St. Vincent High School pitchers Trent Free and Nathan Irving trod tenuously near the brink of calamity but never fell Friday afternoon, shutting out St. Helena, 5-0.
The win evened the Mustang record for the rain-splattered season at 1-1. After an opening loss to the Bay School, the Mustangs had two consecutive teams cancel out on them before St. Helena’s Saints arrived on a slightly overcast but very playable afternoon.
The game was a good one, with the Mustangs taking advantage of some home-field knowledge and strong defense to reward their strike-throwing pitchers.
Despite the score, the victory was not easily achieved.
Twice St. Helena loaded the bases, and in every inning except the first, the visiting Saints put runners in scoring position. Each threat was met with clutch St. Vincent defensive plays, including two double plays.
Senior Free, expected to be the ace of the St. Vincent staff, gave up three hits in four innings, but he was in constant trouble until sophomore Irving came on in the fifth inning. He, too, faced danger calmly as the Saints advanced runners into scoring range in each inning only to be foiled by clutch Mustang glove work.
Included in the Mustang defensive efforts were two double plays, both started by Free. He made a stop on a hard come-backer and started a twin kill as a pitcher in the first inning, and he helped Irving out of a jam by beginning another double play as a shortstop in the fifth.
Second baseman Ryan Nalducci helped Free escape a bases-loaded problem in the second with a grab of a pop-up and a nice stop and throw on a two-out bouncer.
Third baseman Dante Antonini took care of all three outs in the sixth frame with sure-handed picks and throws.
Right fielder A.J. Fetter saved runs with an exceptional running catch to leave a runner stranded in the fifth after the Free-started double play had started the bail-out process.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs were combining seven hits with aggressive base running for enough runs for an early and comfortable lead.
St. Vincent had seven hits in the game. Three came in a three-run fifth that gave it all the runs it needed.
The big hit was a two-out shot to right by John Romano that went right past the St. Helena defender on the ultra-fast St. Vincent turf, scored two runs and left Romano happy at third.
Nate Berniklau promptly sent Romano home with a single for the third run of the inning.
St. Vincent’s aggressive attitude paid a run dividend in the fifth when Antonini singled to left, stole second and raced all the way home on Free’s perfect bunt.
Antonini was on the move again in the fifth inning, beating out a bunt, swiping second, moving to third on a wild pitch and scoring on Tyler Cunha’s sacrifice fly to center field.
St. Vincent coach Stan Switala was pleased with the Mustangs’ play.
“We did everything well,” he said. “This game got us back on track.”
Antonini and Berniklau each had two hits in the game.