When St. John the Baptist coach John Habyan tapped junior righthander Frank DeMaio to start Game 1 of the CHSAA baseball finals, the Cougars' coach planned on having DeMaio get nine outs, with relievers to follow.
Making his first varsity start, DeMaio tossed that plan aside in fine fashion throughout No. 3 St. John the Baptist's 3-1 win over No. 1 St. Dominic Sunday at Farmingdale State.
"I threw my best stuff and hit my spots," said DeMaio, who allowed two hits, walked none and struck out five in his complete game. "Just got in a groove. Threw the slider and the fastball away and kept everything low."
He admitted he was nervous at the start, but DeMaio calmed down once the Cougars (20-6) gave him some run support. That occurred before he even took the mound, courtesy of shortstop Dylan Steigerwald.
Leading off the top of the first, Steigerwald beat out an infield hit, stole two bases and scored on a fielder's choice, sliding home to narrowly beat the throw to the plate.
"It was a sick slide. Didn't get touched, got the back of the plate," said Steigerwald, who also walked twice. "Coach [Ralph] Dalton said anything on the ground, you're taking off. Just taking the bags when I can."
Pinch hitter Christopher Lemorocco added to that lead in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded and nobody out, he delivered an RBI single to left that drove in Jonathan Tenaglia for a 2-0 lead.
"It was key fouling off the first 3-2 pitch," Lemorocco said of the offering from St. Dominic starter Matt Castagnaro. "The entire at-bat was fastballs. I was just trying to get the run in there. It doesn't get much bigger than that."
Patrick Lagravinese, who followed Tenaglia's leadoff walk in the fourth with the game's first hit, a bloop single to left, scored the third run when Steigerwald drew a bases-loaded walk.
From that point on, it was all DeMaio, whose previous experience as a starter was at the junior varsity level.
"He got on a roll and we just stayed out of it," Habyan said, referring to his coaching staff. "We weren't going to put it all on one guy, but he was able to get it going and it was great to watch."
Castagnaro kept the Bayhawks (17-7) in it by tossing a four-hitter through five innings, allowing two earned runs, striking out five and walking three.
Kevin Podell tripled to lead off the bottom of the fourth and scored on John LaRossa's two-out single to center for the Bayhawks' lone run.
St. Dominic coach Rick Garrett hopes to see more of that when the best-of-three series continues with Game 2 at 9 a.m. Monday at Farmingdale State, with Game 3 to follow if necessary.
"We've battled all year," Garrett said. "We just have to keep doing what we've been doing. Be patient, have quality at-bats."