Sessa offers some relief in victory for O’Hara

MARPLE — With the chilly conditions Tuesday, Cardinal O’Hara manager John Grossi recognized that it wasn’t the day to stretch a starting pitcher.

So when Chris Fusaro got near his limit at 74 pitches through five solid innings against Springfield, Grossi knew someone on his young staff that counts the All-Catholic League lefty as one of the few returning contributors would have to step up.

That someone was Kevin Sessa.

The junior pitched a perfect sixth inning, then worked around a two-on, none-out jam in the seventh to notch the save in O’Hara’s season-opening, 4-3 nonleague win.

Sessa’s composure in the spotlight epitomizes what Grossi is looking from his young team, one that graduated six seniors in 2014 who have gone on to play college baseball. That leaves a void of production, and Tuesday, it was Sessa’s turn to play fill that role.

Facing the bottom of the order in the seventh, Sessa got into trouble by issuing a leadoff walk to Jared Morris and bobbling Mike Smith’s sacrifice attempt to put the tying run on second with none out.

But Sessa kept his cool, getting a flyout from Brett Sheeran and benefitting when pinch-runner John Militiello, who had stolen second, ran into an out trying to swipe third.

Sessa followed by getting the Cougars’ leadoff man Tom Quinn to loop out to left, sealing the deal.

The mindset for Sessa was simple: Just follow the example of the guy on the hill before him.

“Just try to do what Chris does,’ he said. “Chris is a really great pitcher, and just try to mimic what he does. At practice, I’ve been following in his footsteps, trying to do what he does, and he’s really prepared me for this.’

Designated hitter Nick Newman had plenty of praise for Sessa, who is likely to get a lot of these late-game opportunities as the O’Hara staff sorts itself.

“To work like that, that really puts us up because now we have more pitching for the next games,’ Newman said. “It really helps us out.’

Fusaro did a solid job keeping the Springfield bats quiet for five frames. He allowed two runs in the second, thanks to a Nick O’Shea double and a Morris RBI single, and walked Sheeran in the fifth before pinch-hitter Austin Kiker suicide-squeezed him home. But that was all Springfield would get.

That was the same type of balance issued by his opposite number, Morris, in a game that was immaculately clean and crisp for being the much delayed season opener for both teams. Morris’ start was a little rocky, giving up four first-inning hits, including RBI singles to Newman, Fusaro and Phil Boyle.

The sophomore surrendered a leadoff homer to Newman in the third, a no-doubt blast over the scoreboard in left-center field, but otherwise kept the game in control.

“I just get out there and do what I’ve always done,’ said Morris, who added two of Springfield’s four hits. “Especially in this kind of weather, I really have to work the corners because I’m not going to have my best stuff, and make sure my off-speed is working.’

Ben Thorpe followed and faced the minimum over the last three innings, walking one and striking out three.

On all sides, the game avoided the usual opening jitters. Sessa’s was the only error and there were a handful of blips — like Springfield’s Brian McCloskey reaching on an infield single when Fusaro could’ve been quicker to the bag at first, then scoring on a wild pitch — but they were few and far between.

Instead, each team got something positive out of the opener. Springfield not only got a pair of solid pitching performances ahead of league games this week, but they also found production from the bottom of the order. For a team coming off a five-win season, an early statement that they can play with O’Hara is a meaningful confidence booster.

“First game of the season against a team like this, very happy with how we played,’ Morris said. “We swung the bats well. Pitchers threw real well. The defense was flawless. Everyone did a real good job.’

For O’Hara, it’s an important win and the validation that their hard work in rebuilding from the departures is on the right track.

“We practiced good, we practiced clean and we executed,’ Newman said. “We came out here and did the same thing. It’s almost like it was practice in the way we executed things. We just did what we do and came out on top.’

“It’s progress,’ Sessa said. “It shows a lot of progress from where we started.’

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