There are not enough hyperbolic adjectives to describe the New England Prep Quarterfinal epic on Wednesday night.
After 10 pulse-pounding innings, the MacDuffie Mustangs Varsity Baseball team gutted out a 10-4 victory — The Mustangs Miracle— over the home Hamden Hall Hornets that propelled them into the Final Four.
The clash reeked of history for the Mustang upperclassmen even before the first pitch. Three years ago many of them — as pacifier-sucking freshman and sophomores— lost (albeit in different jerseys) on the same field in the New England Final Four to a beard-bearing band of Hornet seniors. Three weeks ago the two teams tangled in a ten-inning tilt for the ages that saw the Mustangs mount a furious 7th inning rally, and eventually win a thriller while dancing with the devil every step of the way.
No one thought that classic could be outdone. Coach Domer-Shank even joked with the umpires about it at the pregame meeting.
But that… my friends… is why they play the games. Because the beauty of sports is that you never know what you might see next.
The Elite Eight clash started slowly, picking up steam along the way like locomotive grinding gears before gaining speed. Both defenses were sharp and the pitching was fierce.
Hornets southpaw Ryan Doherty — a D1 Manhattan commit— was at the top of his game— while Mustang junior Cam Corliss matched him pitch for pitch.
Hamden Hall broke the seal in the third, and soon clung white-knuckled to a 2-0 lead.
But the confident ‘Stangs countered in the bottom of the 5th. “Bam” Corliss and senior Luis “Bebo” Santiago led off with a back to back singles. Freshman Peter “Gucci” Parrotta drove a lazy fly to left, not deep enough to score a normal runner — but Corliss is no normal runner. The hulking hurler thundered home. The ball beat him, but Corliss slid with an outstretched left hand and at the last moment pulled it away from the catcher as he flew by and replaced it with his right. The slight of glove gave MacDuffie its first run. Minutes later they tied it on a hit by catcher Marcus “Dirtball” Cole, and an ensuing rundown that led to Santiago stealing home.
And that was just the introduction to this novella.
For the next 4 innings, both teams played edge-of-your-seat baseball with their season (and career for seniors) hanging in the balance. Both teams played the 6th, 7th and 8th inning scoreless.
Santiago — who played a starring role on the mound in the last classic— replaced Corliss In the 5th, and was again pitching with guts and guile— and with ample help from his friends.
In the 5th he tiptoed out of trouble when middle infield combo Vinny “Bones” Buono and Declan “D” Kearney turned a slick 6-4-3 double play that nipped the runner by a shoelace.
In the 7th the Hornets loaded the bases with one out — the winning run 90 feet away— but the Chicopee Champion induced a soft fly to Parrotta and an infield pop to once again salsa dance from danger.
In the 8th the Hornets were again in a great position to send their rowdy fans home happy — with a runner on second and no outs. But after a fly out — it was time for the defensive play of the SEASON.
Doherty, trying to win the game he’d pitched so wonderfully in— blasted a bomb deep into the fading daylight in centerfield. The Hamden Hall fans exploded out of their lawn chairs. The MacDuffie fans began packing their belongings for the long drive home. Santiago kicked the dirt with his cleat and trudged off the mound, shoulders slumped. Doherty threw his helmet skyward in celebration as he jogged to first.
The only person who refused to accept fate was Mike “Wow” Cruz. Centerfielder extraordinaire. Cruz sprinted at a speed rarely reached by the human body, and never stopped running. He was so far out that his stunning, over the shoulder, miracle catch was like a fuzzy dream for everyone else. It was the greatest catch of the year, maybe of the decade. Santiago struck out the next batter. And the game raged on.
Both teams thought they’d won it in the 9th inning. First MacDuffie scored on an RBI single by Corliss that scored Monday’s hero Vinny “Diesel” Del Buono and an RBI single by Parrotta that scored Santiago.
With a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the 9th, MacDuffie was already planning their postgame meal stop. But Hamden Hall had tons of toughness too. The Hornets ripped off three triples in a row off the arm-weary Santiago to tie the game at 4.
With the winning run at third and one out, Domer-Shank intentionally walked two hitters in a row to bypass the heart of the order and setup a potential force at the plate. With the game again on the line, Santiago struck out the next hitter, went 3-2 on Doherty (of course) and — one bad pitch away from death— grounded him out to first.
But the Hornets still celebrated their comeback as they ran back onto the field. Little did they know the resilient Mustangs — with only 9 guys, now completely out of water in their dugout, and with their pitcher crumpled in frustrated agony on the bench after his perceived failure— were saving their best for last.
Cole led off the single and went to second on an error. Junior Ian “Raff” dropped down a perfect bunt with two strikes and beat it out as the Hornets struggled to cover the play. Then the thunder at the top of the order took over. Cruz executed a perfect suicide and beat it out when no one covered. Kearney slashed a single, and both scored on a booming triple by Buono. Corliss followed with a sizzling shot to left to plate another, and Parrotta brought him home with a double in the gap. By the time the storm ended, it was 10-4.
But one last bit of drama remained— as Santiago was spent, but Domer-Shank had to save a pitcher for tomorrow’s semifinal game — so he hit “redial” on Bam Corliss. The big righty — in shades of a 2017 class tournament championship game— closed his own start by retiring three in a row. The 3-hour tilt ended on a swinging strike three.
There were stars — heroes if you root for the Maroon and White — aplenty on this special night.
Corliss and Santiago had nearly identical pitching lines. Both went 5 innings, gave up 2 runs, and threw 81 pitches! Corliss was also 3-5 with 2 RBIs.
The “Vinnys” and Parrotta went a combined 6-12 with 6 RBIs.
Kearney, Cole, and Hua each had defensive gems that undoubtedly saved the game at different points.
And, of course, Cruz had his catch. Oh, that catch.
The “Mustangs Miracle” — as it will surely be known for eternity — thrust MacDuffie’s first-year program into the New England Final Four. Thursday night the Mustangs host King for the West Division Championship at 5:00pm at South Hadley High School. The winner plays for all the marbles on Saturday in Providence.
How much will the amazing 2019 Mustangs have left in the tank? Come out to South Hadley on Thursday to find out!