By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
They weren’t even supposed to be here.
Xaverian Clippers head coach Frank Del George now infamously tabbed this season a rebuilding year. Even after they established themselves as a real contender, they faced elimination seven different times.
With great pitching, strong defense and timely hitting, the Clippers somehow fought through it all and on Wednesday at St. John’s University Xaverian beat Archbishop Molloy High School twice to win the Catholic High School Athletic League’s AA city championship.
“I hated hearing that word (rebuilding),” Xaverian’s ace Anthony “Siggy” Sigismondi said. “I absolutely hated it. I've been saying it since day one that this is definitely not a rebuilding year. We had the talent that we needed and it definitely shows right now.”
Coming out of the loser’s bracket, Xaverian had to beat Molloy twice to win the title. It wasn’t easy, but the Clippers pulled it off by winning the first game 5-3 and then won a second 6-4 in back-to-back games.
“We climbed a mountain,” Del George. “We won seven (elimination) games. We knew coming out of the losers bracket that we needed to be hot, we were hot, we needed momentum and a lot of luck, that's definitely part of the equation. This team needs luck, we don't score runs in bunches, but we can pitch. The pitchers did a tremendous job on the mound.”
Xaverian got quite a bit of luck thanks to the rain. It kept Molloy off the field for nearly two weeks which left it a bit rusty, meanwhile, Xaverian was able to play scrimmages on their home field. During those scrimmages, Del George noticed that Chris Nierva, a quiet reserve player who hadn’t started at all in the playoffs, was crushing the ball so he decided to start him for the first time.
The decision to start Nierva paid off big-time when he crushed a two-run home run to right field that tied the first game at 3-3 in the fourth inning. He then drove in another run in the fifth inning that made it 5-3.
That gave reliever Jeff Manzi just enough breathing room to nail down the save. It certainly wasn’t an easy save though as Manzi twice had to pitch out of a bases loaded situation twice including in the fifth inning when he struck out back-to-back hitters to escape a jam.
“Manzi has been doing it all year long,” Del George said. “We've been bringing him in during really tight situations and he has ice in his veins. It was bases loaded, game on the line and it doesn't make a difference. He goes out there and he's cool, calm and collected.”
The second game was ace versus ace with Sigismondi going up against Molloy’s Scott Hannon. Hannon dominated early and carried a no-hitter into the fifth. He walked Brandon Torres to lead off that inning and after Phoenix Hernandez reached on an error, Hannon hit Nicholas Terzulli on a bunt attempt. The umpire ruled it a strike which Xaverian coaches did not agree with and eventually assistant coach Greg Del George, Frank’s son, was ejected.
“If you couldn't see, it fired us up quite a bit,” Nierva said. “When you see a coach getting thrown out of a game, he's probably doing that for a reason.”
It worked as Xaverian quickly loaded the bases and then Christopher Amato broke up the no-hitter with a bunt single that gave the Clippers a 2-1 lead. Suddenly Hannon was entirely hittable as Anthony Scotti gave them a 3-1 lead on a sac fly and Joseph Vitacco followed that with an RBI-single that made it 4-1.
Xaverian scored two more runs off of reliever Jonathan Meditz in the sixth to make it 6-1. Molloy wouldn’t go quietly, though, and scored three runs in the sixth to cut the lead to 6-4. Del George went out to the mound to threaten to pull Sigismondi from the game, but it was merely a tactic to motivate Sigismondi, the series’ eventual MVP, who then retired the next four batters to win the game and title.
“Yeah, this was incredible,” Del George said laughing when reporters asked him how his rebuilding year went. “I don't know what we're going to do next year now. This was a great group of kids. They're young, they worked very hard. I know a lot of teams work very hard, but this is my team and I watched them all year working their butts off. They definitely deserved this.”
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