WORCESTER — Over the past three seasons, the faces, stories, and opponents have changed, but St. John Paul II’s stranglehold on Division 4 baseball has remained the same.
In the state title game Saturday at Fitton Field, the Lions added another piece of hardware to their trophy case, defeating Oxford, 8-7, thwarting a comeback bid from 8-2.
In this, the Lions’ third straight Division 4 title, the hero was ace Joe Oriola.
The senior threw a 112-pitch complete game, and though he allowed 10 hits and seven runs, coach Mark Santos had no second thoughts when Oriola said he could finish the game.
So, 97 pitches into his outing, Oriola took the mound for the final frame of the game and his high school career. He struck out a batter, induced a popup, then struck out another, clinching the three-peat.
Oriola’s final line: Seven runs, 10 strikeouts, and 10 hits. Not pictured on the box score? A moment worth stashing in the memory bank forever.
“It just feels so good. It went exactly how I thought it would go in my mind,” said Oriola. “He asked me if I wanted to go out, and I said, ‘Of course I want to.’ I had so much adrenaline going into that last inning. I knew it was on the line.”
The Lions (25-1) got a quick lead, taking advantage of a slew of errors by Oxford (18-5), scoring once in the first, twice in the second, and once in the fourth.
Oxford’s Jared Buckley, who was chased after four-plus innings, pitched to seven Lion batters in the second. Two errors made his life difficult, and two unearned runs later the score was 3-0.
The Pirates’ comeback bid started on a two-run double by Austin Greene in the fourth inning. Five runs over the next two innings set the stage for the tight finish, but the early opening of the floodgates was too much to overcome. The offensive star for the Lions was senior Bobby Higgins, who went 3 for 4 from the leadoff spot with two RBIs and two runs.
Since the inception of the program six years ago, St. John Paul II has reached the state title game four times.
“We expect the winning, I’ll be honest with you,” said Santos. “That’s what our goal is, but we work for it. We want to play well all the time. But it doesn’t get old.”