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Molloy falls to Iona Prep in CHSAA finals

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It was not going to be easy, not by a long shot. Playing against the playoff perfect Iona Prep Gaels, Jack Curran’s Archbishop Molloy varsity baseball team would have had to win two games to claim their coach’s 18th CHSAA championship.

But it was not be. Molloy never seemed to figure out Iona starter Nick Stanziani, who, despite a few hiccups, hung tough and delivered coach Fred Gallo and his teammates a 4-3 win last Wednesday at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx.

The win closed the book on the long, rain-drenched playoffs that wrecked havoc on both the scheduling and pitching rotations.

Unavailable for the game was Molloy ace James Lally, who tossed 120 pitches days earlier in a win. Molloy instead went with pitcher Mike Montali, who had a less-than-auspicious start.

“We did that once during the year, pitching (Lally) on a Monday and then on Friday and he really had nothing,” Curran said. “He threw 120 pitches the other day. He really needed another day or two.

“When Mike is on he’s very good,” the coach added. “Today he wasn’t that sharp.”

After a 20-minute rain delay, Molloy seemed to sting Stanziani in the first, as Ryan Roberts, Mike Sporton and Matt Rizzotti all reached base with one out, and senior catcher Nick Derba came to the plate. Derba scorched a shot right back up the middle that Stanziani somehow managed to snag out of the air and toss to first to double-up Rizzotti for the 1-3 double play.

Molloy (25-6) was not as fortunate in the bottom of the first. Dan Leach doubled and Matt Maramba singled to set up Rob Governale’s two-run triple. Governale scored one batter later when Pete DeOrlentis bounced into a 6-3 fielder’s choice.

Despite walking Jack Cawley and Shamus Bartnett, Montali settled down long enough to get out of the first without more damage.

“He hung in there,” Curran said of his starter. “We had Jovan (Santos) ready, but I like to go with Mike. He competes. He’s done the job for us for two years.”

Molloy touched Stanziani for two runs in the second — only one of which was earned — when Sean Cheng and Andrew Pfeffer both walked and scored when Ed Hackimer singled to right, scoring Cheng and allowing Pfeffer to come home on an overthrow by Maramba to third. Stanziani fanned Robert to end the inning and leave the tying run stranded on third.

“He was totally gutty,” Gallo said of Stanziani. “He was wild in the beginning, as he was when he pitched his no hitter last week. We went off the curve ball to the fast ball and he was really throwing strikes.”

The Stanners scratched out another run in the third on a one-out double by Rizzotti, who scored on an two-out RBI-single by Santos.

The score remained deadlocked until the bottom of the fifth when a slow grounder and some elusive base running brought home the winning run for the Gaels (23-4).

Cawley led off the inning with a double and Bartnett walked, bringing up Paul Trupia with no outs. A dribble was fielded by Montali, who fired to second for the force, putting runners on the corners with one down. Greg DiFalco then stepped up and bounced a slow roller to second. Sporton fielded the ball and tried to tag Trupia, who narrowly avoided the second baseman’s glove, forcing Sporton to settle for the sure out at first, as Cawley came home for Iona’s fourth run.

“He held them in there,” Curran said of Montali. “The ground ball to second was a little too slow to be a double play. This grass here is very slow. It happens.”

Stanziani would not let Molloy get back in the game. After the lone run in the third, Molloy managed only one baserunner, Derba, who was gunned down trying to steal second to end the fifth. Stanziani pitched 1-2-3 sixth and seventh innings to seal the deal for Iona.

“It was my turn to throw, and I had to get the job done,” said Stanziani, who threw a six-walk no-hitter against St. Francis Prep earlier in the playoffs. “It felt really good, especially since I’m a senior and it’s probably the last game I’m going to play. I just got it done.”

For Molloy, another stellar season, which included the regular-season Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan championship, comes to a close. The Stanners had won the 2002 CHSAA championship and nearly repeated with a mostly brand new squad, something that wasn’t lost on Curran.

“They did a great job, these kids,” the coach said. “We’re very happy with getting here, especially since losing that first game in the double elimination. We were just hoping for one more game. You get one more game on a bigger field and you never know what will happen. We just needed another two runs.”

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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