Cathedral wins D1 Western Mass. baseball championship
Story and photos by Stephen Kiltonic
AMHERST – Nate Jurkowski’s walk-off, two-strike single up the middle with two outs in the eighth inning scored Kevin Hassett to propel Cathedral to a 5-4 win over Taconic in the Western Mass. Division 1 finals at sun-drenched Earl Lorden Field at UMass Amherst onJune 7.
It was Cathedral’s third consecutive one-run victory in the postseason tourney and for the Panthers, it was their first Western Mass title since 2001. “I just wanted to get the bat on the ball, just doing what the coaches have been helping me with all year. So, I try to drown it all out – the situation – just try to hit the ball and I guess it happened. There’s no words to describe this feeling right now. It’s incredible,” said Jurkowski, the senior second-baseman.
But the win didn’t come easy. Cathedral took an early 4-0 lead, scoring two runs in the first on a single from senior catcher Andrew Noonan and double by Matt Kenney. In the second, Noonan’s sacrifice fly scored DJ Petruzzelli while Cam Griffin added another run on a wild pitch and it looked like the Panthers’ were going to blow the game open. Cathedral’sright-hand starter and ace Kevin Hassett(8-1) was also sharp on the mound, retiring 10 in a row at one point and keeping Taconic off stride with breaking balls and 89-mph fastballs. But the No. 10 seeded Braves stormed back with three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to even the score.
Pete Crinella came in after 5 1/3 innings and shut the door on the potent Taconic bats which had previously produced 23 runs in three playoff games. Taconic actually outhit Cathedral 9-7, while the Panthers couldn’t capitalize on Braves’ reliever Alex Carusotto who pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings before Jurkowski’s game winner.
Cathedral almost ended it in the bottom of seventh when Crinella hit a laser shot into short left with a runner on second. But the Taconic left fielder made a diving, one-handed circus catch of a sinking line drive to put the game into extra innings.For Crinella and the five other seniors on the squad, the title was long overdue. “It was our last shot to get something. We’ve been grinding it out for four years. We’ve worked hard as a team this year and we knew what we wanted. Coming into the tournament, we had our eyes set on that trophy and we got what we wanted,” said Crinella who had high praise for head coach Pat Moriarty and the entire coaching staff. “We have the greatest coaches in the world. Coach Moriarty is by far the best coach I’ve had my entire life and the boys can say the same thing. He gets us in the mindset. We owe it all to him.That trophy is for Coach Moriarty. It’s his first Western Mass title since he’s been here and it’s a great feeling for everyone.”
Coach Pat Moriarty said the win was a “total team effort.” “I’m so proud of the players here and the school. We’re just all happy to be a big part of it together. It’s like one big family here and we’re just proud to take home the championship, not only for Cathedral but for the neighborhood in East Forest Park.” He added that throughout the season, the calling cards for the team have been “pitching, defense and timely hitting and today our timely hitting was Nate Jurkowski.”
No. 4 seed Cathedral (16-7), which knocked off No. 5 Minnechaug3-2 in the quarter finals and top seeded West Springfield 4-3 in a 12-inning marathon to reach the final, will now face Central Mass. champion Leominster who beat St. Peter-Marian on June 8. The state semifinal game will be on Tuesday, June 10 at Western New England University at 4 p.m.