What is it that sets the 2009 Division 1 North baseball finals between Gloucester and St. John’s Prep apart from the field as Cape Ann’s best game over the last half decade?
To put it simply this game had too much going on to warrant anything but the top spot.
For starters there was a David vs. Goliath factor to the game as St. John’s Prep baseball boasts multiple Division 1 State titles and is a perennial Division 1 powerhouse. The Gloucester baseball program, on the other hand, was playing in its first ever sectional final and had already clinched the most successful season in school history. The two teams had also met in the regular season with the Eagles grabbing a comfortable win. Gloucester may have come in to the game with the higher seed, but make no mistake about it, St. John’s Prep was favored to win.
The game also featured a marquee pitching matchup as Dylan Maki took the hill for Gloucester, fresh off of a 148 pitch 10 inning performance in Gloucester’s 3-2 win over Lawrence in the Division 1 North Quarter Final. Maki was opposed by St. John’s Prep’s Pat Connaughton, who was a Sophomore on the rise at the time. Both pitchers currently pitch at the Division 1 level, Maki at Northeastern and Connaughton at Notre Dame, where he also plays basketball.
The hype for the North Final was endless, but once the game started it blew the doors off of all the hype it received as it was one of the most unusual and flat out crazy baseball games the area has seen.
In the end it was Gloucester’s Ryan Cusick who played the part of the hero ripping a double into the left center field gap with the score tied at 7-7 in the bottom of the ninth. The hit plated Brett Cahill, who led off the inning with a double of his own, with the winning run that crowned the Fishermen Division 1 North Champions.
The ending was thrilling, but what got them to the finish was gut wrenching and flat out bizarre.
Gloucester, who finished the season with a 20-5 record, took control early with a three run bottom of the third inning. Trevor Curley put Gloucester up 2-1with an RBI single plating Cusick. Ross Carlson and Caulin Rogers followed with RBI singles of their own to make it 4-1 through three.
The Eagles battled back with two runs in the fourth but Gloucester got one back in the bottom half of the inning to make it 5-3 after four innings.
It was in the top of the seventh inning with the Fishermen still ahead 5-3 when the game took a crazy turn.
Gloucester head coach Joe Orlando pulled Maki from the ball game after 121 pitches. The Fishermen were able to get out of the seventh without allowing a run despite the fact that St. John’s Prep drew four walks and had a base hit in the frame. In the inning all three St. John’s Prep outs were made on the bases paths including two runners thrown out stealing by Gloucester catcher Cahill.
After a scoreless bottom of the seventh, the Eagles made things very interesting in the top of the eighth inning.
John Vigliotti would cut the Gloucester lead to 5-4 when he reached on an error, went to second on a balk and scored on a single by Dillon Gonzalez.
It was at that point when the entire game turned on its head. Orlando opted to bring Maki back into the game as high school rules permit a pitcher to go back into the game after being pulled as long as he does not leave the game completely. Maki could re-enter the game because he was moved from pitcher to shortstop.
As Maki began taking his warmup pitches St. John’s Prep players argued that he was not allowed to throw any. But MIAA rules state that a pitcher is not allowed to throw any warmup pitches only if he re-enters the game in the same inning.
During the protest the upcoming St. John’s Prep batter stepped on the plate in order to prevent Maki from throwing another warmup pitch and it sparked a quick shoving match between players on the two teams.
With Maki clearly laboring, he allowed Gonzalez to score on a wild pitch to tie the score at 5-5 but was able to get out of the inning without any more damage.
In the bottom of the eighth Gloucester took the lead again when Carlson tripled down the line scoring Taylor Burbine, who had been hit by a pitch. The Fishermen were not done either as Rogers singled in Carlson two batters later to make it 7-5.
Gloucester was just three outs away from a sectional title, but once again the Eagles proved to be resilient. With the bottom of the Prep order coming up in the ninth against Maki the Eagles battled back as Connaughton led off the inning with a single and was followed by a walk. After a fielders choice, the Prep loaded the bases on another walk. Maki got the second out on a strikeout, but then walked the next two hitters with the bases loaded and the game was now tied at 7-7.
To make matters worse for Gloucester, the Eagles cleanup hitter and biggest power threat Chris Carmain was coming to the plate and the bases were still loaded.
It was then when Orlando decided to pull Maki, who threw 173 pitches giving him a total of 321 pitches over two games that week.
“Dylan is such a horse,” Orlando said. “I wanted him to be in there to get the win but in the end I left him out on the mound too long.”
Orlando went to junior reliever MacKenzie Quinn, who needed just three pitches to a fly ball to left field for the third out of the inning.
That set the stages for Cusick’s heroics. Cahill doubled down the left field line and with first base open the Prep opted to pitch to Cusick, who delivered with the game winning hit to the left center field gap.
The Fishermen mobbed Cusick and Cahill after the hit to finish up Cape Ann’s best game over the last half decade.