By Nick Curcuru
---- — GLOUCESTER — The Gloucester baseball team came into Friday’s non-league contest with St. John’s Prep looking to make a big statement. And with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, it looked like they were well on their way.
The Fishermen had the state’s top ranked team on the ropes and trailing by five runs with only six outs to go. The Eagles, however, showed their resiliency by scoring four runs in the sixth, tying the score in the seventh on a Sawyer Billings home run, and eventually prevailed, 11-9, in an eight-inning slugfest.
With the wind blowing out at Nate Ross Field, home runs were flying out of the park as the teams combined for eight roundtrippers, five for St. John’s Prep (15-1) and three for Gloucester. Ironically, not one homer found its way over the short right field porch; all were to left and center field.
“You can’t ask for much more then a game like that,” Gloucester (15-2) head coach Bryan Lafata said.
“People were hyping this game up — and it lived up to the expectations. Both teams really hit the ball well and when pitchers left the ball up in the zone, both teams made them pay. That’s good baseball.”
First-year St. John’s Prep head coach Dan Letarte admitted afterwards that he was readying his losing speech before the Eagles made their comeback.
Gloucester hit us hard all game, but we put some good at-bats together late,” said Letarte. “This is probably the third time I had a losing speech ready and had to change it up an hour later. This team fights until the end.”
With two down in the sixth, Billings started off the Eagles’ comeback with a double to the gap in left-center. Jacob Yish singled him in one batter later and, following a Mark Etherington single, pinch hitter Andrew Attar ripped a two-strike pitch into the right center field gap, scoring both base runners to cut the Gloucester lead to 9-7. Attar would come in to score one batter later on a Mike Gealsen RBI single.
In the bottom of the sixth, Letarte elected to go to his staff ace, Evan Roberts, out of the bullpen. He delivered as the southpaw retired the side in order, and after Billings tied the score at nine with his solo shot in the seventh, Roberts again retired the Fishermen in order in the seventh.
“When you’re tied late in a big game against a good team, you can’t think about the next one,” Letarte said. “I brought in what I believe to be one of the best pitchers in the state and he got the job done.”
Etherington (a Danvers native who finished with 4 RBI) put the Prep ahead for the first time since the second inning when he led off the eighth with a bomb over the left field fence for his second dinger of the contest. Two batters later Gealsen would clear the left field fence with his second homer of the day as well, making it 11-9.
Gloucester threatened in the bottom of the eighth inning with Devon Murray singling and Peter Clark reaching on an error. But Gealsen was able to pick a runner off of second base from behind the plate and Roberts induced a fly-out to preserve the win.
“It was one of those games where both teams gave a few runs away and both teams had some big at-bats,” Lafata said. “We had a comfortable lead, but if you put metal bats in (St. John’s) hands they’re always in the game. The lineup is deep and they even got a big hit off the bench.”
Clark got the scoring going in the bottom of the first with a solo blast to left field before the Prep answered with four runs in the second on an RBI double from Yish and homers from Etherington and Gealsen.
The Fishermen, however, went on to build a big lead from there. Curtis Quinn drove in a run with a second inning single and another run came in after the ball got past the Eagles’ outfielder to make it 4-3.
A Pallazola two-run shot to center in the third put Gloucester up, 5-4, and the hosts would add two more runs on a pair of Prep errors to take a 7-4 lead through three. Bart Margiotta would extend the lead to 9-4 in the fourth with a two run homer to left before St. John’s mounted its late inning comeback.