Joe Purritano really had no other intention but to prolong a rally. Instead, with one mighty swipe of his lethal bat, Don Bosco’s senior designated hitter ended what was truly an epic classic between two of New Jersey’s finest.
Locked in at the plate from the outset, Purritano refused to bite on the last of the teasing curveballs served by Gloucester Catholic’s Danny Higgins. Resigned to wait on a fastball from the senior southpaw, the Dartmouth-bound slugger got what he wanted and took it for a satisfying ride.
“I’m never looking curveball,” Purritano said. “I’m sitting on my pitch…a fastball, something over the plate that I can hit. He left one on the inner half and I dropped my bat head on it.”
What ensued was a towering, three-run walkoff homer to right in the bottom of the 10th that lifted Don Bosco, No. 1 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a 5-3 triumph over South Jersey powerhouse Gloucester Catholic on Sunday at Provident Bank Park in Pomona, N.Y.
A matchup of two of the most formidable programs in the state, each of whom were ranked nationally by various polls at the outset of the season, certainly didn’t disappoint those who traveled to the picturesque new facility cut into Bear Mountain. Those in attendance were treated to a showdown that featured some superb defense, high-end pitching, the drama of extra-innings and, perhaps, a preview of a potential NJSIAA Non-Public A state final rematch a little over a month from now.
And, the blast that ended it was a fitting conclusion for Purritano, who carried Don Bosco (16-3) offensively by going 3-for-4 with a double, triple, homer and four RBI as the Ironmen ran their winning streak to 14.
“All I was trying to do was extend the inning,” said Purritano, who is heading to Dartmouth. “We had to get something going and had first and second with no one out. But, there’s no better way to go out than in that sort of fashion. It’s what you dream about.”
Higgins was exceptional in relief for Gloucester Catholic, limiting Don Bosco to one hit over his first 4 1/3 innings of work behind his commanding curve. His offense got him a lead in the top of the 10th when Brett Tenuto followed a single by Tim Holder with a triple to right to snap a 2-2 deadlock.
However, Mike Mecca led off Bosco’s half of the 10th with a walk on four pitches to light the spark.
“My role on this team is to be the guy that gets things going,” said Mecca, who scored on Purritano’s double in the fifth to even matters at 2-2. “I know I have big bats behind me. All I try to do is get on base.”
Up, 2-0, in the count, conventional wisdom would lead one to believe Grant Van Orden would be taking until he saw a strike following Mecca, but, through some miscommunication on his own end, the senior third baseman laid down a perfectly-placed bunt with Mecca already breaking for second and beat the throw to first for a base hit to set the stage for Purritano.
“I was struggling all day at the plate,” said Van Orden, who hit into a double play and struck out three times in his previous four plate appearances. “Before the at bat, my coach pulled me aside and said drop one down. I was going to do whatever it took to move Mike over. A bunt sounded like a good idea to me. But, actually, I got the count to 2-0 and I didn’t look down to the coach. He said he didn’t give me the bunt sign and I bunted it down anyway. It turned out to be a good one.”
Purritano’s long-ball heroics punctuated the triumph, yet it shouldn’t overshadow the clutch pitching Don Bosco received from starter Tommy Burns and reliever Michael Gomez.
Burns struck out six, walked three and allowed five hits over the first seven innings before giving way to Gomez, who tossed three quality innings of two-hit relief to pick up the decision.
“I got to hand it to these guys for battling for 10 innings,”said Burns, whose fastball peaked at 94 miles per hour, of his ensemble. “Gomez came in and shut it down, doing what he had to do.”
Don Bosco took a 1-0 lead in the fourth. With one out, George Iskenderian lined a single to left, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out single by Joe Manganella.
Gloucester Catholic (15-3), which had a nine-game winning streak snapped, countered with two runs in the top of the fifth, keyed by RBI singles from No. 9 hitter Rob Alessandrine, who finished 2-for-4, and Pat Kane.
“We’ve always heard about them but never seen them,” Purritano said of Gloucester Catholic. “That’s one heck of a ballclub. One through nine, they can really swing the bats well. Their pitchers threw incredibly well. We wanted to compete and show the boys from the north can play. It’s a big win.”
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner