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One for the ages

It was a celebration that, much like the epic game that preceded it, looked like it was never going to end. It started at home plate, made its way to third base, continued in left field and culminated in front of the St. John’s Prep dugout.

And who can blame the Red Storm? After all, their remarkable 6-5 victory in the CHSAA Class B intersectional championship game Sunday night at Jack Kaiser Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University was 21 years and 14 innings in the making.

Noel Vargas was the unlikely hero for St. John’s in the dramatic victory over Cathedral Prep. His bloop into short right field scored Mike Colon from third as the Red Storm won their first CHSAA ‘B’ baseball title since 1987.

A little more than four hours after the nail-biter started, Vargas raised his arms in the air as he reached first base and then joined his teammates in jubilation at the plate.

“Finally when he scored and we won it was just like, there were no words,” St. John’s Prep starter Dan O’Brien said.

The scheduled 6 p.m. game didn’t actually start until 7:11 p.m., because the opening game of the doubleheader went extra innings. When the game finally started, St. John’s Prep jumped out to a 4-0 lead, chasing Cathedral starter Sean DeBiase with two outs in the first inning. But DeBiase redeemed himself, hitting a clutch inside-the-park home run to tie the game at 4 in the seventh inning.

It capped one of the wildest sequences in the history of the intersectional playoffs. With Cathedral down to its final out, DeBiase stepped into the batters’ box just as the sprinkler system, which is on a timer, activated shortly after 9 p.m.

“The umpire said to step in while they’re on,” DeBiase said. “I just said, ‘Are you serious? It’s the seventh inning, two outs, I’m not going to step in with sprinklers going on.’”

DeBiase waited it out, stepped back in after the five-minute delay and promptly took Dan O’Brien’s next pitch — a letter-high fastball — the other way. Red Storm right fielder Sean Lomaz struggled to dig the ball out from the base of the wall while DeBiase motored around the bases, easily scoring the game-tying run.

“At that point I thought we got a little extra help,” Cathedral coach John O’Brien said. “But it just didn’t turn out the way we hoped.”

Vargas, who was taken out of the game after being cut below the eye on a ground ball to third that took a bad hop in the third inning, took what John O’Brien perceived as divine intervention in stride.

“Everybody got wet and here we are in the 14th inning,” said Vargas, who re-entered in the eighth inning. “(The game) lasted forever.”

Dan O’Brien remained on the mound for the Red Storm into the 12th inning, when he was finally pulled after giving up a leadoff triple to right by Matt Knott.

“I know I threw 11 innings, but I’m not sure how many pitches,” said O’Brien, who struck out 15 and walked five in 11 1/3 innings. “I’d say around 200.”

Mike Zapata came in and promptly threw a wild pitch, allowing Knott to score the go-ahead run.

St. John’s Prep tied the game again in the bottom of the frame when Vargas, who doubled to right-center, moved to third on a controversial balk call and scored on Edwin Suarez’s sacrifice fly.

Steve Trudden, who went the distance in a 3-2 win against the Red Storm last Thursday at SJU, relieved DeBiase in the first inning and left the game following the 12th inning, giving up just one run on nine hits, striking out eight and walking four.

“I brought him in thinking he’ll throw strikes and get outs,” John O’Brien said. “I’m definitely not thinking he can pitch 12 innings on top of seven innings three nights ago. Nineteen innings in three days is a lot to ask.”

Mike Knott, the Crusaders’ emotional shortstop, came into pitch in the 13th and retired the side. Cathedral, which failed to score with the bases loaded and no outs in the 10th, again had the bases juiced in the 14th. But Vargas, who picked up the win in relief, got Joe Santoro to pop out to Dan O’Brien at first to end the rally.

Colon hit a one-out double to center in the 14th and was nearly called out at third on a tremendous effort by Mike Knott. But, with the infield in, Vargas followed with a bloop just into short right to end the game and, at 11:13 p.m., begin what was a memorable celebration.

“Everyone is emotionally and physically drained, but we beared with it, we fought and fought, scratched and clawed and we got it,” said Jason Bigeni, who is in his eighth year as St. John’s Prep coach and whose team fell to Cathedral on the same field in last year’s title tilt.

Vargas, for one, knows just how to commemorate the event.

“I’ll get a tattoo on my back,” he said, “’08 champs.”

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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