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St. Dominic centerfielder John LaRocca throws out runner at plate to support Reiss Knehr

St. Dominic starting pitcher Reiss Knehr, left, celebrates

St. Dominic starting pitcher Reiss Knehr, left, celebrates with centerfielder John LaRocca after their team's 3-2 win over St. John the Baptist in Game 1 of a best-of-three NSCHSAA baseball semifinals at New York Institute of Technology on Monday, May 18, 2015. Credit: James Escher

Reiss Knehr pitched effectively for St. Dominic, especially in clutch situations Monday. But the most important strike in the Bayhawks' 3-2 victory over St. John the Baptist may have been thrown by centerfielder John LaRocca.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth and St. Dominic clinging to a two-run lead, Knehr surrendered a single to center by St. John the Baptist's Andrew Ferrante. One run scored on the hit and Kevin Dolan, who was on second, sped around third and was waved home with the potential tying run.

"I'm surprised they even sent him. He'd already thrown out three runners at home this year," Knehr said. "If I have to give up a hit in that spot, I hope it's to LaRocca."

Given that there were two outs and the runners were off on contact on the 3-and-2 pitch, sending Dolan was the right call. But LaRocca was ready.

"Off the bat, I knew the ball was going to fall in. I was charging hard and I knew there would be a play at the plate," LaRocca said. "I got a good bounce and I threw him out. It was a good feeling."

The arms of Knehr and LaRocca led No. 3 St. Dominic past No. 2 St. John the Baptist in the opener of a three-game CHSAA semifinal series at NYIT in Old Westbury. Game 2 is Tuesday night at 7 at Farmingdale State.

"That was a load off my shoulder," said Knehr, who mostly used his fastball to toss a seven-hitter.

One batter before LaRocca's dart, Knehr helped his own cause when he fought back from a 3-and-0 hole with the bases loaded to pick up a key strikeout looking with a fastball on the outside corner.

"That's what he does. He wants the ball in big spots," St. Dominic coach Jim Goelz said.

The Bayhawks took a 3-1 lead in the top of the sixth with a little small ball. Justin Cancel led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Vinny Napolitano, who had singled and hit a booming fly to deep left in his previous at-bats.

Cancel would have scored easily on Brendan Harkin's sharp single, but shortstop Tyler White made a spectacular diving stab in the hole to keep Cancel at third. But he scored when Greg Tan bounced to third and St. John the Baptist couldn't turn the around-the-horn double play.

Tan caught all of Knehr's strikes Monday . . . plus one more.

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