Consider six Xaverian’s magic number.
That’s how many games the defending CHSAA Class A intersectional champions need to reach the title game. After a 4−2 win against Archbishop Stepinac Friday at Verrazano Narrows Complex in Brooklyn, it is two down and four to go for the Clippers.
For a second straight game, Xaverian rallied late to win a seeding game, scoring three times in the sixth inning. The Clippers had the best record in the regular season and are the top−seeded squad heading into the double−elimination round after beating Monsignor Farrell and Stepinac.
“You never want to go into the playoffs losing a game and we won our last three and now we’re on a pretty good high,” senior pitcher⁄first baseman Anthony Hajjar said. “Hopefully we just continue on.”
On Wednesday, senior catcher Nolan Smalls belted a walk−off two−run double in the 6−5 win against Farrell. Two days later, second−string catcher Elvin Soto came up with the big at−bat – a pinch−hit, two−run triple down the right−field line in the bottom of the sixth inning to sink Stepinac (14−6), which is seeded second.
“It kind of did surprise me that coach picked me, being a sophomore and the youngest guy on the bench,” Soto said. “I thank him for putting me in that spot. It makes me a better player and I look forward to this year and even more next year.”
Longtime Xaverian coach Dennis Canale said he needed Soto, an excellent defensive catcher, to get some playoff experience. He made the defensive change an inning earlier, but didn’t question having Soto come up with runners at second and third and no out with Xaverian (17−2) trailing 2−1 in the sixth inning.
“He’s a switch hitter who can hit the ball real well,” Canale said of Soto. “He’s going to be real good.”
Another pinch−hitter, Keith Prestano, followed with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Soto for the insurance run. Prestano also replaced starter Justin Giammarino in the sixth inning and got the final four outs for the win.
“We’re not looking at one specific person to do it all for us,” Hajjar said. “Baseball is a team game and we’re looking to everyone on our bench and everyone in our starting lineup to come through in big spots.”
Giammarino allowed one unearned run on four hits, striking out six and walking three in 6 2⁄3 innings.
“He performed well,” Canale said. “I’m not saying he’s on top of his game yet, but he’s getting there and hopefully he’ll peak at the right time.”
Third baseman Roberto Duran was uncharacteristically shaky defensively, but it didn’t matter. Hajjar went 2−for−3 with an RBI, Smalls doubled to right−center in the fourth and Soto had the clutch hit late.
“It’s kind of what I talked to the kids about, picking each other up and different parts of the wheel performing,” Canale said. “Robbie made a couple of blunders at third base and that’s unusual for him, but the rest of the guys picked him up and they did a great job.”
Now Xaverian sits back and waits to find out its opponent for the opening game of the double−elimination round scheduled for Wednesday. Canale expects a tough game regardless of the opponent.
“These teams all seem to be the same and I don’t think we’re that much different,” Canale said. “More than ever before, I’ve been a coach here for 11 years, this is the most parity I’ve seen in the league.”