With a sectional title within reach, John Connolly made sure Xaverian went and grabbed it.
Connolly drilled two home runs and picked up a four-out save, including getting a strikeout with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, to lead No. 3 Xaverian past top-seeded Franklin, 5-4, in the Division 1 South Final on Monday night at Franklin High School.
The Hawks (16-1) will host Catholic Conference rival St. John’s Prep on Wednesday with a trip to the state championship on the line.
“Franklin is a championship caliber team,” Xaverian coach Gerry Lambert said. “The depth on the mound gives us an advantage and we have won a lot of games like this that are just grinders.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Xaverian held a fragile 5-3 with the bases loaded two men down and Franklin’s top hitter at the plate in Jake Fitzgibbons. The first offering to Fitzgibbons went to the backstop, bringing home Henry DiGiorgio and pulling the Panthers within a run.
Lambert immediately turned to his senior arm in Connolly to get the Hawks out of trouble. Connolly delivered as after walking Fitzgibbons intentionally to load the bases, the right-hander blew a pair of fastballs by Nate Cooke to retire the side.
In the bottom of the seventh, Jack Marino laced a single and stole second to put the tying run in scoring position. Connolly, however, induced a line out to Liam Foley at shortstop to send the Hawks into celebration.
“I just pounded the zone and it ended up working out,” Connolly said. “As soon as Foley snagged the line drive pure emotions ran through my body. I saw (catcher) Matt Brinker and we just embraced.”
Xaverian pounced on Franklin starter Alfred Mucciarone for four runs in the top of the third. After an error plated the first run of the night, Connolly belted a two strike fastball well over the wall in left for a three run shot to give the Hawks a 4-0 lead.
Franklin got back within a run in the bottom of the fourth with Ryan Gerety delivering the key two RBI single to trim the deficit to 4-3.
Connolly provided the Hawks with instant insurance serving a two strike fastball into the crowd in left center for a solo shot to put Xaverian on top 5-3 in the top of the fifth.