Iona Prep did pretty much everything wrong on Friday.
The Gaels had won seven straight before playing their worst game in the regular season finale, committing six errors in an eight-run loss to rival Fordham Prep in a tiebreaker game for the Bronx/Westchester division title.
Longtime coach Fred Gallo gave a stern talk to a team that needed to beat Cardinal Spellman in a best-of-three qualifying series to reach the CHSAA Class AA championship tournament. The players took a few days to digest Gallo’s words and were determined to make good Monday night.
The pitching staff, which was lauded as one of the best in the league before the season, proved to be the difference for Iona Prep. Starter Joey Finnegan allowed just three hits in five innings and reliever Vinny Martin had five strikeouts in just two innings to complete a two-game sweep of Cardinal Spellman with a 6-1 win at Fordham University.
Iona Prep (14-6) gets a much-needed day off before opening the double-elimination tournament against an opponent to be determined Wednesday. The Gaels took Game 1, 3-0, earlier on Monday.
“I told them one thing 30 years I’m at this place, I’ve won 550 games, I played in a hundred meaningful games. It was the worst performance by any of my teams at any time. Worst. Absolute worst,” Gallo said. “My terminology was something different, but they bounced back. They caught the ball. Pitching was good.”
The depth of the Iona Prep pitching staff has carried an anemic offense at times and, at the same time, made the Gaels a viable contender this season.
Finnegan arrived on the mound looking to forget about the tiebreaking loss to Fordham Prep. The junior right-hander carried over the solid pitching from a Game 1 victory by limiting Spellman to just one run in the second inning.
Joe Colon singled with two outs in the bottom of the inning and came around the bases on an RBI double to right-center field by Will Hodges to slice the Iona Prep lead to 2-1. He settled down thereafter, and just allowed one base runner in two of the next three innings.
“It was a tough loss,” Finnegan said. “We took it hard, that’s baseball but anything can happen. We were ready. We were psyched to play, but things didn’t fall our way. We just didn’t play the way we should have.”
“The pitching staff was ready, they got a lot of rest and we were ready to bring it,” Finnegan added.
The Iona Prep offense found ways to generate enough run support against Spellman pitcher Maleck Dixon.
Billy Martin, the hero of Game 1 with two RBIs, started off the top of the second with a walk. First baseman John Sprio also worked out a walk, and Ryan Crowley drove in Martin with a single to make it 1-0. Matt Brembs then hit an RBI single for a 2-0 Gaels lead.
No. 12-seeded Spellman (9-10) could not capitalize on a few scoring chances in the first game, and saw Game 2 slip from their grasp in the top of the fifth inning.
Iona Prep scored four runs in the frame, and third baseman Tom Montilli committed an error that allowed two runs to score. Spellman coach Lou Brescia said he is encouraged the Pilots will continue an upward rise in the CHSAA with virtually the entire roster returning.
“We’re turning the program around,” Brescia said. “Last year we are young, and we got further with the record this year, but we were knocked out in the same round.”
Iona Prep will start Temple-bound pitcher Tim McCarthy in the opening game of the championship tournament Wednesday, but will miss UConn-signee Matt D’Ariano in the rotation. The co-acemleft with a groin injury that puts his postseason availability in doubt, according to Gallo.
Despite the injury, Martin says the team is ready to pick up the slack, and make some postseason noise.
“We have so much depth, we said since the beginning of the season, pitching and defense will win games,” Martin said. “Offensively we got to pick it up, but we got a lot of pitchers to use. “
Iona Prep 3, Cardinal Spellman 0
Martin drove in two runs in the second and fourth innings for the Gaels in Game 1 at Coffey Field Monday. Dan Fischer had an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to give Iona Prep a 3-0 lead. Gaels pitcher Nick Figari got the victory by pitching four innings in relief after D’Ariano suffered a groin injury in the top of the third.