High School Sports

Gutsy Irish: St. Patrick survives to force Game 3

BILOXI -- It didn't ultimately matter that St. Patrick played its ugliest game of the year when the pressure was highest.

Or that, facing elimination, the Fighting Irish surrendered the go-ahead run in the top half of the seventh inning.

All that mattered was that St. Patrick found a way -- somehow -- to overcome six errors and three deficits to walk-off visiting St. Andrews 12-11 on Friday.

The Saints and Irish will now clash one final time at 6:30 p.m. Monday in a decisive Game 3 showdown with Seminary in the Class 3A South State series.

The lead up

Heading into the seventh inning, the Irish (17-8) were clinging to a 10-9 advantage. St. Andrews (24-8) promptly hit a solo homer and an RBI-double to jump back ahead, setting up a pivotal final frame for St. Patrick.

After Spencer Sliman walked to lead off the frame, Peter Holland and Beau Bratton both reached on misplayed bunts to load the bases.

Following a brief mound visit, Blaise Butirich scored Sliman on a fielder's choice to tie the game, 11-11.

"I got two strikes on me right away and had to put something in play; just put the ball in play," Butirich said. "I managed to do it and got a run out of it and the next batter got us the win."

Two innings earlier, St. Patrick coach Eddie Burger had pinch hit for Trace Palazzo, opting for a batter he thought could barrel up the ball into the outfield. Instead, Nick Filipich's hard hit grounder went through the legs of the Saints' shortstop giving the Irish their 10-9 lead.

With the game tied, Palazzo, who was able to re-enter the game according to MHSAA rules, made the most of what could have been the final at-bat of his prep career.

"Coach just came up and told me, 'go either way with it, and right over the third baseman's head,' and it happened," Palazzo said, still soaking in the moment.

With runners on the corners, Palazzo singled the first pitch he saw just over the Saints' third baseman. Holland raced home and was mobbed by his Irish teammates as they poured out of the home dugout.

"There's no explanation for it," Butirich said. "It was just amazing."

Uneven start

Friday's game got off to a rough start for both teams. The Saints, coming off of a 7-1 victory Thursday in the series opener, scored once in the first inning. The Irish responded by plating five runs in the bottom of the first. After the Saints got a run back in the second, St. Patrick pushed its lead back out to 8-2 in the bottom of the inning. St. Andrews added a run in the third and then plated four more in the fourth to tie the game, 8-8.

St. Andrews edged ahead 9-8 in the next frame before a Bratton double tied the game just before Filipich's at-bat.

"I kind of knew coming into it it was going to be a high scoring game," Burger said. "We didn't help ourselves out with some baserunning mistakes, but for the most part we were able to execute and got some big pitches when we needed to."

Bratton finished with two doubles and two RBIs. Butirich and Palazzo each accounted for three RBIs. Josh Wood and Peter Holland each had two hits. Holland also scored a game-high four times.

Butirich started the game on the mound. While he may not have had his best command, and the fielders around him committed six errors, he still got the Irish to the fifth inning tied 8-8.

"He's the kind of competitor who wants the ball in this game and this kind of situation," Burger said of Butirich, who struck out five. "Regardless of what's going on behind him, he has the ability to get back in there, compete and give us some chances to make plays."

Robert Starks, who replaced fellow reliever Chet Rodrigue in the seventh, earned the win.

Ace awaits

The Irish will likely face St. Andrews ace Stephen Atkins on Monday. Because he threw 14 total innings in the Saints' second-round series against West Marion, Atkins has been limited to shortstop duty in the first two games of the current series. Against West Marion, Atkins whiffed 23 of his 106 strikeouts this season. He's also 9-1 on the year with a 1.28 ERA.

Regardless of who is on the mound, Friday's win was a big shot in the arm for the Irish.

"We're confident. It can go either way now," Burger said. "We have the momentum."

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