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Lafferty leads Archbishop Wood to District 12-AAA title

PHILADELPHIA — On offense, Nick Lafferty usually bats cleanup, protection for the bat of Joey Lancellotti.

Defensively, Lafferty does his work behind the plate, providing a calming influence and protection for Lancellotti or any of Archbishop Wood’s other pitchers where they’re on the mound. Through all the shifts and changes the Vikings’ pitching staff has seen this season, the one constant has been the mad behind the plate.

Thursday afternoon, Lafferty did the same thing he always does and it helped Wood to a 9-1 win over Franklin Towne Charter in the District 12 Class AAA baseball championship game at Richie Asburn Field in South Philly’s FDR Park.

“Lafferty’s a beast behind the plate,’ Wood coach Jim DiGuiseppe Jr. said. “I take the opportunity whenever I can get it to say he’s the best catcher in our league defensively. He’s phenomenal. He is our heart and soul, the kid is just a consummate competitor.’

Lafferty helped guide sophomore hurler Sean Hughes into a six-inning, eight strikeout performance while also going 3-for-4 at the plate with a double, two RBI and two runs via courtesy runner Corey Dower. The senior catcher, who will ply his trade for Kutztown next year, also got a good bat around in his first at-bat, but flew out to left.

Still, that swing helped set the tone for his day at the plate.

“I was able to get my timing down and plant my front foot,’ Lafferty said. “I heard coach yelling at me, ‘ Laff get that front foot down,’ and I’ve been struggling with that all season. I think I got my timing down pretty well and I was able to carry that through.’

Hughes struck out the side in order in the top of the first, but his batters needed an inning to get their bearings. Lancellotti and Lafferty uncorked long fly outs to left to end the frame, but the Vikings wouldn’t stay quiet for long.

In the second, first baseman Sean Kelly got things started with a single then came in on a sac fly by Austin Hill after a Franklin Towne error. Bobby Heck came up with two down and laid down a perfect bunt, netting him a single and an RBI when Matt Cummiskey alertly sped home.

The Vikings added one more run when leadoff man Tom Rosenbaum stroked a single to plate Heck.

“We’re a late-blooming team but we know we have that one big play,’ Lafferty said. “Bob Heck’s bunt, that was our late bloomer right there. A bunt down the third base line with two outs, that’s something I like to see and as a team that picks us up right there.’

Wood would score at least a run in the third, fourth and fifth innings and all the while, its pitcher kept plugging away. Hughes helped himself in the third, picking off a man at first before giving up a triple, though he did finally yield a run in the fourth.

Despite Hughes’ class standing, the Vikings had confidence he could go up and get the job done. It’s been the case with all of their pitchers this season.

“We’ve had different guys step up at different times this year,’ DiGuiseppe said. “He did a really good job of going out there and competing. He was pounding the mitt all day, he changed speeds pretty well and we did a solid job of playing defense behind him.’

Lancellotti is the staff’s ace and senior Justin Rubin, who threw the seventh, have been in big game moments. With Hughes, Lafferty just wanted to make sure the young pitcher was calm and good to go.

“I just told him to take a deep breath, it’s me and you together just like we’re in the bullpen,’ Lafferty said. “I told him not to sit up high with that ball, told him to drive down through me, drive down into me. With curve balls, don’t be scared to throw them in the dirt. I love blocking.’

Lafferty singled in the fourth, then Dower came around on a double by Kelley, who also had strong day with two hits, a run and RBI. With the lineup turned over an inning later, Wood struck for its biggest output with a four-run frame. Rosenbaum, Anthony Zupito and Lancellotti all reached, with Lancellotti driving in Rosenbaum, to bring up Lafferty, who clocked an RBI double to score Zupito.

Kelley and Cummiskey hit RBI groundouts to cap the scoring in the fourth and the Vikings added another run in the fifth when Lafferty’s single brought home Rosenbaum. In all, the Vikings collected 12 hits and drew four walks with four players collecting multiple hits.

“We’ve had some quality approaches at the plate,’ DiGuiseppe said. “We’ve been finishing our swings the last few games and really driving the ball well. When we lock in, we’re going to be a pretty tough out.’

DiGuiseppe touts his team’s selfless nature for the success it’s had this season, including Thursday’s district title and the Philadelphia Catholic League championship it won last weekend. The Vikings came through in three straight one-run wins in the PCL playoffs with seemingly a different hero in each game.

In a season that could have been trying, with a host of different arms throwing to him, Lafferty remained steadfast.

“It felt like I had to be that role model behind the plate to try and help them out,’ Lafferty said. “I always try to keep that big target and an upbeat body for everyone to see. All eight other players are looking at me on the field so I try to keep that attitude up.’

Whether it was Hughes or Rubin, who didn’t play baseball last season while battling injuries, Lafferty got his new rotation settled in fast. A guy willing to throw himself in the dirt to block a bad pitch, Lafferty’s effort has helped the staff through any tough patches.

Last season, the Vikings saw their state playoff run end in the first round. With three pitchers capable of going out and controlling a game and the bats to provide the runs, Lafferty thinks his team is heading in the right direction.

“We’re just going to do what we do best and stay together as a team,’ Lafferty said. “We want to keep the upbeat personality we have going right now and playing as a team and I think we’ll be able to pull through.’

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