LEOMINSTER — Marc Cedrone finished off five of his seven innings with a strikeout. Each time, the 6-foot righthander hopped off the mound and strode toward the Xaverian dugout brimming with confidence.
Cedrone was in a groove and the packed crowd at Doyle Field sensed it.
On the state’s biggest stage, the senior from Walpole was brilliant. He fired a shutout, struck out 13 batters with no walks, and allowed just three hits to lead Xaverian to the Division 1 state title with a 2-0 win over Leominster Monday afternoon.
The win gave the top-ranked Hawks (18-1) the program’s third MIAA championship — all under the direction of coach Gerry Lambert — and first since 2012 (a 7-1 win over Algonquin). Xaverian also beat Pittsfield, 13-6, in 2004.
“Marc was just awesome today,” said Lambert, as he was doused with an ice cold Gatorade bath. “We really fought as a team all year long and it’s a gratifying finish.”
Working at a quick tempo, Bentley University-bound Cedrone set the tone early, pumping in strike after strike to keep the Leominster hitters off balance. He mixed his fastball with a devastating 12-6 curveball.
Cedrone allowed a pair of hits in the first inning and Leominster never threatened again. He retired 14 of 15 batters from the first to the sixth and the only runner who reached base did so on a dropped third strike.
His curveball, he said was the difference. Once Cedrone completed the second inning, he knew he had the breaking ball command and entered cruise mode from there.
“I knew if I had the curveball early I could establish both pitches and keep them off balance,” said Cedrone. “After the second inning, I established it completely and that’s when I knew it was going to be a good day.”
Cedrone, who no-hit BC High in his first varsity start on May 10, threw 73 of his 105 pitches for strikes. He worked around a two-out single in the sixth and then retired the side in order in the seventh.
The final out appeared to be a groundout to short. But when the throw sailed over first base, catcher Matt Brinker backed up and gunned the runner going to second.
Xaverian spilled out of the dugout and dogpiled in the infield.
“Marc’s been great for us all year, he’s our best strike thrower and has the best curveball on the team,” said Brinker, the Catholic Conference MVP. “I’m so proud of him. He had a great game.”
The Hawks needed Cedrone’s stellar performance because Leominster’s ace, senior righthander Evan McCarthy, was also impressive. Xaverian jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first when McCarthy, who entered the start with seven walks in 56 innings, issued free passes to Henry Fleckner and Matt Brinker.
Ryan Douglas followed with an RBI single up the middle for the early lead. John Connolly doubled the advantage in the fourth when he smacked a 1-0 fastball over the left center-field fence for his third home run in as many games.
Those were the only runs Xaverian’s high-powered offense mustered against McCarthy, but it was enough.
The win capped a dominant season for the Hawks, which included the Catholic Conference regular season and tournament crowns. Xaverian beat St. John’s Prep and BC High three times and knocked off Braintree, Taunton, Franklin, and Leominster on its way to the state title.
Lambert said he knew this could be a special team when he watched his pitchers throw during the first week of practice. He feels like his team only improved as the season went on and kept knocking off quality opponents.
“I knew we were going to be a dangerous team to score runs off us and that’s a testament to our pitching staff and defense,” said Lambert. “We were a good team in April but we are a better team today and that’s a testament to our players.”