By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Two teams fighting for spots in the Super Eight met on Wednesday afternoon in Westwood as the Catholic Conference champion Xaverian Hawks welcomed the defending Division I Eastern Mass champion Wellesley Raiders.
With the tournament just about a week away, a win for either the Raiders (15-5) or Hawks (12-8) would heavily boost their chances of qualifying for the Super Eight, despite the game not counting towards Division I South.
Behind four and a third innings of work from Virginia Tech commit Henry Weycker and a big day at the plate from sophomore first baseman Max Zajec (3 for 4, 2B, two runs, three RBI), the Raiders slugged their way to an 11-8 road victory to keep their Super Eight hopes alive, all while putting a big question mark on Xaverian’s playoff fate.
“It seemed like we were working really hard to score one at a time after those first couple of innings, while they seemed to score their runs in bulk, with two in the third and then five in the sixth,” said Wellesley head coach Rob Kane. “Our bats certainly kept us in it and allowed us to win this game, but defensively, there are some small things that we need to fix. Making routine plays to get outs, pitchers throwing strikes and giving us a chance. It’s a win for us and it helps us with our chances at the Super Eight. It doesn’t count on our Division I South record, but today gave us that playoff atmosphere - going on the road and playing against a good team that won their conference and was on the Super Eight bubble. It was a good win, but it shouldn’t have been that way.”
With two outs in the top of the first inning, Wellesley exploded with a four-run rally, begun by an RBI single by junior third baseman/pitcher Kai Grocki, to make it 1-0. After a steal of second by Grocki put runners at second and third, Zajec ripped a double down the left field line to plate both Matt Maiona and Grocki to extend Wellesley’s lead to 3-0. Sophomore catcher Holt Fletcher then lined a single to right to score Zajec and give Wellesley a 4-0 lead after a half inning.
Weycker was able to strike out a pair after allowing Chris Ducko (infield hit) and Matt Joyce (HPB) to reach base to lead off the inning. The future Hokie then got Sean Birch to ground into an inning-ending fielder’s choice at short to get the Raiders out of the inning unscathed.
Wellesley’s bats stayed hot in the top half of the second. Following a single by Maiona and a walk drawn by Weycker, senior Colin Blasco hammered a double down the left field line to plate both runners, extending the Raider lead to 6-0 through an inning and a half.
Senior Kyle Sylvester was able to reach base on a single with one out in the bottom of the second for Xaverian. Paul Manning then ripped a single to right to put men on first and second with two away before a passed ball moved both runners into scoring position. However, Weycker worked his magic and struck out Ducko looking to end the inning, keeping the six-run lead intact.
Holt Fletcher led off the top of third with a single to center and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jay-Thomas Driver. A strikeout by Dylan Vaglica, followed by a diving stab at third and throw to first by Matt Joyce, got Xaverian out of the inning.
The Hawks were finally able to muster up some offense in the bottom of the third as Charlie Bean drove home Matt Joyce with a sacrifice fly to cut it to 6-1. A wild pitch then allowed John Whorf to come across and make it 6-2. Weycker settled in and stuck out Manning swinging to limit the damage to just a pair.
In the top of the fourth, Wellesley got back one of the two runs surrendered in the previous half inning. Maiona singled to center, stole second, advanced to third on a fly to right, and took home on a passed ball to make it 7-2 in favor of the Raiders through 3 1/2.
Weycker sent the Hawks down in order in the home half of the fourth, getting a pair of groundouts before striking out senior captain and shortstop Jake Cassidy to end the inning. John Ciolfi singled in Zajec with two outs in the top of the fifth to extend Wellesley’s lead to 8-2.
Matt Joyce led off the home half of the fifth for Xaverian with a single to left before Whorf drew a walk to move him into scoring position. A throwing error to second on a grounder to first allowed Joyce to sprint home to make it an 8-3 game. Justin Lindquist then came on in relief for the Raiders with one away and recorded a fly out to Weycker, who had moved to right. Despite having worked for four innings on the mound, Weycker’s arm didn’t seem too exhausted - the junior southpaw gunned down Whorf at home attempting to tag. The throw ended the inning, keeping it 8-3 in favor of Wellesley after five full.
Colin Blasco launched a bases-clearing triple to left-center with no outs in the top of the third, plating in Maiona and Weycker to extend the lead to 10-3. Zajec cracked a single to center two at-bats later to bring in Blasco and make it an eight-run game at 11-3.
Xaverian clawed their way back in it in the bottom of the six, plating five runs. Reece Rappoli started the inning with a single to left before Patrick Tevenan cracked a single to right. Ducko drew a walk to load the bases, and a passed ball on the first pitch of the ensuing at-bat to Cassidy brought home Rappoli to make it 11-4. A wild pitch then brought in Tevenan to make it 11-5 before an infield single by Cassidy brought in Ducko to cut it to 11-6. Kai Grocki came on in relief for Lindquist following the RBI single by Cassidy. Sean Birch cracked a single to center to plate Cassidy and make it a four run game before an error in center field allowed another run to score, making it 11-8. Despite the tying run being at the plate in the form of Rappoli, Grocki settled in and recorded a fly out to right to end the inning and preserve the lead for Wellesley through six.
A great diving stab and step on first with two outs by Charlie Bean saved a run and got Xaverian to the bottom of the seventh down just three. Grocki came back out for the Raiders looking to close the door and struck out Tevenan to begin the frame. Ducko reached on an infield hit, but Grocki got Cassidy to line out to Zajec at first, who stepped on the bag to double up Ducko and end the game.
Following the win, Kane praised the toughness of his closing pitcher, Kai Grocki, who suffered a nasty eye injury two weeks ago during practice that required an ambulance ride.
“Kai is always a guy we can count on to throw strikes, which is nice,” said Kane. “He missed only a week and he broke above the eye, below the eye; his face was all black and blue, they took him in an ambulance,” said Kane. “It shows a lot of fight in him that he wanted to get back here and play. He was ready to come back even a day earlier than he was cleared. Today was his first day on the mound. He threw strikes, mixed in the off-speed, and had a big hit for us in the first inning and was responsible for our first RBI. He stepped up for us and had two really good at-bats with one 12-pitch at-bat. Another one he probably saw eight or 10 [pitches]. So on the day, he saw around 30 pitches, and that’s only going to help him going forward because he missed about a week of hitting. A performance like this today will definitely help him get his timing back.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.