FOR HIGH SCHOOL seniors who happen to be athletes, the late May/early June time frame is juggling season.

Which balls are in the air right now? Who knows? Just rest assured that everyone's head is spinning.

Jeff Lynch can tell us about it. In fact, he also can relate how the mothers of St. Joseph's Prep's baseball players almost became, well, a Lynch mob.

Graduation was Sunday at Temple's Liacouras Center. Originally, coach Chris Rupertus intended to hold a practice shortly thereafter, so his squad could prepare for yesterday's PIAA Class AAAA first-round playoff vs. Garnet Valley.

It would have been easier to tell the players they had to wear dresses.

"My mom was pretty mad," he said, laughing. "All the moms were up in arms."

Screech. Brakes applied. Plans changed.

"Coach still had a practice after graduation," Lynch said, "but only for the underclassmen. The seniors woke up early today and came in to hit [at the 21st Ward field in Andorra] at 9 a.m. Then we came over here."

Here was La Salle University, the site of the Catholic League's first state baseball triumph. The Prep triumphed, 4-3, as Lynch, a 6-4, 230-pound first baseman, played a prominent role. (Ss. Neumann-Goretti also won, in Class AAA, but that game started an hour later, at 2.)

Lynch, the cleanup hitter, went 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBI. The ribbies came courtesy of a single in a three-run fifth that provided a 4-0 lead and wound up making the difference.

Lynch said yesterday was his mother's birthday. (He did not provide an age for Karen and we were smart enough not to ask.)

Eliciting comments about his big base-knock was a simple task.

First the setup: Dan Turner led off with a single. Gio Morales bunted him over. Greg "Buddy" Brooks drew a walk. Ray Toto slammed an RBI double down the leftfield line. Lynch then came through.

"You feel happy when you see the infield in," he said. "Their pitcher [Joe Barnholt] was good, and all his pitches had movement, but I wasn't fooled by any of them. He threw me a fastball on the outside corner, and it had a little tail on it. All day, I worked on taking pitches back up the middle.

"When the infield's up, you know there are going to be holes. I hit it as hard as I could."

Lynch also had a role in producing the Hawks' fourth-inning run. After drawing a walk, he yielded to pinch-runner James Stewart. Perry Russom executed a sac, and Kevin Gillen sent a groundball single to center.

Senior righthander Kyle Mullen, a Saint Joseph's signee, mostly breezed through five. However, GV touched him for two in the sixth (RBI by Matt Hendrixson on a double and Dave Hagarty on a single) and another in the seventh (RBI single by Joe DeCarlo).

With two away, DeCarlo made a belated break for second. Toto, the sophomore catcher, easily gunned him down.

Mullen finished with nine strikeouts, while permitting the same number of hits.

"I don't know what happened on that last play," Lynch said. "He didn't take off right away. I didn't even yell that he was stealing. Ray was on it. Came up firing. Made a great play. Exciting way to end it, right?

"With his hitting and defense, he's had a terrific year. He wasn't even our catcher starting off. He played third base. Once he got the catcher's job . . . The kid's a ballplayer. I don't know how he didn't make All-Catholic."

Lynch, a star student and resident of Washington Township, N.J., is bound for Johns Hopkins (as is Gillen). He plans to become a doctor and ease his way, at some point, into sports medicine.

As for Sunday night . . . Yes, he did ease into bed. Eventually.

"We had about 70 people at my house for a graduation party," he said. "Some of my family members even stayed over.

"It wasn't easy, but I did my best to get some sleep. I knew how important this was for our team and our school."

And he wound up being a Lynchpin. *