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Raia's no-hitter leads GAMP to Public League Class A championship

There's something incongruous about the fact that Dom Raia professes a love for metal. Because every time he gets on the mound, he tries to render aluminum useless.

There's something incongruous about the fact that Dom Raia professes a love for metal. Because every time he gets on the mound, he tries to render aluminum useless.

Shortly after Girard Academic Music Program bested visiting Julia Masterman, 3-2, yesterday to win a sixth consecutive Public League and District 12 baseball championship, the players and coaches gathered in shallow rightfield.

Head man Art Kratchman talked about this and that, and then, after receiving the word from assistant Anthony "Meat" Benedetto, announced that Raia had pitched a no-hitter.

What?! Coulda fooled him!

"I didn't even know. Not at all," Raia said, a few minutes later, after being knocked out of a kneeling position by giddy tacklers. "I wasn't even paying attention to how many hits they had. Wasn't even wondering about it. I was just pitching."

And doing it mostly well. Raia, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior righthander, did issue five walks and plunk two guys.

"I didn't realize that, either," he said, laughing. "I guess because they were spread out."

There were only two almost hits. In the first inning, right after Masterman plated its runs on Billy Powers' bobbled grounder, which probably should have resulted in a doubleplay, Tyler Criniti caught a sinking liner in right. In the fourth, Harry Taggart ripped a grounder that ate up third baseman Joe Garafalo. The ball glanced off him to shortstop Anthony DiVincenzo, who gunned for the out to first baseman Joe Coppola.

Raia struck out eight, and the Pioneers turned one doubleplay. He also helped himself by starting a pickoff rundown that netted an out.

"My curve was pretty good all game," Raia said. "My fastball wasn't as strong as I thought it should have been, but later on, it got harder. I guess I was getting loose. Or maybe it was adrenaline.

"I don't really try for strikeouts. I let them put it in play and rely on my defense to make the plays. They did it, and we won. Strikeouts are a bonus."

The Class A playoffs involved only three teams - GAMP now moves on to the Pub's eight-team overall playoffs Tuesday - and the Pioneers, who compete in the highest division, A, were assured of hosting this final all along. Masterman advanced by topping Boys' Latin Charter.

Kratchman told Raia 2 weeks ago he'd be pitching, and, as the day approached, that meant two things - a phone call and metal on the iPod.

Raia placed a phone call Thursday night to pitching instructor Frank DiMichele, a Neumann product who pitched briefly in the bigs for the Angels.

"He told me to relax and go out and have fun," Raia said. "And remember my key points. Stay back on my back leg, and use my legs to drive through. And make sure my forearm's going toward home, so I can release it straight down the middle and hit my spots."

As for the music . . .

"I listen to metal ordinarily," Raia said. "And when I'm getting ready to pitch, I listen to it all the time. It relaxes me. I play it real loud, so I can't hear anyone trying to talk to me. I don't want my concentration interrupted."

Yesterday, both teams were thrown a bit of a curveball.

Prep Charter, formerly based closer to its school, now also uses 7th and Packer as its home field, and the Huskies' Class AA noon semifinal, won by Alvin Swenson, 16-10, took about a week.

"I was anxious," Raia said. "I wanted to get out there. This is our place. The title had to come through here."

Nick Coppola, Joe's cousin, opened GAMP's first with a single, advanced on a wild pitch and came around on Raia's two-out single to right. (The next two Pioneers then batted out of order, and No. 6 Criniti, hitting in the No. 5 hole, even singled. Joe Coppola ended the inning by striking out. Masterman didn't notice the mixup. Neither did the umps.)

In the third, back in his correct spot, Joe Coppola looped a two-run single to right, scoring Nick and DiVincenzo (fielder's choice).

Masterman's David Ashbridge, a junior, allowed six hits and whiffed the same amount.

As Raia was preparing to bat in the first, a female friend hollered into him from right near the cage, "C'mon, Dom, put that bat to good use! It's a $400 bat."

"Nah, it's not $400," he said. "More like $300. My dad [Dom, first-team infielder for Southern in 1987] bought it."

Of his hit, he said: "I actually thought I was going to miss that pitch. It was an inside curve, and I swung at the last second. Hit it the other way."

Gotta love aluminum. In your hands, anyway. *