Serra’s Vinnie Venturi pitched one inning of scoreless relief, entering in the seventh with two runners and no outs. He induced a double play grounder and another groundout to get out of the inning unscathed.
For St. Francis ace John Gavin, facing Serra this season has been about exorcising some serious demons.
For the second time this season, Gavin did so in leading the Lancers past the Padres with a 3-0 win Friday at Serra. The big left-hander went six-plus shutout innings to improve his unbeaten record to 4-0. Also having shut out Serra 1-0 at St. Francis March 21, Gavin has been flawless against the Padres this year.
That’s a far cry from the lack of success Gavin had against Serra in two previous seasons.
“They roughed me up pretty dang badly my sophomore and junior year,” Gavin said. “I gave up a home run to [Jordan Paroubeck last year] that probably still hasn’t landed. So it felt good to get the monkey off my back and pitch the game that I know that I can.”
Now the owner of a 22-2 career record, Gavin hasn’t faced much adversity in his varsity career. But the two starts against Serra previous to this year were his two worst. As a sophomore, Gavin took his only loss of the year against the Padres, lasting just 2 1/3 innings while surrendering five runs in a 7-3 Serra win. Last season, Gavin went just 2 2/3 innings in surrendering seven runs while taking a no-decision in a 10-9 Serra victory.
But even without his best stuff Friday, Gavin kept St. Francis rolling to its third straight win, by virtue of which the Lancers (8-2 in West Catholic Athletic League, 13-2 overall) move into sole possession of first place in the WCAL. They entered into play tied atop the league with Mitty, but the Monarchs fell to Bellarmine 1-0 Friday.
“I think he did a really good job of battling,” St. Francis manager Mike Oakland said. “I honestly didn’t think his command was as good as it’s been in the past. His breaking ball wasn’t as good as it’s been in recent outings. I just think he battled through the whole thing.”
While Gavin issued four hits and four walks, the difference in the game was that St. Francis was able to hold Serra base runners in check. Only three Padres reached scoring position in the game, two of which came in the bottom of the seventh when Serra stranded the bases loaded to end the game.
On the other hand, Serra starter Sean Watkins was flirting with disaster all day. The senior right-hander worked five innings, allowing three runs on just two hits. However, Watkins walked five, four of which reached scoring position, with two eventually scoring.
“It’s difficult to overcome free bases in our league,” Serra manager Craig Gianinno said. “They’re a good team and they capitalized on those opportunities.”
Still, the game was scoreless after three innings. And it took an infield error with two on and two out in the fourth for St. Francis to break through.
“Two good pitchers,” Gianinno said. “I think they both grinded. Our guy didn’t have his best stuff but he competed and grinded. We made a couple mistakes and St. Francis capitalized.”
Two big mistakes struck after Watkins issued a pair of fourth-inning walks. With Lancers at first and second amid a scoreless tie, Watkins committed a balk to move both runners into scoring position. On the ensuing pitch, St. Francis senior Ryan Johnson hit a routine grounder to shortstop which caught Matt Blais between hops for a costly error allowing Jonathan Mendoza to score from third, giving St. Francis a 1-0 lead.
Watkins still managed to strike out the side in the fourth and totaled five strikeouts in the game.
In the fifth, St. Francis scored twice more. With two outs, senior Blake Billinger extended the inning with a four-pitch walk. Cleanup man Tyler Deason didn’t wait around, as the lefty-swinging senior crushed a two-run home run to right, his first of the year, to give St. Francis a 3-0 lead.
Boasting a 0.51 team ERA, it was all the runs St. Francis pitchers would need.
“It’s a huge sigh of relief (to take the lead),” Gavin said. “Especially when it’s 0-0, you still have the jitters. When it’s 3-0 you can breath a little bit more.”
After Gavin surrendered a leadoff double to James Outman in the seventh, St. Francis turned to right-hander Patrick McMullen. The senior issued a walk before Chris Papapietro reached on an error to load the bases. But McMullen buckled down to induce a groundout off the bat of Nolan Dempsey to end the game.
McMullen earned his third save of the year. Watkins took the loss, falling to 0-2 on the year.
Outman was 2 for 3 in the game and is currently hitting for a .367 average.
“We all knew that Gavin is a really good pitcher,” Outman said. “So we just had the same mentality. Just hunt fastball and see what we can get because they have a really good pitching staff.”
Serra’s best swing of the game came off the bat of cleanup hitter Angelo Bortolin, as the left-handed-hitting sophomore drove a Gavin fastball to the warning track in the second inning which St. Francis left fielder Ryan McSwain hauled in with his back against the wall. Bortolin currently paces Serra in each of the Triple Crown categories with a .386 batting average, five home runs and 22 RBIs.
“Bortolin, for a young kid, is really composed and calm at the plate offensively,” Gianinno said. “He’s just getting better every day and getting more and more confident. (He is) understanding how the league is trying to get him out and pitch him. He’s making quality adjustments from pitch to pitch and from at bat to at bat. (He) is really developing and growing as a result.”
With the loss, Serra toils in sixth place, falling to 4-6 in WCAL play and 10-9 overall.
Terry Bernal can be reached by phone at 344-5200 ext. 109 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read his blog at FungoLingo.wordpress.com.