Jun. 13—DANVERS — It may be difficult to beat any high school team three times in the same season.
Getting two wins when one of the best pitchers in Eastern Mass gets the ball to start? That proved impossible for St. John’s Prep on Saturday morning.
Shea Sprague and BC High had their revenge from a loss at Frates Diamond just 10 days ago, shutting out the Prep in a 2-0 Catholic Conference semifinal that needed extra innings to decide.
The Elon University-bound Sprague and UMass Amherst ticketed Sam Belliveau of St. John’s traded seven scoreless innings before the visiting Eagles in maroon broke through in the top of the eighth.
The Prep (10-3) is now off until the start of the Division 1 North playoffs next week, while BC High (8-6) will face top-seeded Xaverian for the Catholic Conference playoff title Monday afternoon.
“All the credit goes to Sprague. He came in here and shoved,” said Prep coach Dan Letarte, whose team was shut out of the first time this spring and struck out a season-high 13 times without drawing a walk.
Relying on a deceptive change that had the Prep hitters out front all day, Sprague scattered six hits (all singles) over 7 2/3 innings and 115 pitches. He retired nine in a row in the middle innings, broken up by a Matt Mitchell single, then proceeded to put down another nine in a row with 12 K’s coming in a stretch where he retired 19-of-20 batters.
Ten days prior in the regular season, the Eagles had chased him and beaten their rivals bullpen in a 7-6 walkoff. Sprague carried himself like an ace determined to get a measure of revenge — and delivered.
“I think he did learn some things about how to attack our hitters the first time,” Letarte said. “His changeup was just deadly today. He pounded the strike zone, his walk-to-strikeout ratio for the season is ridiculous. We were off balance all day.”
Belliveau traded zeroes on the scoreboard with his counterpart, scattering eight hits over eight innings with eight strikeouts. BC High threatened to take the lead in the seventh thanks to an infield single and two walks, but Belliveau got a one-pitch ground ball for a double play to keep it scoreless.
After St. John’s failed to walk off in the seventh, BC High broke through in extras. Tim Wagner’s one-out double led to an RBI single by Dan Scalaro, and a sac fly by Niko Brini made it 2-0.
St. John’s threatened in the bottom half with Gavin George’s pinch-hit single and a two-out single by Payton Palladino putting men at the corners. BC High summoned Tim Cooper for a one-out save, given Sprague’s pitch count, and he got a pop out to end it.
“We didn’t get the leadoff guy on very often, so we weren’t really able to do anything as far as manufacturing runs,” said Letarte. “It was a great pitcher’s duel. Sam pitched really really well.”
Shane Williams, Chris Dirks and D.J. Pacheco had the other hits for the Eagles, who were the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs. The league opted to use metal bats to prepare for the upcoming state tournament, rather than the wood used during the regular season.
“With metal, that just shows you how well both guys pitched,” Letarte added. “This is the kind of baseball you want to see at the end of the year. Now it’s back to work and get ready for Division 1 North.”