BROCKTON — "Hey kid! You're so small that I could eat you for breakfast!"
That's what St. John's Prep's D.J. Brooks — and frankly most fans in attendance — heard in the bottom of the eighth as the junior stepped to the plate with a runner on second and two outs in a tied Super 8 elimination game against Walpole.
"I hear it every single game," said Brooks. "It doesn't get to me; I've heard it my whole life ... I was just trying to get the barrel on the ball."
Brooks did anything but waiver as he slapped an RBI double down the right field line, driving in the game's deciding run to help the Prep defeat the Rebels, 7-6, Sunday afternoon at Campanelli Stadium. The win sends the Eagles to the Super 8 championship against North Andover with Game 1 to be played on Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Haverhill Stadium.
"He was throwing a lot of outside fastballs so I just tried to stay locked in," said Brooks on his clutch at bat. "I was getting antsy early in the count by swinging at bad pitches and was looking to just get the ball in play there."
"That's a tough kid who has great at bats, is always fighting and just had the most important hit of our season," added head coach Dan Letarte on the contest's hero. "He didn't make the team his freshman year but still came back and kept working hard. We had a lot of injuries this year so he's had to step up and he's done an amazing job. I'm extremely proud of him and kids like that who have to work for what they earn."
While Brooks' heroics kept them alive, it was a collective team effort from the Eagles that made their victory possible. Will Frain's RBI double in the opening frame got the scoring started followed by a Noah Schott RBI infield hit and a double-steal attempt initiated by Brooks in the second to push the Prep out to a 3-0 lead.
However, an error-ridden bottom half of the third inning resulted in a six-run barrage for the Rebels and suddenly the Prep found themselves in a 6-1 hole.
"They had a couple of bleeders that got through and we made a few errors," said Letarte of Walpole's explosive inning. "We control our own destiny so it's up to us to not make plays like that, to locate our pitches and put together quality at bats."
Ryan Bradley took to the hill after starting pitcher Zach Fortuna exited the game in the third and provided much-needed stability for the Super 8 finalists. He tossed 4 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and just one hit as he bought the Eagles the time they needed to get back in the contest.
"Ryan's been tough all season," Letarte said of Bradley. "Kevin (Dewing) did a great job to after Ryan ... when you have fresh arms coming in late to the game it's always going to benefit you."
Fittingly enough, Brooks was the Eagle to cut their deficit to 6-4 after he beat out a close call at first that drove in a run. The hustle play gave Max Freedman the opportunity to blast a bases clearing, two-out RBI triple in the seventh to even the tilt up at 6-6.
"We've been up against it all year," said Brooks. "But we always find a way to come together and win. We are as close as a family here."
As if the win couldn't be any sweeter, once the lead runner reached for Walpole in the top of the ninth Sean Letarte — Dan Letarte's son — came on to close out the Rebels with a nicely executed double play ball and a punch out.
"I'm glad he got those outs because he was stressing me out," laughed the veteran head coach. "I'm a dad on Father's Day so I was walking around the dugout and not even looking up .... but the emotions came out after.
As a kid he's seen a lot of tough losses on this field, and when I looked at him on the mound all I could think of was Father's Day. My dad has Alzheimer's and the first place I'm going is to see him after this — and Sean knows that too."