St. John’s right-hander AJ Lee had only thrown eight pitches Tuesday afternoon, and already he was in a jam. After hitting DeMatha leadoff batter Antonio Rosanova with a pitch, Lee walked Andrew Keith on five pitches. All-Met catcher Justin Morris was due up next.
Lee looked at the defense behind him and took a deep breath as he walked back to the mound. The junior worked his way out of the inning with a fielder’s choice at second base and a double play, then proceeded to spin a gem.
The Maryland recruit struck out eight batters over the next six innings, allowing no runs and just five hits as the second-ranked Cadets toppled No. 1 DeMatha, 2-0, at Gibbs Field in Northwest Washington.
“I just learned to trust my stuff,” Lee said. “I walked the first two guys and then settled down, knew my guys had my back. I just trusted my stuff and let my defense work.”
Junior designated hitter Jackson Coviello smashed a two-run home run over the right-center field fence in the fourth inning, his second homer of the season, to give Lee all the offense he would need. After dropping three out-of-area games in Florida, St. John’s (11-3, 7-0 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) has won eight in a row. The loss was DeMatha’s second of the season — and second in three days.
A matchup between the area’s top two teams — and two of the annual contenders in the WCAC — quickly became a pitchers’ duel between Lee and DeMatha left-hander Andy Rozylowicz. Rozylowicz (six strikeouts) baffled the Cadets with off-speed pitches and a deceptive delivery, while Lee opted for a more straightforward approach.
Lee used his changeup and curveball to mix things up with the middle of DeMatha’s order, but he otherwise relied on his fastball. He also used a superb pickoff move to throw out one runner on the base paths and nearly catch another.
“I think he’s a great athlete,” St. John’s Coach Mark Gibbs said. “He’s a shortstop, and he’s a competitor. I think those things really help him when he gets on the mound in those tough situations.”
Lee also got some help from his defense, particularly senior shortstop Jake Bernstein, who turned the first-inning double play and made several other picks to save base hits. His best play of the game, however, came at its end.
With a runner on first base and one out for the Stags (7-2, 5-2), DeMatha outfielder Braden Froble hit a hard grounder straight up the middle. Bernstein ranged to his left as the ball ricocheted off second base. He slid to a stop and grabbed the ball with his right hand to make the out at second. It was an impressive play to cap an impressive early-season win for St. John’s.
“It’s a big momentum swing for us,” Lee said. “We’ve played a couple tough games in the WCAC the past couple days, so it was good to just come out here and play our game and get the job done.”