PEABODY — Bishop Fenwick captain Kevin Church had a hard time hiding his emotions when first-year head coach Kevin Canty told him the Crusaders were scheduling Division 1 power Peabody for the first week of the season.
Church, an experienced, crafty left-handed pitcher, didn't just want the ball. He needed it.
The former Peabody West Little League star kept the Tanners off-balance Saturday morning at Bezemes Diamond, and the result was a masterful performance and a 4-2 win for the visiting Crusaders.
In limiting Peabody (0-2) to eight hits — all singles — and two runs over seven innings, Church quieted a lineup with four returning Northeastern Conference all-stars.
He did it by mixing his pitches and fearlessly dancing around the Tanners' most dangerous bats. Church's curve was moving, and he had no qualms about going to 2- and 3-ball counts to keep Peabody off-balance.
"That team will drill fastballs, and I know I can throw my curve for a strike. It's my No. 1 pitch, and I have the most control with it," said Church, his team now 2-0 with victories over NEC favorites Danvers and Peabody.
"This feels awesome. It's hard work paying off."
Saturday's game might as well have been played at Cy Tenney Park, given the Little League talent on both sides. A total of six of the 14 members of Peabody West's 2006 state championship team were on the diamond — Genaro Ciulla, Bobby Losanno, Stephen Girolamo and Robby Pelletier for Peabody and Church and Cam Borrelli for Fenwick — not to mention 2009 Little League World Series alums Sean McGrath for the Tanners and Nick Bona for the Crusaders.
In all, nine of the 16 total hits came off the bats for former Peabody West state champs.
When the final out was recorded, after 110 pitches and five strikeouts, it was Church who ruled the day.
"From the first day of tryouts, (Church) was excited. He wanted to pitch against these guys and show he's one of the best around," Canty said. "I have a lot of confidence in him; he can get behind or ahead in counts and still come with his off-speed stuff."
Trailing 4-1 into the bottom of the seventh, the Tanners didn't go away quietly. Aaron Comak singled, and Ciulla (2 for 4) drove him in with a hot shot off the second baseman's glove. Church bore down and got Casey Grenier to ground out to seal the win for Fenwick.
Junior Joe Levasseur was the difference for the Crusaders at the dish, collecting a total of three 2-out RBI. He doubled to give Fenwick the lead in the third and came up with a clutch, 2-run single to stretch it to 4-1 in the fifth.
"He got his pitch and he hit it," said Canty, who served as Peabody's junior varsity coach before taking over at Fenwick. "That was a huge hit for us, and it set the tone for the last couple of innings."
Tommy Burns took the loss for Peabody, scattering six hits over four innings. Girolamo conceded two runs but retired the last seven he faced in three innings of work.
The Tanners are now an uncharacteristic 0-2. It's not entirely unfamiliar territory as Peabody was 0-3 a year ago before winning 17 of their next 20.
"Two words: Slow start," Peabody coach Mark Bettencourt said. "We have a very good team and the fact that we're 0-2 won't deter me from saying that. Right now, we're in a funk — we're getting guys in positions and not getting it done. That will change."
Girolamo had a breakout day at the dish with two hits and drove in George Tsonis, who reached in all three of his at-bats, to put Peabody ahead 1-0 in the second.
Fenwick answered immediately when Church singled and scored on a single by Alex Petras (2 hits).
Both catchers showed off great arms, with Ciulla gunning down a man at third and then getting the speedy Bona trying to steal second in the same inning. Fenwick's Gianni Esposito answered by nailing Losanno trying to swipe second in the next frame.
Both Bettencourt and Canty play aggressive baseball, and since they coached together for years, neither team managed to get a leg up in the running game.
"We were very limited in what we could do. It was a funky game in that regard," Bettencourt said.
The Crusaders, who are three-time defending Catholic Central Large champs and have reached the Division 3 North semifinals the last two years, look like true D3 state title contenders with marquee wins over Peabody and Danvers.
"Setting up the schedule, I knew what we were getting into. I know what kind of baseball Peabody and Danvers play, and I knew it would set a tone," Canty said. "I wasn't worried about wins and losses, I was worried about a barometer of where we are, and clearly we're right there."