St. Al-Cathedral rivalry on South State stage

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2002

[05/02/02]As Joe Graves walked off the field Saturday at Legion Field in Greenville, basking in the glow of St. Aloysius’ second straight berth in the South State championship series, another piece of good news filtered through the Flashes’ cell phone network and to the coach.

Union had beaten Natchez Cathedral in Game 2 of the other South State semifinal. A smile came across Graves’ mustachioed face as the importance of the news became apparent no matter who St. Al faced in the next round, their opponents’ pitching would be stretched to the limit.

Cathedral (17-10) went on to beat Union in a tough Game 3 on Monday, using ace Chris Norris. Norris threw only 86 pitches on Monday, but if he throws again in Game 1 of the South State series tonight at Bazinsky Field, it would be his third start in a week a situation that has Graves and the rest of the Flashes licking their chops.

“If (Norris) has to throw (today) on two days’ rest, he’s not going to be 100 percent. Superman couldn’t do that,” Graves said.

Norris is 9-2 and has 87 strikeouts in 75-1/3 innings. Cathedral’s No. 2 pitcher, freshman Jeremy Davis, is 3-4 with a 4.45 ERA and has allowed 56 hits in 44 innings.

The Flashes were expecting to see the rubber-armed Norris who threw 10 innings against them in the teams’ last meeting but Cathedral assistant coach Craig Beesley said tonight’s starter would be a game-time decision.

“When you go against a team as good as St. Al, you want your No. 1 out there in Game 1,” Beesley said. “If (Norris) doesn’t throw (today), then he won’t be able to throw Game 3 on Monday if it goes that far, so it is a concern.”

Pitching figures to be the key to the series. St. Al has struggled defensively in its first four playoff games, twice overcoming seven-error performances with overpowering hitting. St. Al has scored 40 runs in its four wins.

“We know they’ve got two good pitchers, and we have to keep them under five runs,” Beesley said.

While the Wave will wait until the last minute to make a decision on its Game 1 starter, St. Al’s rotation is no secret. They’ll go with senior right-hander Aaron George (9-1) tonight, and junior left-hander Jason Brown (8-0) at Natchez on Saturday.

Brown has pitched well against Cathedral in both meetings this season, throwing a six-inning shutout in a 10-0 win on March 1 and holding the Green Wave in check in the rematch on April 9. St. Al beat Cathedral 6-5 in 10 innings in the second game, giving the Flashes the Division 7-1A championship.

The pair of wins has the Flashes feeling confident heading into this series, and Cathedral feeling hexed.

“Luckily, we know we can beat them. To me, the second game was a fluke. The first game was the game we should be playing this coming series,” said St. Al center fielder Blake Warnock, who is hitting .286 with three RBIs in the playoffs. “Hopefully, we can get two games like that and get it out of the way.”

Beesley said the Wave wants to pay the Flashes back for months of frustration that go beyond the baseball diamond. St. Al trounced its Catholic school rival in football and beat them once in three meetings on the basketball court.

That should heighten the usual bad blood even more this week, he said.

“It’s always a good rivalry there. The last couple of years they’ve had our number … and it’s going to be even more intense this week,” Beesley said.

Graves downplayed the rivalry, saying he didn’t want his players to dwell on it. When asked, however, it wasn’t far from the Flashes’ minds.

“I’m ready to play Natchez again because it’s a rivalry, of course. You don’t get a better chance than to play your rival for the South State championship and a chance to play for a state championship,” said St. Al left fielder Walker Hengst, who is hitting .462 with three RBIs in the postseason. “Everything we’ve played them in this year, we’ve beaten them, and I think we’ll continue it.”