Calvary Christian Shocks Flanagan 7-5 In Falcons Challenge
As long as head coach Ray Evans has been at the helm, the Flanagan Falcons have never lost the first game in their Falcons Nike/OTS Baseball Challenge — until now. The season began on Monday in shocking fashion as a young, inexperienced Calvary Christian team went into the Falcons house hoping for a competitive game, and walked off the field as 7-5 winners.
“They are a young, hard-nosed group,” said Calvary head coach Gregg Mucerino. “We’ve been coaching them hard, and they’ve been doing the things we’ve asked of them. Just guts, we gutted it out there in the end. When we needed that big base hit, we got it. When we needed to get an out, we did, and it’s a great win for our program, cause that’s a tremendous ball club on the other side.”
That team on the other side was a perennial playoff team, and it showed the characteristics early of how it accomplishs that playoff goal every year. Starting pitcher Jose Mesa Jr. was cruising through the first two innings, striking out five of the six hitters he faced. It looked as though Calvary was going to be hard-pressed to score runs. Even in the third when the Eagles scratched out a run on a Ryan Reilly RBI base hit, all three recorded outs were via the strikeout.
The Falcons jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first and extended the lead in the second on a Benito Santiago home run. After the Eagles cut the lead to 2-1, the score remained the same into the fifth, and that is when things started to unravel for the Falcons.
Mesa Jr., who was unhittable for much of the night, walked three of the first four batters in the fifth. Reilly again provided an RBI for the Eagles when he attempted a sacrifice squeeze that ended up going for a base hit. Mesa Jr. was able to escape the jam after a second squeeze attempt failed, and Andrew Liberty grounded out to second base.
The fifth inning, however, proved to be just the start of the problems for Flanagan on this night. In the sixth, with Mesa Jr. out of the game, reliever Casey Torres looked like he was headed for a perfect inning. After two groundouts to start the inning, Torres hit Luke Poirier. A walk to Jonathan Benestadt put runners on first and second for Andrew Gottfried. The freshman came through with an RBI single that gave the Eagles their first lead. An RBI base hit by Knox Poole, and a two-run single by Liberty helped Calvary complete a two-out, five-run rally.
“The pitcher they brought in was throwing much slower than Mesa, and we were looking for fastballs,” said Liberty, describing his team’s approach during the rally. “In my at-bat, I was sitting dead-red, and I was just able to hit it through the hole. It was important for us to get that first big win against a good team.”
Even with the five-run lead, Calvary had to fight until the last out to close out the Falcons. Liberty was called on to escape a jam in the sixth, and he did so successfully. In the seventh, Liberty hit Rick Sanchez and walked Mesa Jr. After two strikeouts and another walk, AJ Munoz hit what appeared to be the game-ending fly ball, but when the ball was dropped, the inning continued. With the tying runs on base, Liberty was able to strike out the final Flanagan hitter and secure the win.
The loss by Flanagan was their third straight, although the first two were in preseason games last week. Whether the games counted or not, head coach Ray Evans knows this type of play cannot continue if the Falcons are going to perform to their usual standards of season success.
“We could be a decent team if we were mentally tougher, and we knew the game better,” a clearly frustrated Evans said. “We are going to have a long year, unless they learn quickly. They’ve got to get a lot tougher real quick.”