St. John Paul II Beats Cardinal Newman With Wild Walk-Off
It took the Saint John Paul II Eagles (5-3) seven innings to get to the Cardinal Newman Crusaders (4-4) pitching staff on Thursday afternoon, but senior Ryan Shiflet came up clutch for the team late and delivered the lone run of the game for a walk-off 1-0 victory.
There were only five hits from both teams combined on the day and both of St. John Paul II’s came in the final inning of the game. Each team got a standout performance from their starter, but it was Cardinal Newman’s Trevor Robb, an Embry-Riddle commit, that carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh. Aside from a walk in the sixth, the only baserunner Robb had to deal with was Shiflet in the fourth when he reached on a tough play that was ruled an error at third base.
Shiflet didn’t come around to score that time, but he made sure to get the job done in the bottom of the seventh. He led off the inning with a double to right-center that half the ballpark believed was gone off the bat, including Shiflet. He wound up at second with no outs and reached third on a bunt single from Tristan Rucker. Cardinal Newman swapped pitchers, and that’s when chaos ensued.
Chase Calloway hit a double play ball to shortstop that went to first base for out No. 1 of the inning. Rucker got caught in a rundown between first and second to distract the defense from checking Shiflet, who was already halfway home. After quickly tagging out Rucker, Cardinal Newman got the ball home to begin another rundown with Shiflet, who faked back to third and then took off for home.
Confusing? You bet, but the end result was an Eagles victory as Shiflet rose from the dust at home and the umpire signaled safe.
“Yeah, that wasn’t what we had planned,” Eagles manager Peter Graffeo said. “I guess our runner stopped and started to run back to first. They came close to getting a triple play, but Ryan is a pretty experienced runner. He hustled his way in there and thankfully we got that run across.”
Shiflet said he knew was safe as soon as he slid. It was the kind of play senior leaders make when the team needs them most, and Shiflet had been trying to help the Eagles break through all day. He certainly wasn’t going back to third when he knew he could win it all.
“I kind of took another step and as soon as I saw him break to third I was just going, full commitment to home,” Shiflet said.
As exciting of a finish as the game provided, Robb’s performance was still the talk of the afternoon. Graffeo praised Robb for holding his team in check for most of the afternoon, as did Crusaders manager Joe Russo.
“I felt like I was really efficient throwing strikes with my breaking ball over the plate,” Robb said. “Not many walks today. I mean, that’s a very good-hitting lineup. I don’t think I had too many strikeouts, and Ryan Shiflet, he’s a great player. He jumped on an outside heater and got it to the opposite field.”
Russo considered pulling Robb before the seventh inning, but he couldn’t take the ball from a kid who hadn’t given anything up all day.
“It was a tough decision,” Russo said. “He was at 80 pitches and that’s getting up there, but he’s a competitor. He didn’t want to come out, and he had the no-hitter so it was really tough for me to take him out. He wanted the ball, and he did a great job. Probably deserved a little better fate today, but really proud of him. He’s pitched really well this year. He’s our guy.”
Saint John Paul II’s starter, sophomore right-hander Connor Cavo, wasn’t too shabby either. He went six innings strong and gave up just two hits and two walks while striking out nine. He had an easy time getting ahead of batters and was only limited by a pitch count.
“I saw them take a few pitches and felt like they weren’t being very aggressive,” Cavo said. “They’d let the count get against them before they started swinging, and that helped me.”
Graffeo said Cavo begged to stay in for the seventh, but he had to protect his young arm from himself and turn to another sophomore, Florida State commit Emmanuel Lantigua. Lantigua gave up a hard-hit single but got through his one inning of work relatively cleanly. Graffeo said the plan was to turn to a freshman had the game gone into extra innings, meaning Shiflet’s heroics came at the perfect time.
The loss brings Cardinal Newman to 4-4 on the season, and the Crusaders are getting ready to face a difficult stretch in their schedule. They are at West Broward (6-3) on Friday and then take on Sagemont (8-2) in the Prospect Select Tournament.
“It’s just one game at a time,” Russo said. “We’ve lost to some good teams and some tough games. I’m glad that we’re young and the games have been competitive. The good thing about baseball is we’re right back at it tomorrow, on the road against a good team. So, I don’t worry about the record too much. I just kind of think about it game-to-game, and I think if everyone does their job we’ll be competitive.”
For Saint John Paul II, the victory means the first three-game winning streak of the season. The Eagles are looking to add to that streak against a trio of Miami-Dade teams next week in the Hall of Fame Tournament at Pompano Four Fields.
Securing a walk-off victory in a close game like this is a major confidence boost for the team heading into a spring break tournament. The Eagles are searching for their third-straight district championship but are also preparing themselves to get over the hump in regionals after falling short of a final-four run in each of those seasons.
“This was the kind of game that we’ve talked about,” Graffeo said. “Close games got to win, got to hang on. Last week, we had a game where we had the lead and the other team was chipping their way back and we were able to hang on and close it out like this. I think that’s important as your team develops character down the road.
“I think it’s important that we continue to do that and it’ll give us more confidence as they go along, knowing that they can come back or hang on in these close games. Because when you get in the playoffs, it’s going to be close games every time. You’ve got to be able to compete.”