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High Schools - Emotional win earns Saint Joseph's Prep a spot in Catholic League finals

IF YOU ASK Perry Russom about the biggest hit of his baseball life, you will now hear a brand-new answer.

IF YOU ASK Perry Russom about the biggest hit of his baseball life, you will now hear a brand-new answer.

We take you back - well, not too far - to last summer. Russom is playing in a Junior Olympics tournament in Tennessee and he crushes a grand slam.

Pretty cool. Somewhat of a national stage. Tough to dislodge.

"It didn't really win the game," Russom said. "But it did put us ahead." Pause. "It was a first-round game."

We take you back only to yesterday, when the occasion was a Catholic League semifinal at Philadelphia University involving St. Joseph's Prep, the defending champion, and brassy upstart Ss. Neumann-Goretti, which 1 day earlier had earned a 1-0 win in its first playoff visit in 11 years.

"This is my best moment," Prep's Russom said, excitedly.

This was a blast that traveled roughly 400 feet to dead centerfield. It went for a two-run double (Russom wound up at third; there was an error on the relay) and highlighted a five-run home sixth, and of course was the major blow in a 5-1, come-from-behind triumph.

And it's now No. 1 because . . .

"We all have close relationships on this team," Russom said. "We all work together to make good things happen, so it's important because that was what we did today.

"This win was like a combination of all baseball emotions."

Russom, a 6-2, 185-pound junior, plays rightfield and bats sixth. The score was 2-1 by the time he batted, thanks to singles by Matt Tiagwad and Aaron Haas, a pitch that plunked Tim Edger, a bases-loaded walk to Jeff Lynch and a wild pitch delivered with Pat Malloy at bat.

Reliever T.J. Kinsey uncorked that one; Nick Piscitelli (yanked after the walk to Lynch) had allowed three hits through five while striking out six.

Malloy grounded out, with the runners holding, then Russom muscled up. After doing some detective work and applying logic, that is.

"I was watching [Kinsey's] hand delivery while he was warming up, to see if he was coming from the side or up top," Russom said. "He was up top, and the pitches were pretty flat.

"With a 2-1 count and a pressure situation, I knew he wouldn't try anything offspeed. I'd faced him before. I figured he'd go with a fastball and not try to paint with it. It was down the middle."

Bang! N-G centerfielder Dan Behlau ran and ran and ran some more. He almost made the catch, but the ball barely cleared him and short-hopped against the fence.

"I put my head down and ran," Russom said. "I did look up as I rounded first and I actually thought he caught it against the fence. Then I heard our crowd going nuts. 'Guess he didn't catch it.' "

He smiled. "That felt good. I knew I got all of it."

Dramatic hits and CL semifinals are nothing new for the Russom family, of the Highland Park section of Upper Darby.

In 2006, Nelson Russom, who just finished his sophomore year at Syracuse University where he plays club-team baseball, powered a walkoff, two-run double off the base of the rightfield fence at Widener University, lifting the Hawks over La Salle, 3-2.

"It's weird," Perry said. "I didn't see that game because I was playing in a tournament. And my brother didn't see this because he's up near Penn State on a camping trip with his buddies. I'm definitely going to call him, though.

Also part of the report: a fifth-inning single. Probably not: a looking strikeout in the second.

"He never goes easy on me," Perry said, smiling. "He likes to go hard. He pushes me to do well."

The fifth run of the inning scored on Dan Turner's infield single. Through five on a day with crazy weather (brilliant sunshine kept switching places with very dark clouds, mixed in with sporadic rain), N-G catcher Joey Armata had caused the Prep major frustration by picking runners off first and second and notching a caught-stealing, also at second.

Mark Donato, the first sophomore coaches' MVP (Blue Division) in CL history, provided N-G's highlight in the fourth by crushing an outta-here-in-a-hurry solo homer to dead rightfield. The distance is 346 to the corner. The ball was about 20 feet high, maybe more like 25, as it entered the trees. Donato also pounded a double.

The Hawks' pitching was handled by two righthanders, senior Aaron Haas (five innings) and junior Kyle Mullen (three whiffs; only Donato's double left the infield).

The Prep now owns a spot in Tuesday's 4 o'clock final at Widener against the winner of today's Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Ryan semi, also scheduled for Widener (at 3:45).

"This game was very unusual for us," Russom said, mindful that the Hawks have often cruised this season. "But it showed how hard we work, and how we stick together as a family." *