Archbishop Ryan’s baseball team on Saturday afternoon underwent a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like game at Holy Ghost Prep.
The first four innings resembled Dr. Jekyll and saw the young Raiders jump all over Ghost, racing to a 5-0 lead by way of strong pitching, crisp fielding and a solo home run by sophomore second baseman Bob Romano.
For a team that graduated three of its best players in Eric Frain, Kevin Mack and John Rizzo, this was a pleasure for head coach Ron Gerhart to witness, especially considering this game represented one final tuneup before the Raiders get into the thick of the minefield that will be their Catholic League season.
Unfortunately for Ryan, Mr. Hyde showed up seemingly on cue in the bottom of the fifth.
Freshman catcher Josh Lopez, who had been thrust into the starting lineup due to an injury to starter Matt Graber, had a dynamite start to the game, crushing an opposite field double in the second and throwing out two runners at second base (one on a pickoff, the other on an attempted steal). But Lopez showed his age in the fifth, making two fielding gaffes that were part of a three-run Ghost inning that gave the opponent new life. He also made a base-running error in the sixth, getting cut down at third base on a grounder to short with no outs that could have been a crucial insurance run.
“I think what you saw out there was the good and the bad all wrapped up in one,” Gerhart said. “These young guys are still learning, so they’re going to make great plays and then come back and make some mistakes. It’s called being a freshman and a sophomore, and we can live with that as long as they keep the right attitude and learn from their mistakes.”
Gerhart was also quick to absolve Lopez.
“He’s a freshman that has little-to-no experience playing at this level, and I’m more focused on the good things he did for us,” Ryan’s boss said. “His instincts are great behind the plate, as he showed when he cut down two guys at second, and he also was on base all three times he came to bat. He’s certainly a varsity player, and when he came out of the game I told him to keep his head up and not worry about the down moments. This is baseball and these are young kids, so that kind of thing happens.”
Gerhart expected growing pains after losing most of his key players from 2010’s Catholic League runner-up team to graduation each of the last two seasons. Third baseman Zach Zajac was the only senior in the starting lineup, though Matt Budny (brother of former Raider catcher Colin, who was in attendance on Saturday), Ryan Jerdan and Kyle Slawter all played later in the game, and Mike Anusky is expected to be a key contributor when he returns from a knee injury.
On offense, Romano was the standout for the Raiders. The sophomore reached base in all four of his at-bats, singling and stealing a base in the first, ripping a solo homer to left in the third and lofting a high-fly ball to right with the bases loaded in the fourth that was misplayed in the Ghost outfield and cleared the bases.
On the mound, sophomore Nick Centeno fired three scoreless innings, while junior Anthony Crespo was effective in his one inning of work and Budny was sharp and beset by poor defense in his two innings. Southpaw Slawter came on to try to preserve a 5-4 lead in the seventh, and although he yielded two walks, a double steal and the game-winning two-run single to Ghost’s Cole Long, Ryan’s top pitcher looked sharp and should be effective in league play.
“Obviously I was real happy with what I saw from the young guys in Bob, Nick and Josh,” Gerhart said. “I’m pleased with how our young guys have stepped up so far. They’re enthusiastic, and they need this experience if they want to win the tough games in the Catholic League. We need contributions from our seniors too, but either way, the future of Ryan baseball is very bright.”
Though the future of the program is certainly bright, the Raiders are ready to see how they stack up in the always-grueling Catholic League. As the Times went to press, the Raiders were 1-2 within Catholic League Red Division play, while holding a 2-3 overall record.
“I think the best word to describe us right now would be ‘uncertainty,’” Gerhart said. “I’m uncertain how we’re going to respond in our league, especially when you see two different teams out there as was the case against Ghost today. One inning, we were making terrific plays, and the next we looked faulty, so I’m hoping we continue to stay focused and grind through it. Every Catholic League game is a brawl, so all we can do is fight through it.”
Ryan’s veteran coach knows success on the diamond won’t come easy, but after guiding two straight overachieving teams to playoff berths, Gerhart knows an unforgiving league slate always has the power to offer some surprises as the season progresses.
“For us, it’s vital that we don’t get too high or too low this season,” he said. “If we stay focused and work hard every day to get better, then we can certainly be a factor in the playoff picture. We’ll be facing some tremendous competition the rest of the way, but if things break our way a little bit and we stay together as a team, then I don’t see any reason why we can’t be a playoff contender.” ••EndFragment