Faith Prevailed: Defending State Champ Lions Elude Monomoy Comeback (Video)

NORTON – Hollywood could not have scripted a more emotional and uplifting end Wednesday afternoon to St. John Paul II’s 6-5, walk-off win over Monomoy in the MIAA Division 4 baseball South Sectional semifinals held at Wheaton College’s James V. Siddell Stadium.

St. John Paul II sophomore pinch runner Pat Connolly is mobbed by his teammates after scoring the winning run in Wednesday's MIAA Div. 4 South Sectional Semifinal win over Monomoy at Wheaton College. Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

St. John Paul II sophomore pinch runner Pat Connolly is mobbed by his teammates after scoring the winning run in Wednesday’s MIAA Div. 4 South Sectional Semifinal win over Monomoy at Wheaton College.
Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

As bittersweet and heart-rending as it may have seemed.

Just 24 hours before game time, the St. John Paul II baseball team – defending Division 4 State Champions – got word that one of their own had received a deep, emotional and some might think insurmountable blow.

Senior outfielder Kevin Marsh, the hard-hitting Lions’ clean-up hitter, found out Tuesday that his mother, Donna Marsh, had finally succumbed to her years-long battle with cancer. The news cast a somber shadow over the usual pre-game spiritual meeting in the school’s Our Lady of Fatima chapel with head coach Mark Santos and the Lions entire team.

But at no point in Wednesday’s semifinals victory was the Lions’ collective faith tested more than when the 13th seed, underdog Monomoy Sharks (13-8) came back from a 4-0 deficit to plate five runs off of Lions’ righty ace Joe Oriola in the top of the seventh inning. The very real possibility that the Lions’ 21-1 season was about to come to a gut-wrenching end was almost palpable.

But in the bottom of the seventh, suddenly down 5-4 after leading virtually the entire game and still facing the brilliant and talented Monomoy junior righty David Nichols, it was Marsh who was forced to lead off. If there had ever been a personification of individual resilience on display in a high school baseball game before Marsh picked up his bat and stepped into the batter’s box when hope seemed lost, then one would be hard-pressed to point it out.

But when Nichols fanned the powerful lefty to give the Sharks an important leading out and one step closer to the comeback win of the decade, the St. John Paul II dugout did not shrink but instead became louder still.

Senior slugger Kevin Marsh revealed a type of personal bravery not often seen at any level of sports in Wednesday's D4 South Sectional Semifinals victory. Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

Senior slugger Kevin Marsh revealed a type of personal bravery not often seen at any level of sports in Wednesday’s D4 South Sectional Semifinals victory.
Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

Oriola, who had carried the Lions throughout the game for the most part with a gutsy mound performance, stepped into the batter’s box and singled with one out, but Monomoy did not appear phased by the baserunner. Junior rightfielder Jonny Warden followed Oriola and with two strikes slapped one to shortstop Noah Nickerson who pivoted and nailed xxxOriola at second base on the force play for the second out.

But with two outs and Warden on first base, the Lions’ dugout got louder still. And then Warden stole second.

“I knew if we could get a baserunner, we had a chance,” Coach Santos said. “Warden was big with the stolen base.”

Enter Eric Del Rosso. The centerfielder was 2-3 with two runs scored up until that key seventh-inning moment and if there was ever a time his Lion brothers needed him, well, this was the moment and he did not fail to produce. With the postseason on the line, Del Rosso ripped one to centerfield and Warden – perhaps the fastest student-athlete on the team – was already well on his way home. An attempt to throw him out at the plate sailed over Sharks’ catcher John Vagenas’ head and Del Rosso promptly legged it out to second base and into scoring position.

Santos called time out and replaced Del Rosso with pinch runner Pat Connolly, a sophomore but now with the game tied at 5-5, the hope for the Sharks was to get out of the jam and go to extra frames.

But catcher Coleman Fenton – the ninth batter in the lineup – simply refused to fail Marsh and Company. Nichols gave everything he had and pumped it into the plate and Fenton swung. He connected, and he connected hard and as the ball sailed over Sharks’ centerfielder Drew Senatore’s head what had simply loud became a spine-tingling roar as Connolly raced home with the game-winning run and the 6-5 finale.

The Monomoy Sharks swarm Noah Nickerson after he scores the go ahead run to make it 5-4 in the top of the 7th inning. Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

The Monomoy Sharks swarm Noah Nickerson after he scores the go ahead run to make it 5-4 in the top of the 7th inning.
Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

“What can you say about Del Rosso and Fenton,” Coach Santos said. “(They played with) sheer guts, resilience and toughness! I love my guys.”

The loss ended the season for the talented Sharks and turned the table on what had been one of the most intense high school baseball comebacks in recent memory.

Down 4-0 in the top of the 7th inning, first baseman Dalton Nickerson led off by being hit by a pitch on a 3-2 count, followed by a flyout from Christ Amezquita. Sophomore Owen Cottle then drew a walk to put two men on with one out, followed by another flyout.

With two outs and only men on first and second base, Senatore fouled off a half dozen Oriola fastballs and curves before ripping a single up the middle to make it 4-1. Jimmy Hinesley followed suit with another clutch, two-out, RBI-single to shallow left to load the bases.

Shortstop Noah Nickerson, representing the go-ahead run, then changed everything. Behind with a 1-2 count, Nickerson laid into an Oriola fastball and pulled it sky high to left and the ball carried. And it carried some more and by the time it had landed at the base of the wall 350 feet away, all three baserunners had scored and Nickerson had himself a three-run double.

With Brandon Hamilton now up, Nickerson made great read on a curveball in the dirt and took third base. Hamilton also had two strikes on him when he ripped one to shortstop Matt Santos that got bobbled and dropped and Hamilton was safe at first. Nickerson scored and Monomoy had a 5-4 lead.

The Lions' Joe Oriola gave it all he had in his complete-game win. Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

The Lions’ Joe Oriola gave it all he had in his complete-game win.
Sean Walsh/Capecod.com Sports

The improbable suddenly became a stunning reality.

But still, the St. John Paul II dugout seemed to get louder. That collective voice did not falter until the very end when the Lions celebrated in victory at home plate.

The top-seed St. John Paul II (22-1) Lions will now face the #6 seed Mashpee Falcons (18-7) who defeated Abington Wednesday (see Mashpee-Abington baseball story) in an All-Cape match-up for the MIAA Division 4 South Sectional championship on a date to be announced.

“These guys play for each other,” Coach Santos said. “I’m so proud of them.”

Oriola went the distance and struck out eight. He allowed five runs on two walks and seven hits and two hit batsmen.

Nichols went the distance for the loss. He struck out five in 6 2/3 innings of work and allowed 13 hits and three walks.

Del Rosso went 3-4 with one RBI and Blake Waters, Oriola, Warden and Fenton each had two hits for the Lions. Bobby Higgins (1-3, RBI) was spectacular at third for the Lions while Noah Nickerson was equally flashy with the leather at shortstop for the Sharks.

— Sean Walsh is the sports editor for www.capecod.com. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @coachwalshccbm

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