By Jim McElhatton
On paper, the TC Willliams High School varsity baseball team might’ve seemed the favorite to win the three-team early season tournament featuring city rivals St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes and Bishop Ireton this week.
By the time of the final match up — pitting the Titans against the Saints on Wednesday — T.C. had already beat Ireton 5-3 thanks to a five-run fifth inning rally and a three-run homer by sophomore Brandon Beck. And Ireton, in turn, had beaten the Saints 7-1.
But as the old baseball cliche goes, that’s why they play the games. In the end, Saints junior Ben Frerichs tossed a complete game against a Titans squad that came agonizingly close to tying, but ultimately couldn’t figure out the right-hander.
The Saints win Wednesday meant the early season contest would end without a clear-cut winner. All three local schools came away with a 1-1 record.
For the Titans, it was a game of “what ifs.” There was the chilly, roughly 15 mph wind blowing in straight from left field, which seemed to keep at least one long fly ball in the park. And a rally-killing play at the plate in the third inning that ended a bases loaded situation — and hopes of the kind of offensive explosion that had keyed the Titans’ earlier win over Ireton.
“What it came down to is they executed and we didn’t,” Titans coach Jim Blair said after the game, complementing a Saints team that scored twice in the first three innings, though neither team crossed the plate during the second half of the game.
“We had some good hits but we were hitting them at guys, it was just one of those games,” Blair said.
Three Titans pitchers — Noah Ray, Brandon Beck and Jacob Katz — combined to limit the Saints to just a pair of runs. They kept it a one-run contest even as the Saints threatened to run up the score.
In the bottom of the second, for instance, Ray found himself in a jam with runners on first and third and one out. Working a two-ball, two-strike count, a Saints batter fouled off one pitch after another to stay alive.
“Win this battle, get this guy out!” a T.C. player yelled from the bench, only to see yet another pop foul before Ray snuck a fast ball by for the third strike. The next batter quickly popped up for the third out.
A few innings later, Ray came up to bat and nearly tied the game. He hit a long fly ball to deep left field that on a less windy day might have cleared the fence. Instead, the pop fly became the first out in a 1-2-3 inning for Frerichs.
Though the Saints didn’t score in the bottom of the fifth inning, they turned a two-out, nobody on base situation into a potential scoring moment, epitomizing the hustle style of play that characterized the team’s win.
With two outs and nobody on base, senior James Desio scrambled down the first base line just in time on an infield ground ball hit. He quickly stole second base, setting up a late game RBI chance for the Saints’ Marshall Benjamin.
Benjamin, a sophomore, was patient at the plate. He worked a three-ball, one strike count in his favor. And sure enough, he got a pitch to hit, slamming a hard line drive to centerfield. But Titans center fielder Andre Suggs was in the right spot and made the catch, ending the inning.
For the Saints coach Jim Supple, who gathered his team for a talk in right field after the game, the victory was a “total team effort” and the sort of morale-boosting win that he hopes will carry over in conference play.
He singled out Frerichs, of course, but said the win was all the more special because of the chance to play local teams with familiar faces.
“The guys all love playing against each other,” he said. “Most of them came up in Alexandria in little league together.”