Andy Bair and Steve Matcuk, both pro and Division I college pitching prospects, were overpowering yesterday at Calvert Hall, but in the end, the mental part of the game was the difference.
In a classic match-up between top-ranked Calvert Hall (6-0) and No. 2 Mount St. Joseph (4-3), the host Cardinals escaped with a 4-3 victory on a botched up first-and-third play.
Jason Dean scored from third unchallenged for the winning run in the bottom of the sixth while Scott Jachimski was tagged out in a rundown between first and second.
Making his third appearance in six days, the 6-foot-5 Bair yielded only four hits, struck out 16 and walked only one and all three runs were unearned. Bair (3-0), a junior left-hander, has struck out 40 in 20 2/3 innings.
Matcuk (2-2) gave up five hits and walked three. Two of the four runs he gave up were unearned, and the senior right-hander struck out three.
"We came in anticipating eight to nine strikeouts from Steve, but he only got three because we had a low-ball umpire who wouldn't call his high fastball," said St. Joe coach Dave Norton.
"He didn't throw his best, but did a good enough job to win and we beat ourselves. Of course, Bair was what we expected. I've been talking to our kids about the mental part of the game and that's where we got beat."
Mental mistakes were made by both teams, but it was the Gaels who got burned with two huge ones in the last two innings.
After Matcuk retired the first Cardinal in the bottom of the sixth, second baseman Mike Blum couldn't handle Jason Dean's ground ball for the Gaels' fourth error.
A balk was called by the home plate umpire with Dean moving to second and then taking third on Bill Staub's grounder to first baseman Eric Jeschke. Jachimski walked and then with leadoff hitter Dom Liberto waiting at home plate, took off for second as Matcuk raised his arms for his set.
Matcuk turned and threw to second baseman Blum, who never looked back to third as he chased Jachimski back to first and finally tagged him out. But Dean had raced home with the winning run before the final out.
St. Joe had just scored three times in the fifth to tie the game at three. The Cards had scored twice in the third on an RBI single by John McKay (2-for-3 with a triple) and an errant throw, and added another in the fourth on Bill Staub's infield hit.
The three runs looked big, until the Cardinals made their mistakes in the fifth. Bair walked the first batter, and got the next two before Ken Krabitz singled to center to put runners on first and third. Brian Altmann struck out, but catcher Jason Conroy couldn't handle a curve in the dirt as Altmann broke for first.
Conroy hesitated throwing on the foul side of the first and then stepped inside with his high throw, pulling Dean off the bag. A run was home and everyone was safe. An error set up a line single to right by DH Matt O'Donnell (2-for-3) to tie the game and Bair ended the inning by getting Matcuk to fly to right.
The Gaels gave themselves a chance to tie it, but again a mistake ended the threat.
Catcher Everett Cooper doubled down the left-field line to start the seventh inning. With Krabitz attempting to push Cooper over to third with a bunt, Bair's pitch rolled to the first-base side, just inches outside the dirt circle.
Cooper started for third, but Conroy gunned him down with a perfect throw to Liam Healy at third. Bair, who said he "wanted it bad," overpowered the next two hitters to end the game with his 15th and 16th strikeouts.
"We didn't help ourselves in the fifth, and Andy had a little lapse, but got it back," said Calvert Hall coach Joe Binder of his ace who struck out five of the last six batters.