Athletic teams with championship aspirations often speak of doing the “little things” right. Spending countless hours mastering the fundamental aspects — while tedious and sometimes boring — is what separates the contenders from the pretenders at the end of a season.
This thought is not lost on the Archbishop Ryan baseball team, which found out the hard way on Saturday in a 10-8 home loss to St. Joseph’s Prep that giving away just one extra out can completely change a game and its outcome.
“When you go out and play these Catholic League games, they must be played in good quality,” said Ryan baseball coach Ron Gerhart. “If you make key miscues at inopportune times, it will lead to runs you don’t have to face.”
In the home half of the fourth, a straight single to center off the bat of Ryan’s Bobby Romano turned into a three-base fielding error, giving the Raiders an additional two runs and a 5-3 lead.
However, problems rose immediately in the fifth. Starting pitcher Connor Golden, who had been largely effective dancing his way out of major trouble, walked the first two batters to lead off the inning. Ryan’s number two starter was bailed out by rightfielder Justin Price, who made a tremendous diving play to his right.
On the very next play, Prep’s Shane Williams hit a laser right at Price, who made the catch; but instead of doubling off a wandering first base runner to end the inning, Price’s throw was lobbed and low, allowing the runner to barely make it back to the bag. Golden hit his fourth batter of the game to load the bases, and Prep catcher Tim Rafter responded with a three-run triple to left. Ryan rallied with two in the fifth to tie the score at seven, but the Prep bats, now awake, welcomed reliever Rick Romano (Bobby’s cousin) with three runs and five hits in the sixth.
“Last year a lot of these guys were young, and they became aware that in these division games, it comes down to the little things both offensively and defensively,” Gerhart said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make a play and it cost us a ballgame.”
Luckily for Gerhart and company, it’s still tremendously early, and one fielding mishap will not derail their season. In fact, team defense may be one of the Raiders’ key strengths, as Gerhart boasts a roster full of agile, quick players who cover a lot of ground, as Price’s diving catch on the play before the failed exchange from right to first indicated.
Another cause for comfort is the Ryan lineup, which had managed 30 runs in four games when the Times went to press. With Bobby Romano and Golden entrenched in the three and four holes, Gerhart has surrounded his most feared hitters with guys who consistently make contact when they swing the bat. In fact, except for leftfielder Gage Galeone, every Raider reached base once (Galeone followed up his hitless day with a 3-for-3 game in a 7-4 win over Roman on Monday.) The seven and eight-hole hitters, Dylan Egan and Nick Centeno, each had run-scoring doubles against the Prep.
“We can score runs, and our production offensively is good,” Gerhart said. “It’s the pitching that’s an uncertainty.”
Ah, yes … pitching. In addition to needing to play solid, fundamental baseball to succeed in the rigorous Catholic League Red Division (featuring Ryan, Judge, the Prep, La Salle, Roman Catholic and O’Hara), teams also need multiple, reliable arms to get them through a grinding season that often features three games a week.
The Raiders seem to have found their ace in senior Chris Elmes, who gave up just three hits and fanned seven in a convincing 9-2 win over reigning state champ La Salle on March 27.
But Elmes can’t pitch every game, which is why guys like Golden and Rick Romano (he followed up his shaky performance against the Prep by beating Roman) will be so instrumental to the team’s success. Golden, a junior and returning All-Catholic selection due to his bat, is giving it a go on the mound despite not pitching since before he got to Ryan. Also a linebacker for the Raider football team, Golden had one-two-three innings in the second and fourth and really only ran into trouble when he gave Prep batters free passes, walking two and hitting four of them. If Golden can harness sporadic control issues, he can certainly be a serviceable number two starter on a team that appears to have the pieces in place to make a run at a league crown.
“He pitched a little bit at the lower levels, but not for us,” Gerhart said of Golden. “One thing we love that he brings to the table is that he’s such a fierce competitor. He isn’t a high-strikeout guy, but he has deceiving offspeed stuff. We just need him to throw strikes and keep us in games, which we believe he can do. When Elmes isn’t throwing, we’d like to get four to five innings from these (other) guys.”
So far, the Raiders are 2-2 in league play and 2-1 in their division. The losses have been tight (a combined three runs) and the win over last season’s champion was certainly a positive, especially after the Explorers outscored Ryan 12-1 in their two meetings last year. In last week’s victory, the Raiders took advantage of some key La Salle miscues; on Saturday, the Prep returned the favor.
In a league so deep and so good, most of the close games will be won or lost on mistakes leading to extra outs. Gerhart understands this, and so does his team, he stressed.
“In this league especially, you’ve got to make the routine plays,” he said. “When you prolong innings and give any one of these teams one or two or three extra chances, you’re in trouble.
“It’s still early, and we’re progressing along. We’re exactly where I thought we’d be before the season. The pitching’s still a question, but we think our arms will step up to allow us to be very competitive in the league. What I really am stressing with this group is to get them to get the feeling that every single pitch and play means something. Those routine plays you have to make will win or lose your ballgames.” ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org