Kyle Collins stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with the chance to erase any negative feelings he had about his hitting this season.
"I've been a little shaky and it's been a rough year for me,'' Collins said, lamenting the inconsistency of his senior year. Thursday was one of the peaks that made up for the valleys.
Collins lofted a walk-off single over a drawn-in outfield to rally No. 2 St. John the Baptist to an 8-7 victory over No. 3 St. Anthony's in the deciding game of their best-of-three CHSAA semifinal series at Farmingdale State. The Cougars will play St. Dominic in Game 1 of the finals at 3 p.m. Sunday at Farmingdale State.
"We had no doubt,'' Collins said. "We had the feeling that we were going to push one across because we were hitting the ball great today.''
Collins tripled in his first at- bat, but he was not the only hitting hero for the Cougars (19-6).
With St. John the Baptist trailing 7-6, Chris Gaffney led off the bottom of the seventh with a single. Brian McLaughlin (3-for-3, sacrifice fly) followed with a perfectly placed push bunt that put the potential winning run on base.
After a forceout at third, McLaughlin came around to tie it when Patrick Lagravinese's potential game-ending double-play ball was misplayed. Collins followed with the winning hit.
With the score tied at 6, St. Anthony's Dean Sheridan and Alex Masotto began the top of the seventh with singles. Then the door to the Cougars' bullpen swung open and out walked the ace of the staff, Greg Egan.
"It was a little intimidation factor and it helped me,'' Egan said.
After a walk, Egan gave up a sacrifice fly to Dan Cleary that put St. Anthony's (13-10) up 7-6. He recovered to induce a groundout and a flyout to end the inning.
"When you get in that situation, it's all hands on deck,'' coach John Habyan said. "We had to go to Greg to try and isolate it and keep the damage down to a minimum, which he did.''
Catcher Paul Britt led the Friars, going 3-for-4 with a home run, two RBIs and a stolen base. But it wasn't enough to get past SJB and its tough group of seniors.
"We saw Kyle's hit go up in the wind and it was just an indescribable feeling,'' Gaffney said. "To finally get there after three seasons is an unbelievable feeling.''