For The Dialog
WILMINGTON – Top-seeded St. Mark’s did what it did most of the state baseball tournament – fall behind early and chip away before winning at the end. This time, the Spartans fell into a 4-0 hole to No. 3 Caravel before scoring a 5-4 comeback win for their 14th state championship May 31 at Frawley Stadium.
Caravel got to St. Mark’s starting pitcher Billy Sullivan early, as Tyler Juhl singled, stole second and reached third on a wild pitch. He scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of the Buccaneers’ starting pitcher, Brandon Fraley.
Fraley, who pitched seven scoreless innings in relief against Conrad last week, walked the first batter he faced, but he settled in and retired the next eight. In the meantime, his offense added three runs in the third. Juhl singled and again stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. After two walks, Tyler Croce cleared the bases with a gapper to right-center field to give the Buccaneers a 4-0 lead.
Fraley lost the plate in the fourth, and after walking three batters, he was pulled despite pitching a no-hitter. St. Mark’s coach Matt Smith was not surprised to see Caravel make a change.
“He started to lose his command, and he threw a lot of pitches last week,” Smith said.
Joseph Silan relieved Fraley, but he walked Tommy Gibb to force in the Spartans’ first run, done without a hit. Silan struck out the next two batters looking to get of our the jam.
Sullivan, meanwhile, settled in. He said the key was trusting his defense.
“I know I have a strong defense behind me, so I had to make them earn getting on base,” he said.
Jeremy Vogel reached on a long double to open the home fifth, St. Mark’s first hit. He later scored on a single by Tyler Kaczmarczyk to get the Spartans within 4-2. The floodgates opened in the sixth for St. Mark’s, who loaded the bases without a ball leaving the infield.
Gibb had an infield single, Matt Theodorakis walked, and Chris Ludman placed a perfect bunt down the third-base line. The Buccaneers kept waiting for Ludman’s ball to roll foul, but it eventually hit the bag.
“I knew I had to get the runners over, and I knew I had to make the third baseman field the ball,” Ludman said. “I laid it down in the perfect spot.”
A Vogel groundout scored one run, and John Panico knocked in another with a sacrifice fly to tie the score. Kaczmarczyk hit one up the middle that looked like it would find a hole, but second baseman Kevin Keister made a nice backhand stop. Kaczmarczyk, however, beat the throw to first, and Ludman, who was off as soon as it was hit, never stopped running from second. He slid in ahead of the tag, and St. Mark’s had its first lead.
“I put my head down and just went,” Ludman said.
Sean Gilardi came in to relieve Sullivan in the seventh and gave up a leadoff single to Juhl, who finished with three hits. He reached third base, but Silan grounded out to Panico at second to end the contest.
It was the third time in four years that the Spartans and Buccaneers had met for the title.
“It’s nice to be on this side,” Smith said. “We know each other well, and we knew it would be a close game.”
St. Mark’s finished the season with a record of 20-2.