Hajjar pitches Xaverian to 9-2 win against Xavier
As the Xaverian bus rolled into the parking lot adjacent Kaiser Stadium on the campus of St John’s University, Clippers coach Dennis Canale noticed a look in senior Anthony Hajjar’s eyes not seen before today.
“He came out determined today,” Canale said. “He had the mindset of ‘give me the ball, no one else gets the ball.’ He was right.”
After back-to-back subpar performances, at least by his standards, the Xaverian ace bounced back in a big way, giving up two hits and a pair of unearned runs to lead the top-seeded Clippers to a 9-2 win over No. 3 Xavier in a CHSAA Class A intersectional elimination game Monday afternoon.
In another elimination game on Tuesday afternoon back at Kaiser Stadium, the defending CHSAA Class A champions will take on No. 6 Fordham Prep, which defeated fifth-seeded St. Peter’s, 6-0, on Monday night.
Hajjar wasn’t the only one who stepped on the field Monday with a purpose. J.T. Torres was also anxious to put a 6-1 loss to Monsignor Farrell last week behind him.
“That was a tough loss and it got all of us down,” the junior centerfielder said. “We came out today with a lot of intensity, we got a good pitching performance from Anthony Hajjar and we came out with a win.”
Canale said he used the three days between games to nurse his team back to health after a bruising loss. With star second baseman Alex Maldonado serving a two-game suspension for a collision at home plate with Farrell catcher Mike Bennett, Canale tweaked his lineup, starting Keith Prestano and Elvin Soto.
That seemed to jump start a Xaverian offense that had just two hits against Farrell on Thursday. Batting out of the No. 2 hole, Soto was 2-for-4 with a run scored, while Prestano was 1-for-2 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
The Clippers broke open a tight game by scoring six runs in the fourth inning as Xavier starter Justin Pupa lost the strike zone. The big blow was an RBI triple to center by Torres, who scored on Matt Safko’s errant throw from the outfield to give Xaverian a 4-0 lead.
Xavier coach Rich Duffell pulled Pupa for Rob Maguire, but he also struggled with his control, as did Ryan Furlong.
“Our pitchers just couldn’t throw strikes,” Duffell said. “And we only had two hits. We should have hit (Hajjar), even our guys were saying they knew when he was going to throw his curveball. But he did a great job and we didn’t get to him.”
Before it was over, Xaverian (19-3) scored three more runs to take a 7-0 lead into the fifth inning. It was too deep a hole for Xavier (15-8) to climb out from.
“That was a three-run swing right there,” Torres said. “That was a big turning point. I knew if we could get Hajjar some runs the way he was pitching it would pretty much be lights out at that point.”
Hajjar came out in the fifth and, perhaps because of the large cushion or the extended rest in the dugout, wasn’t as sharp as he was in the first four innings. He led off the inning with back-to-back walks to Nick DiLeo and Brian McKenna, who both came around to score on a throwing error by Adrian Rivera.
But Canale went to the bullpen, opting to limit Hajjar’s day at 72 pitches in case he needed to call on his ace again later this week.
“In our situation, you can’t look beyond tomorrow,” Canale said. “But with Anthony we were thinking perhaps a few days down the line and we wanted to conserve some pitches. We took him out earlier than we wanted to, but (Anthony) Colucci could throw, too.”
Xaverian’s goal entering the postseason was to be the first time in more than 30 years to repeat as CHSAA Class A champions. To do so, the Clippers will need to beat Fordham and then Farrell to get into the title round.
Torres, though, isn’t concerned about the opposition.
“It really doesn’t matter who we play because we’re in the same boat as we were today,” Torres said. “We win or we go home. We’re going to come out with a lot of fire and intensity and come out gunning for a win.”
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019