back-to-back singles by leadoff hitter Jack Campsmith and Michael DeDonato with one down in the sixth gave the Lions their best scoring opportunity, but Snyder got the next two batters to ground to shortstop Brandon Bingel, who fired to second baseman Tommy Buonopane to erase the lead runner.
Captains Bingel and Buonopane were both outstanding defensively. Buonopane snared a line shot to end the seventh, and Bingel started a double play with a runner on first in the ninth. He made a leaping catch on a line shot off the bat of Matt Rabbito and fired to first to catch the runner off the bag.
The Eagles added three more runs in the seventh when David Bornstein delivered an RBI double and Noe drove him in with a triple to the gap in right-center. Latham, the No. 8 hitter, kept it going with a double to knock in Noe, as St. John’s made the most of eight hits off three different Chelmsford pitchers.
Snyder left with two down in the bottom of the sixth after walking St. Hilaire. He scattered three hits and two walks while striking out five. Jack Burke came on to get the final out of the inning and struck out the side in order in the seventh before Dustin Hunt closed it out.
“The fact that it was a warm day always helps,” said Snyder. “It’s always good to have a lead because it gives me a little more leeway, but I pretended it was a 0-0 game.”
Yanchus, a Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer who now has 481 career victories, said he decided to take Snyder out because his pitch count was starting to rise. He threw 78 pitches.
“He pitched a great game,” said Yanchus. “We are fortunate to have a lot of pitching this year. A quick start always helps because it demoralizes the other team. Pitching, defense and hitting: That’s a good formula.”