Pinch hitter Erik Benedetti’s bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted the St. Francis High baseball team to a 1-0 win over visiting Serra Friday.
The Lancers, bouncing back from a loss to St. Ignatius in their West Catholic Athletic League opener three days earlier, improved to 6-1 overall. Serra slumped to 0-3 in league and 5-5 overall.
St. Francis prevailed despite managing just two hits – both by senior first baseman Blake Billinger – off Padres starter Matt Blais, who went the distance in the loss.
The right-hander relented in extra innings, walking Benedetti on a 3-1 fastball out of the strike zone that scored catcher Tim Susnara.
Senior Susnara started the inning with a walk – his second of the game. Billinger followed with a double, then senior third baseman Tyler Deason drew an intentional walk to load the bases.
Lancers coach Mike Oakland attributed his team’s offensive struggles to a combination of inexperience and facing a slew of talented arms early in the season.
“To be honest with you, we’ve seen nothing but just aces – really good pitchers who are (NCAA) Division I guys,” Oakland said of his team, which is averaging less than four runs per game. “I’ve got a lot of young, inexperienced guys in my lineup – as far as varsity experience. I just think it’s a matter of continuing to stick with it. There’s not a real formula for it.”
St. Francis junior Andrew Carter recorded his first win of the season after throwing two scoreless frames in relief of senior starter John Gavin. The hard-throwing southpaw tossed the first six scoreless innings against the Padres, but he was pulled after exceeding his pitch count, according to Oakland.
“It was one of those things where every time I went out there, he just said, ‘No, I’m staying,’” the coach said of Gavin. “I basically had to pull him after (the sixth) inning and I said, ‘You’re done, dude.’”
Gavin finished with 10 strikeouts – including five straight over the first and second innings – and surrendered just three hits and two walks.
“We were in the bullpen and getting loose and the ball just had (velocity) on it,” Susnara said of Gavin. “He was hitting his spots. I just said to myself, ‘It’s going to be a good day today,’ and sure enough it was.”
Gavin squashed Serra’s most promising scoring opportunity in the top of the fifth – without throwing a pitch. He stranded Padres left fielder James Outman at second base after catching Ian McGuire – who rapped a two-out single – leaning too far off first base on a pick-off throw.
After giving up a leadoff single to Chris Papapietro to start the sixth, the lefty coaxed center fielder Nolan Dempsey into a 1-6-3 double play and struck out Angelo Bortolin to end his day.
St. Francis is scheduled to host Valley Christian 4 p.m. today in WCAL play.
2014 baseball: St. Francis High School early season - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier