NEW ORLEANS – Brother Martin and John Curtis appeared headed to a decisive third game in their Division I quarterfinal playoff series Sunday afternoon.
After Brother Martin won Game 1, 2-0, on Friday and rain forced a postponement on Saturday, two-time defending state champion Curtis opened a 6-1 lead after five innings and Louisiana-Lafayette signee Dax Ford was rolling on the mound.
But Ford lost his control, then reached his pitch count, and the Crusaders came to life, scoring three runs in the sixth and three in the seventh to prevail 7-6 at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium.
Second-seeded Brother Martin (26-5), co-champion of District 9-5A, advanced to meet No. 3 seed St. Paul’s in the semifinals next week in Sulphur. The seventh-seeded Patriots finished 16-15.
“These kids have been resilient all year,” Crusaders coach Jeff Lupo said.
Tre Morgan led off the sixth with a single, just the second hit off Ford and the first since the second batter of the game. Ford then walked Ethan Moser and Cole Stromboe before hitting Caden Nash to force in a run as he reached his pitch count.
“He wasn’t coming out until he reached his pitch count,” Patriots coach Jeff Curtis said. “He hit a little bit of a wall there in the sixth.”
Austin McCready relieved and walked Jake Dickinson to force home the second run. Another run scored on Joe Delaney’s fielder’s-choice grounder, but McCready got out of it with Curtis holding a 6-4 lead.
Brennan Stuprich, who pitched a three-hitter in Game 1, led off the seventh with a single and Michael Curtis relieved. He walked Morgan before getting consecutive outs, though a wild pitch moved the tying run into scoring position along the way.
That brought up pinch hitter Shane Griffin, who lined a single right field that brought home both runners to tie the score.
“My heart was racing and all the possibilities were going through my head,” Griffin said. “I was going to try and go the other way but I got ahead on a fastball and hit it to the right side.”
Julian Oubre followed with a grounder to short and Joel Taylor threw wildly to first. Griffin rounded third and headed toward home and McCready threw wildly from first, allowing Griffin to score.
“With two outs a guy showed his character and got a big hit and we capitalized on mistakes,” Lupo said.
The Crusaders had just four hits, but took advantage of 10 walks, a hit batsman and two Curtis errors to overcome 13 strikeouts.
“They did a nice job of being aggressive in the sixth and the seventh,” coach Curtis said. “The bottom line is we didn’t make the plays we needed to make. It’s a cliché, but this is a simple game. You pitch it and you catch it.
“We just weren’t able to close it out. We didn’t play our best baseball at the end. Give them credit. They didn’t give up after getting down 6-1.”
The Patriots weren’t done though as Reggie Bergeron reached on an error to start the bottom of the seventh. Collin Ardon, who had come on with two outs in the fifth and allowed just a hit batsman in the sixth, got his third strikeout before Michael Curtis hit a ground ball to Moser at second. Moser flipped the ball to shortstop Brady Faust, who stepped on the bag at second and fired the relay to first for a double play, setting off a Crusaders celebration.
“The main thing was I wanted to keep the ball low and it worked out,” Ardon said. “As soon as he hit it I knew it was going to be a double play. Moser and Faust have turned that double play a million times.”
Brother Martin took a 1-0 lead in the first when Faust singled with one out and Ford walked three batters.
Cruasders starter Jacob Cohen stranded five runners in the first two innings before the Patriots broke through for their first runs of the series in the third.
Ford led off with an infield single and advanced on Collin Guggenheim’s sacrifice. McCready and Logan O’Neill hit back-to-back RBI-doubles to give Curtis a 2-1 lead.
After Cohen got the second out, Justin Brown and Taylor had RBI-singles to push the lead to 4-1.
The Patriots used their speed and base-running ability to add single runs in the fourth and fifth.
Ford led off the fourth with a single, Guggenheim forced him and courtesy runner Collin Morgan took Guggenheim’s spot at first. Morgan then stole second and third and after McCready walked, Morgan came home on the back end of a double steal.
In the fifth, Taylor walked with one out and came around on three stolen bases of his own.
That gave the Patriots their 6-1 margin, but the district champions, who had won both regular-season meetings between the teams, fought back to finish off the state champions.
“You don’t beat championship teams on technicalities or points,” Lupo said. “You have to knock them out. We were staggered but we never fell. We kept fighting and showed our championship spirit. What makes this team special is they don’t rely on one guy to pull all of their weight.”
Now the Crusaders will try to keep the Division I championship in District 9-5A, though fourth-seeded Rummel, which faces top-seeded Catholic in the other semifinal, has the same opportunity.
“We’ve been working for this a long time, practicing at 6:45 in the morning before school,” Ardon said. “We’re ready for this.”