By Jeremy Balan
The situation is one that appears in every young ballplayer’s dreams.
Two outs, bases loaded, in the final inning of a one-run game.
This is exactly where Sacred Heart Cathedral found itself in the the annual Bruce-Mahoney Game against St. Ignatius at AT&T Park on Friday.
But it wasn’t a storybook ending for the Fightin’ Irish (13-6-1, 1-6), as sophomore first baseman Christopher Miguel grounded out to seal a 3-2 St. Ignatius (7-10, 2-5) victory.
St. Ignatius senior second baseman Jake Koch initially bobbled the ball, but recovered in time to throw out Miguel, who dove toward the base in a head-first slide.
“We were very nervous. My heart was pounding,” said St. Ignatius Head Coach Matt Stecher. “It’s overwhelming. I feel great for the guys, they played really well today and they deserve it. It’s also humbling to be a part of this tradition.”
The win returns the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy to St. Ignatius, which it lost to Sacred Heart last season. The trophy is awarded to the team that wins the series of three games in football, basketball and baseball, in what the two schools call the “oldest high school athletic rivalry west of the Mississippi River.” St. Ignatius won in football, 42-14 on Nov. 7 and Sacred Heart won in basketball 47-44 on Jan. 12. St. Ignatius leads the all-time series 44-19.
“Everyone at school was very nice, very understanding and very encouraging, but there was an underlying feeling of bringing the trophy home,” Stecher said. “I congratulate the guys on doing their job and making it happen.”
While the St. Ignatius dugout was filled with elation, the Sacred Heart side was despondent.
“We had our best hitter up with the bases loaded and our two fastest runners on the bases,” said Sacred Heart Head Coach Brian Morgan. “They tried their best; the effort was there. We were just one hit short. When you lose the trophy, whether it’s 10-0 or 3-2, it’s not going to feel good.”
Sacred Heart came into the seventh inning down 3-0 after six shutout innings from St. Ignatius starting pitcher Jon Rand, but the Irish knocked Rand out after two consecutive walks to start the inning.
“It’s all about hitting the spots and we really executed well with the changeup and curveball,” said Rand.
Sacred Heart scored its first run on a groundout from senior third baseman Oliver Gutchinov, then got an RBI single from junior center fielder Maurice Fuller to cut the lead to 3-2.
St. Ignatius entered the bottom of the sixth inning clinging to a 1-0 lead, but added two runs in the inning, amid a bit of controversy.
The Wildcats scored their third run on a ground-ball RBI double down the left field line from senior third baseman Nick Lynch. The ball appeared to bounce foul, but was called fair by the home-base umpire. Heading into the seventh, the run didn’t appear to be crucial, but it ended up being the difference.
“The ball was foul,” Morgan said. “The umpire is going to make a judgment call. He told me he thought it went over the corner of the bag, but I didn’t think it was close to being fair. The kid hit the ball hard and caught a break. Once we got it to 3-2, it hurts that much more.”
Lynch knew the run would be important heading into the final inning.
“I just wanted to get that run in,” Lynch said. “I knew that they weren’t going to give up. We weren’t going to shut them out. I just wanted to get as many runs for our team as possible. I just stayed back on a two-strike pitch and did what I could with it.”
Lynch also scored St. Ignatius’ first run when he opened the bottom of the second inning with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly from senior designated hitter Gabe Manzanares.
“It’s a great feeling [bringing the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy back to St. Ignatius],” Lynch said. “The fans have been so supportive and they’re going to be really happy that it’s back with them.”
The difference may have been the play of the St. Ignatius defense, which made several athletic plays in the outfield.
“Our defense has been the strongest point of our team,” Stecher said. “They’ve played well when we needed it and definitely came up strong today.”
Rand even helped his own cause on a quick-reflex catch on a lined shot from Miguel in the sixth inning.
“On mine, I got lucky, but the defense, that’s their job,” Rand said. “They’re the heart of the team.”
The loss spoiled a solid performance from Sacred Heart senior starting pitcher Anthony Villamore, who allowed only three runs (two earned) on three hits and struck out six.
“He definitely pitched good enough to win, but obviously so did their guy,” Morgan said of Villamore. “He gave us exactly what we were hoping to get.”