Brother Martin’s Corey Gaconi and Shaw’s Keith Meier were engaged in a pitching duel for the majority of Friday night, but Gaconi last slightly longer for his team, which was a big difference in a close game.
Gaconi, who was making his first start for Brother Martin (21-11) in over a month, pitched a complete game to help lead the No. 14-seeded Crusaders to a 4-3 win over No. 30 Shaw (20-11) in the first game of their best-of-three Class 5A second-round series Friday night.
Game 2 is 4 p.m. Saturday at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium.
“It felt really good to say it was my first start in a while,” said Gaconi, who allowed eight hits, one walk and struck out three in seven innings. “I just wanted to keep my pitch count down and pound the strike zone.”
While Meier pitched valiantly for much of the night, it appeared that he began slowing down in the sixth inning — and Brother Martin pounced on its opportunity to take advantage of the left-hander.
Brother Martin had two runners on and two outs, and Shaw coach Kirk Bullinger considered pulling Meier, but he decided not to.
That decision backfired as Meier walked the next two batters, including a bases-loaded walk that gave the Crusaders the deciding run.
Meier lasted 5.2 innings, allowing seven hits and four runs. He also struck out nine and walked three.
“I don’t think he was tired, he just didn’t execute in that situation. It happens sometimes,” Bullinger said. “But you have to take your hat off to (Brother Martin). They fought the whole game, and they were able to take advantage of our mistakes.”
Conversely, Shaw took advantage of a Brother Martin mistake to nab its first lead, but the Crusaders answered quickly.
With runners on second and third, Gaconi threw a breaking pitch that bounced through the legs of Brother Martin catcher Jonathan Parker, allowing Shaw’s Josh Pantoja to scurry home and give the Eagles their first lead.
Brother Martin third baseman Mason Bonnaffons followed up Shaw’s run by opening the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff double, and two batters later Parker made up for his mistake in the top of the inning by tying the score at 3 with an RBI single.
“I always preach to our guys about being patient and waiting for your opportunities, and we did a good job tonight,” Brother Martin coach Mark Wisniewski said.
“We knew it was going to be a close game, we just needed to take advantage of the opportunities when they were given to us.”
The Crusaders scored first, utilizing a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Luke Bernard — only his second RBI of the season — to take a 1-0 lead.
Joel Bergeron followed Bernard’s sacrifice fly by slapping an RBI single to right field, increasing the Brother Martin lead to 2-0 heading to the top of the third.
But Shaw wasn’t behind for long, leading off the top of the third inning with base hits by Lance Landry and Caiden Reid.
Two batters later, Jace Nini gave the Eagles their first run with an RBI groundout, and Kyle Flettrich followed with an RBI double to tie it at 2.