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St. John Paul II, Benjamin Advance To Hall Of Fame Finale

Christian Larson allowed one earned run in five innings to earn the win for St. John Paul II.

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St. John Paul II fans may have felt a sense of deja vu on Thursday, as the Eagles took on Palm Beach Gardens for a chance to advance to the Hall of Fame Classic championship for the second year in a row. John Paul II again answered the bell, breaking open a tie game with a massive sixth inning that led to a 10-1 victory.

The Eagles (8-5) move on to Friday night’s championship game, where they will take on Benjamin. The Buccaneers (12-3) also advanced following a 10-2 victory over the Trinity Christian Warriors in Thursday’s other semifinal.

St. John Paul II batted around the order and sent two hitters to the plate in the top of the sixth. The contest began as a tight pitcher’s duel between Gardens starter Sterling Jimenez and Eagles starter Christian Larson, but that changed after John Paul II erupted for eight runs to pull well out in the lead.

“We’ve been swinging the bat a little bit better and kind of scoring runs in bunches the last week or so,” Eagles manager Pete Graffeo said. “It’s good to see that happen, so we’re happy with the way they’re swinging the bats. It gets contagious, so we’re really happy with where it has been going. Obviously, we had some stumbles at the beginning of the year offensively, so we’re a work in progress and we do not want to get too high on it.”

The first six batters of the sixth inning all reached base safely for the Eagles, four via walks while Jack Hay and Braden Forchic both singled. Several wild pitches allowed three runners to come in, and Timmy Silk worked an RBI walk to drive in another. Jake Torres followed by lining an RBI single past third base, Larson then delivered a sac-fly RBI on a fly out to center and Torres also scored off a base hit to right field.

St. John Paul II added another run in the seventh. Travis Tritsch connected for his second hit of the day, a double into the right-center gap, and an error allowed him to score. Tritsch also put his club on the board early, driving an RBI single up the middle to plate Forchic after the shortstop started off the second with a double to left field.

Ian Mitchell was 3-for-4 with a run for Palm Beach Gardens.

The Gators were cruising early on, with Jimenez pitching well to keep his club in the game. Gardens tallied its only run in the third, as Ian Mitchell singled past first, advanced on an infield single from Alex Marero and then scored on an RBI single to right off the bat of Chris Satcher.

Jimenez did his part from there, working into the fifth inning with a nice mix of curveballs that opened up his fastball. Jimenez allowed three hits and struck out five, exiting with the score tied after issuing only his second walk of the night to lead off the sixth.

Although St. John Paul II has been scoring plenty of runs lately, the Eagles will now face a Benjamin squad that has only allowed three runs in last two tournament games. The two district rivals know each other well, and this might not be the last time they face other with a trophy on the line this season. Benjamin also gave the Eagles their worst loss of the season at the beginning of the month.

“We did the same thing last year; we beat Palm Beach Gardens to get in last year. Unfortunately we lost that championship game, but it’s nice to make it there again,” Graffeo said. “We’re going to go out there and give it our best effort. Obviously, it is a team that we know and a team in our conference, so it should be fun. We’ve got to try to bounce back from that loss that they gave us. It’s not going to be easy but we’re going to go out and compete and that’s all that I ask of them.”

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