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Chaminade rallies past St. Anthony's to take Game 1 of CHSAA baseball championship

Matthew Merolla #26, Chaminade pitcher, second from left,

Matthew Merolla #26, Chaminade pitcher, second from left, gets congratulated by teammates after the final out by St. Anthony's is made in Game 1 of the CHSAA baseball final at Hofstra on Sunday, May 26, 2019. Credit: James Escher

St. Anthony’s caught lightning in a bottle this past week. The Friars were seeded fifth of six teams for this CHSAA baseball postseason, but over the course of seven days they eliminated four teams to earn a spot in the championship series. In Game 1 on Sunday they faced top-seeded Chaminade, the team with a bottle opener for all occasions.

Aidan Larkin and Brendan O’Hara each had two-run singles and Bobby Dahl pitched five innings of two-run ball as the Flyers shook off an early scare, got a big lead with a four-run fourth, and held on for a 6-4 Game 1 victory at Hofstra’s University Field.

Chaminade (16-4) will be going for its 17th championship and first since 2015 in Game 2 at 11 a.m. Monday at Hofstra and will pitch ace Logan Koester. Upstart St. Anthony's (11-13) is expected to counter with Jake Barrett, looking to force a decisive Game 3, which would be played later in the day if needed. The Friars haven't won a championship since 2000.

“I’ve been on the varsity three seasons now and [we] have waited a long time to play for the championship,” Larkin said. “When you get here you have to be relaxed and be yourself and get it done. It’s what we’ve done all season so stay the same.”

Easier said than done. St. Anthony’s came in hot and grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Jack Calla singled in pinch runner Greg Randall and scored on Cameron Leary’s double off the rightfield wall. Is it possible the Flyers were the best team all season but had run into the team playing the best at the end?

“That thought certainly passes through my mind, but we’ve been good all year so I have the confidence,” Flyers coach Mike Pienkos said. “We go down? It doesn’t matter. We can swing the bats, too. And we play really good defense.”

“It was only 2-0 and if we don’t score two runs in seven innings we don’t deserve to win anyway,” Larkin said. “We’ve been too good a team to let anything panic us.”

O’Hara’s two-run single in the second tied it. Chaminade went up for good in the fourth when Aidan Umhafer's liner just cleared leaping shortstop Cameron Dunn and O’Hara scored from second on a slide ahead of the throw home for a 3-2 lead.

“We’re the kind of team that has the confidence to take some chances and I guess I took one there by never letting up,” O’Hara said. “If it doesn’t happen when you do take a chance, we feel someone else will have another shot.”

Two batters later and after a wild pitch scored a run, Larkin delivered a two-run single to make it 6-2. Larkin also broke a scoreless tie against St. John the Baptist in a 3-0 semifinal win. Cushion in hand, Dahl retired nine of the last 10 Friars he faced in a five-inning, four-strikeout performance.

“We’ve counted on Larkin all year and invariably the kid comes through," Pienkos said. "He’s our best player and he’s proved it all year — in this league that the kid can just all-out play. In my career, and I’ve been here a long time, I’d have to dig deep to think of somebody who played better for us in all the years. The thing is, he’s clutch.”

St. Anthony’s pushed a pair of runs across in the seventh on Marco Ali’s two-run double but couldn’t get the tying run to the plate.

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