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Baxter helps lead Molloy to promise land

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Mike Baxter’s Molloy baseball hat was blue, once. Three years after joining the varsity squad, the senior shortstop’s cap now is a strange combination of green and brown.

The hat has taken on a personality of its own. It has become the butt of jokes from Baxter’s teammates. And on Monday, it saw its last game as Molloy captured its 17th city title by defeating Moore Catholic, 5-2 at Shea Stadium.

Finally, Baxter’s hat can be retired.

“It’s been like this since my sophomore year,” Baxter said. “It’s really dirty and it’s been the joke around school, but I like it. I want to retire it in coach [Jack Curran’s] office.”

The way Baxter played in the postseason, Curran should not have any problem granting Baxter’s request. It seemed whenever the Stanners needed a big hit, the smooth-hitting Columbia-bound shortstop provided it.

He scored a run late in Molloy’s 3-0 win over Iona Prep and belted a home run and drove in two runs in an 11-0 victory over Cardinal Spellman.

“He’s been great for three years,” Curran said of Baxter. “He’s a great kid with a great attitude and it’s a pleasure to have him on the team.”

Between having the championship game rained out twice last week and playing at Shea Stadium, Baxter was understandably tense as he walked to the plate Monday. But with runners at the corners and no out in the top of the first, the Stanners’ No. 3 hitter shook off the nerves and drove in the game’s first run, lifting Joey Rizzo’s 3-2 pitch deep enough to right center field to score Rich Romeo to put Molloy ahead, 1-0.

“I was just looking to get a pitch I could hit, I wanted to get a base hit,” said Baxter, who went 1-for-3 in the title game. “There was a lot of nervousness but it was good to get a guy in and get us going.”

In the third inning, Baxter could not corral Rizzo’s hot shot to short and the usually sure-handed shortstop was credited with an error. But Baxter made up for it later in the inning, flipping a groundout ball to Romeo who barehanded the ball and tossed to John Shipman at first for the inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Baxter and Romeo also ended the first inning with a 4-6-3 double play.

“For me and Rich, that’s our thing,” Baxter said. “[Starting pitcher Matt] Fealey’s been rolling ground balls all year.”

As Fealey cruised through the seventh inning, Baxter became more and more anxious. Usually the definition of calm, Baxter appeared ready to jump out of his skin with just one out standing between him and the city championship.

As soon as the ball was popped up to Matt Rizzotti in right, Baxter leapt in the air and raced toward the mound. His teammates joined in and mobbed Fealey as the celebration was on.

“It was just a great feeling to see that fly ball out there,” Baxter said. “It doesn’t get any better than this. I wanted this for four years and there were a lot of people said this wouldn’t happen. But Fealey is a big-time player and he stepped up in some big games.”

While Baxter will be heading to Columbia University in the fall, what will happen to that grimy hat?

“It’s been through some wars,” Curran said of the cap. “I think we’re going to bronze it.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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