As the ball pinged off of his bat in the bottom of the fifth inning, Sacred Heart Cathedral outfielder Dan Hinderliter looked up to the sky and let out a sigh of relief.
Having struggled at the plate in the early goings of the 2019 regular season, Hinderliter had broken the game open for the Fighting Irish with a two-run home run to left field.
Thanks to Hinderliter’s offensive heroics in the renewed Joe Cronin Game, Sacred Heart Cathedral cruised past the Mission Bears at Westborough Park on a wet Thursday evening. With a 7-2 victory, the Fighting Irish have won all three games played against the Bears since 1969.
“That two-run home run kind of sealed it late,” Irish head coach Brian Morgan said. “[Hinderliter] is a guy who knows he can do that. He did a great job.”
Entering Thursday with a 6-4 regular season record, Sacred Heart Cathedral was eager to hit the diamond. The last two months had severely trimmed down their on-field time thanks to heavy rain storms that hit the Bay Area.
To make matters worse, the Irish do not have their own home field, and have been forced to practice and play at Westborough, which sits 14 miles south of the school’s main campus.
“We don’t have a home field, unlike a lot of the teams we’ve played,” Sacred Heart Cathedral starting pitcher Owen Stevenson said. “We don’t get as much field time as all of the other teams and you can even tell by our record that those teams are the ones that are beating us.”
Despite the lack of practice, the Irish did not look underprepared as their bats started off hot in the first inning. They scored three runs in the first , starting off with a solo shot from senior shortstop Keyshawn Ogans. After Ogans’ bomb, junior third baseman Chris Rodrigues brought home Lucas Herrera with a sac fly.
Hinderliter also scored on a passed ball after a series of errors landed him on third base.
As Sacred Heart Cathedral got on the board early, their pitching allowed Mission to stay close. Pitching to contact, the Fighting Irish gave up a pair of hits in the third, a single to Azaan Lewis and a double to C.J. Pino, and both came home to bring Mission within one run.
“We were just trying to keep the ball down. We don’t strike a lot of batters out,” Morgan said. “You’ve got to play good defense because we’re not going to strike a lot of guys out.”
The Irish recorded 11 ground ball outs, keeping Mission off of the board even when they were able to get runners on base in the late stages of the game.
“Mission is a really good team,” Stevenson said. “It wasn’t easy to keep them off.”
Able to add another run to their total in the fourth, Sacred Heart tiptoed into the bottom of the fifth with a mere two-run lead.
After watching third baseman Jeffrey Osorio-Agard reach on a base hit, Hinderliter stepped into the batter’s box with a shot to break the game wide open.
“Coach told me to be aggressive at the plate. We wanted to get something going,” Hinderliter said. “I saw a fastball middle-in and we all know the rest.”
Hinderliter had faced his share of struggles this season, in part, due to the limited time he, along with the rest of the team, had gotten in practice this year.
With one swing of the bat, however, the outfielder’s worries were no more. Giving Sacred Heart Cathedral a 6-2 lead heading into the sixth, Hinderliter was able to play the role of hero.
The Fighting Irish were able to finish the sixth and seventh frames without giving up a single run, earning a win in a game re-scheduled from February due to the heavy rains. The Cronin game, named for Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Cronin — who attended Mission, leading the Bears to the 1922 SFAL championship, and then transferred to Sacred Heart Cathedral, leading them to the 1924 SFAL crown — has only been played three times since 1969, before Thursday’s contest.
“For both teams, it’s kind of nice to play a game that’s not league and still make it competitive,” Morgan said. “Everyone was looking forward to this game and it was a good game.”