Nazareth clinches Catholic ‘A’ title in dramatic fashion

Strike ‘em out: Shamariah McCullough pitches during the Catholic High School Athletic Association Class A baseball championship between Nazareth and Scanlan, played at Fordham University, in the Bronx on June 2.
Photo by Robert Cole

William Navarro refused to breathe unless it was a sigh of relief.

The Nazareth senior caught the game-winning out against Monsignor Scanlan on June 2, sealing the Kingsmen’s second victory over the team in as many days and bringing home the Catholic High School Athletic Association Class A baseball title. Nazareth Monsignor Scanlan 9–8 on June 1 and 4–3 on June 2.

Navarro was an asset all week long — he threw 155 pitches in Nazareth’s 9–8 game-one victory on June 1, shutting down the Crusaders’ seventh-inning rally, and the next day, he connected on the game-winning hit and the victory-clinching catch.

“I just saw the ball go up and knew I had to get underneath it — no matter where it was,” Navarro said. “When I caught it, it was a sigh of relief.”

It’s a major victory for Nazareth, which had lost in the final in the last two seasons. The Kingsmen (18–1) never lost faith this season though, and even after dropping into the tournament’s losers’ bracket, Nazareth wasn’t willing to accept anything but a championship.

“It’s unbelievable,” Kingsmen coach Oggie Quiles said. “Those six seniors, we came from nothing. We used to use the song, ‘We started from the bottom, now we’re here.’ They just played so hard.”

The Kingsmen still faced plenty of obstacles along the way. Scanlan (12–7) nearly rallied for a victory in game one, but Navarro was able to work out of the jam, stranding two runners on base.

Game two wasn’t any easier.

The Crusaders jumped out to a three-run lead as Nelson Rodriguez drove in a run with a single in the bottom of the third inning. Rodriguez’s hit didn’t just hurt the Kingsmen on the scoreboard. It also hurt them on the mound — the ball bounced in front of pitcher Rolando Alvarez, hit him in the knee, and forced him out of the game.

“We were a little deflated at the moment,” Quiles said. “But we came back in the dugout, and Rolando told them all, ‘We’ve got this.’ We just said, ‘Let’s get this for Rolando.’ ”

Shamariah McCullough took over pitching duties for Nazareth. He wasn’t expecting to hear his name until later in the game, but the junior delivered when called. McCullough threw four-and-one-third innings, giving up just one hit.

“When they called my name, my heart definitely dropped — I was nervous,” McCullough said. “I was locating my fastball and the curveball. We just tried to stay on the outside corner.”

McCullough managed to keep the Kingsmen in the game, and the Nazareth lineup answered the call at the plate, taking advantage of late-game Scanlan errors to get on the board.

Nazareth loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth after back-to-back dropped third strikes, scoring two runs on a fielder’s choice. Navarro then cemented himself in the Nazareth history books, blasting a two-run single in the next inning to give the Kingsmen squad a lead it would never again surrender.

“I figured I got a hit in the last inning, so he might come at me with a fastball, and I sat back and waited for it,” Navarro said. “We’re beyond resilient. We’ll just take any opportunity we can to get on base.”

The Kingsmen waited a long time to be champions, and after three win-or-go-home games this postseason, the entire squad let out a collective breath of relief when Navarro caught the final out.

It was worth the wait.

“We never thought we were down,” Quiles said. “We always find a way to win. The first two years, I cried tears of disappointment — and today, I cried tears of joy.”

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