The moment could not have been bigger for Matt Lavin. He walked to the batter’s box at Hofstra with an opportunity he couldn’t have fathomed a month ago.
Fresh off knee surgery on April 23 and dedicating every day to physical therapy, this was the reward for his unexpected return to the St. John the Baptist lineup. It was his opportunity to contribute in a season that was seemingly lost to injury.
With his team trailing by one, Lavin stepped in with runners on first and third and two outs in the top of the sixth inning. He turned on an inside fastball and drove it to deep right. The ball caromed off the base of the fence as Lavin raced into third with a two-run triple to give SJB the lead en route to a 5-3 come-from-behind win over St. Dominic Monday to capture the CHSAA baseball title.
“I knew we had a special team and could be in the championship,” Lavin said. “And I worked so hard to get back on the field. I was told I wasn’t coming back. It was just a rough year from basketball to baseball.”
Logan O’Hoppe drove in Lavin with a long line-drive double to cap the three-run inning. The Cougars won the first two games of the best-of-three series to win the school’s 12th title.
It was the first CHSAA title for St. John the Baptist since it won back-to-back titles in 2013-14.
“There are so many emotions going on right now,” Lavin said. “It was such a rewarding feeling and a phenomenal ending.”
Lavin’s big moment was made possible by teammate Will Lynch, who also returned from a shoulder injury in time for the playoffs. Lynch, who wasn’t sure if he’d ever pick up a baseball again in a Cougars uniform, entered in relief Monday and shut down the Bayhawks offense.
“I would have been a starter but I was sidelined all season,” Lynch said. “I told the coaches I could go today. The adrenaline was pumping.”
Lynch relieved starter Mike Russo with two outs in the third and the Cougars trailing 3-0. He went the final 4 1/3 innings and allowed two hits, a walk and struck out three for the win. Lynch didn’t allow a runner past first base.
“His curveball was filthy,” O’Hoppe said. “We’ve hit against him in practice and he’s so tough. He commands the zone so well.”
The Bayhawks scored once in the first and twice in the third to open a 3-0 lead. Jared Paladino singled, moved to second on a single by Sean Lane and scored when Carlos Hidalgo roped an RBI single to left.
In the third, Johnny Flannigan led off with a long double, moved to third on Paladino’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a Matt Malone single. Malone moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on an infield error for the 3-0 lead.
St. John the Baptist rallied for two runs in the fifth inning, the key hit a long two-run double off the bat of Will Shaw, his second double of the game.