Inspired Catholic High pulls away from Denham Springs in baseball playoffs _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN OUBRE -- Denham's Travis Swaggerty make it safely back to first as he beats the attempted tag by Catholic's Matt Crapanzano at Catholic High.

The sight of their teammate Matt Crapanzano laying motionless in front of home plate for several tense moments struck a chord with the rest of Catholic High’s team.

Crapanzano was the unintentional victim of an 0-2 pitch in the second inning from Denham Springs ace Bailey Holstein that caromed off his batting helmet before he staggered on the ground on his back.

Crapanzano, the team’s starting first baseman, was helped up and eventually left the under his own power but served as an inspiration in the second-seeded Bears’ 7-1 victory Friday over seventh-seeded Denham Springs in the best-of-three Class 5A state quarterfinal game.

“We wanted to win it for Matt,” Catholic starting pitcher Ross Massey said. “After he got hit, we took it upon ourselves to put some runs up and play for him.”

The win puts Catholic (35-3) a victory away from advancing to the Class 5A state tournament in Sulphur. The two teams meet again at 1 p.m. Saturday, with Denham Springs (25-8) needing a win to keep its season alive and force a third and deciding game at 4 p.m.

“That’s a tough blow to lose a player the caliber of Matt,” Catholic coach Brad Bass said. “I thought Brandon Fairbanks did a great job stepping in and playing the position.”

Catholic broke away late from Denham Springs, extending a 3-1 lead with four runs on three hits in the sixth inning and handing Holstein (9-1) his first defeat of the season.

Shortstop Josh Smith, an LSU commitment, rocketed a 2-1 pitch off the wall in right field for a double, clearing the bases for a 6-1 lead and third baseman Hayden Mixon added a run-scoring double to the corner in left field.

“I knew going into that at-bat it was a close game,” said Smith, who was 2-for-3 with four RBIs. “I was going to try and do whatever I could to open it up for Ross, who absolutely dealt (Friday) and gave up one hit.”

Holstein was lifted for Travis Swaggerty after 6.2 innings, eight hits, seven runs (four earned), three walks and one strikeout.

“We had some opportunities early when (Massey) didn’t have his good stuff and walked some which is uncharacteristic for him,” Denham Springs coach Mark Carroll said. “We didn’t get that one hit we needed when we could have opened it up early. We’ll come back (Saturday) and take a shot at it.”

Massey (10-0) was appreciative of the additional run support, finishing with one-hitter despite an uncharacteristic six walks in a 120-pitch outing where the Tulane signee threw 64 pitches for strikes.

“Emotions were running high in the first few innings, but the defense made some great plays that helped me get out of some jams,” Massey said. “Any time you can put up seven runs, that always helps too.”

Massey had four of his walks in the first three innings, but it was a fielding error in the second inning that enabled Matt Erwin to score and give Denham Springs a 1-0 lead.

The Bears atoned for the first of their two defensive miscues with a couple of double-play gems that enabled Massey to avoid any trouble.

Second baseman Bo Branch, who made a slick backhanded play up the middle for an assist, combined with Smith on a pair of double plays in the second and sixth innings and turned another with an assist from Mixon at third base.

“That’s how he’s been all season and we’re going to play behind him every chance we get,” Smith said of Massey.

An inning after Crapanzano’s departure Catholic recaptured the lead with three unearned runs following a leadoff fielding error.

Smith doubled to center, driving in Branch and Catholic put together consecutive run-scoring, two-out hits from Soileau and center fielder Simon Prevot, who had one of the Bears five doubles.

“When he was on the ground, I came back to the dugout from checking on him,” Bass said of Crapanzano. “The guys were saying they were going to step up for him. They wanted to move the line for Matt and that’s what they did.”