The crucial point of the Calvert Hall-Mount St. Joseph playoff game yesterday came early -- in the top of the first inning.
Mount St. Joe put runners on second and third with none out against Calvert Hall starter Craig Shiel, but Shiel battled back to strike out the next three batters and keep the Gaels scoreless.
"That changed the complexion of the game," said Mount St. Joseph coach Dave Norton.
Shiel settled down and allowed two hits in five innings, and No. 2 Calvert Hall got clutch hits from Kevin Olkowski, John McKay and Jason Dean in a five-run sixth, as the host Cardinals defeated No. 8 Mount St. Joe, 6-0, in a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoff.
Defending champion Calvert Hall (25-3) advances to the A Conference final against No. 3 McDonogh for the third straight year. The two meet tomorrow at 3:45 p.m. at Catonsville Community College.
McDonogh needs one win to claim the title. Calvert Hall -- which has won five of the past six titles -- must win twice, as it did last year.
Shiel (9-1) said the first-inning recovery gave him confidence. Matt O'Donnell started the game by walking and went to third on a Steve Matcuk double. Shiel then struck out the Gaels' 3-4-5 trio of Ryan Kenealy, Ryan McGonigal and Eric Jescke.
"To strike out the side after giving up the double to Matcuk was unbelievable," said Calvert Hall coach Joe Binder.
St. Joe put runners on second and third again in the second, this time with one out, but Shiel wriggled free again. After that, only one batter reached base in the final three innings he pitched.
When Shiel began getting his curve over and moving ahead in the count, St. Joe started having trouble.
"I just [decided] to go right after them," said Shiel. "If they were going to [hit] me, they were going to hit my best stuff."
And they could not. The Gaels (three hits total) also did not hit Andy Bair's best stuff. Bair entered in the sixth and struck out five in 1 2/3 innings. Jason Reinhart came on to strike out Matcuk for the final out.
McGonigal turned in a strong pitching effort for the Gaels, striking out nine and giving up six runs on four hits. Liam Healy's sacrifice fly scored Dominic Liberto in the first for a 1-0 lead, but the Cardinals had only one hit entering the sixth.
That's when they broke open the game with five runs on five hits. Olkowski made it 3-0 with a one-out, two-run single. McKay followed with an RBI double, and Dean knocked in two more with a single to center.