By: John Knebels
Photos/Video: Patty Morgan & Alex Duda
PHILADELPHIA –Two different games were going on 17 miles apart. The suspense of those contests was light years apart.
In the Catholic League baseball semifinals yesterday, three-seed Cardinal O’Hara scored early and often and evoked the 10-run mercy rule in a 12-1 victory over two-seed Roman Catholic at La Salle High School.
Meanwhile at South Philadelphia’s FDR Park, top-seed La Salle and four-seed Father Judge were playing to the death. In 13 innings, the defending champion Explorers prevailed, 3-2.
“It was a battle back and forth the whole game,” said La Salle junior Charlie Yanoshik, who singled home senior Gavin Moretski with the winning run via an infield single. “Both teams pitched well and played a great defensive game, so there were no easy breaks for either team. Our team did a fantastic job of making both the routine and difficult plays all game.”
Father Judge was leading, 2-0, and three outs away from toppling the defending champs, but Yanoshik hit a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit in half and sophomore Jake Whitlinger slapped what he later labeled his career highlight, a single that scored junior Dan Choate, who had singled, with the tying run.
Whitlinger assessed his huge moment in the spotlight.
“My approach was to drive the ball to the right-center field gap,” he said. “I was a little early but got a good enough piece of the ball to drive in a run. We worked all week in practice on executing with a man on third, and I took that into my at bat. I hit it hard on the ground and got the bounce I needed and it ended up into left field.
“I was a little nervous knowing the season was on the line, but I knew all the hard work the team and I put in would translate to this game scenario.”
Moretski, who had tossed a complete-game shutout over eight-seed Archbiship Ryan in the quarterfinals, was brilliant in relief.
Taking over in the fifth, Moretski proceeded to fire eight frames of six-hit, shutout baseball, walking none and striking out nine. Senior Dave Kratz pitched a perfect 13thand was the winning pitcher.
“I knew I was going to come in to pitch but didn’t think it was going to be eight innings and (101) pitches,” said Moretski. “But I was ready to battle until the end.
“I felt great through every inning, My slider was there early and used the changeup occasionally, but it worked when it needed to work.”
Asked which of his contributions meant more to him personally – his splendid pitching or scoring the winning run in a three-hour, 13-inning marathon – Moretski didn’t hesitate.
“Definitely scoring the run,” he said, “and turning around and seeing Charlie Yanoshik reach first base without a throw, knowing we won the long battle and are ready to finish it on Saturday.”
The Explorers’ opponent, Cardinal O’Hara, stunned Roman Catholic by scoring two in the first and four in the third. Leading 7-1, the Lions busted loose for five runs in the sixth and clinched the game by holding the Cahillites scoreless in the sixth.
The hitting stars were plentiful. Junior Joey Sperone was 2-4 with four runs batted in. Senior leadoff hitter Jim White had three of O’Hara’s 12 hits and scored twice, as did senior Dan Hopkins, junior Joe Kelly, and senior Luke Sprague.
“This game was very important for us just because it really boosted our confidence and we are playing great as a team right now,” said Sperone, who started on the mound and allowed one run in three and two-thirds innings before handing the ball to junior Tom Kane for the final seven outs. “I wouldn’t say I was nervous, I’ve pitched in big games like that before. I was just very excited and anxious.
“Coming up big to support the team was very big because it took a lot of pressure off some of the other guys and allowed them to play more relaxed.”
Kelly was asked if he was surprised at the outcome, and also if winning the championship would mean more since La Salle is the defending champion and also beat O’Hara on its home field, 11-8, on April 10.
“Not at all,” he said. “We all believe in each other to do our job, and everyone had a great few practices leading up to the game.
“We need to focus on the game Saturday, not what they did last year or the outcome of our game earlier this season. So it would mean the same amount no matter who we are playing.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)