Strange or not, no matter how crazy it seemed on the surface, even during a stretch when his head was buried in his hands, and when those hands could be spotted trembling ever so slightly, Dom Riverso had to keep reminding himself.

It's only a game.

Sure, that's a cliché. But phrases/statements achieve cliché status only when they're completely true and Riverso, a 6-1, 165-pound senior at Ss. Neumann-Goretti High, can relate.

"Live life to the fullest. You never know what's going to happen," Riverso said. "That's what I've learned through this."

This is the distressing situation being faced by his mother, Vickie.

Before mid-May, Vickie Riverso never missed a game involving Dom and/or Mike, who played at N-G and just completed his freshman season at Widener University. But during what was expected to be a routine medical procedure, something went horribly wrong. Among the consequences: A pulse could not be detected in either of her feet.

Vickie spent 2-plus weeks in intensive care and just recently was moved into a regular room at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Though she's improving daily, she could remain there through June.

"The first half-hour after it happened," Dom said, "they were working on her and working on her. It was touch and go. Then, for the first week, all she did, really, was sleep, because they had her sedated. I didn't like seeing her like that at all. Very scary.

"It's rough to see your mom go through that. Horrible. My family was devastated. Baseball, that was my time to let it go a little. To not think about it nonstop."

Pause. "Now that's gone . . . "

Though it entered a PIAA Class AAA first-round playoff, held yesterday at South Philly's Ashburn Field, with an overall record of 22-0, N-G went rather quietly, with some red-faced moments mixed in, while falling to Twin Valley, 3-1.

One huge error allowed TV - it's in Elverson, near the turnpike's Morgantown interchange - to score two unearneds in a three-run second. To boot, one, two, three Saints were picked off first base by Jared Price, an impressive junior righthander and, incredibly, two of those victims were sent back to the dugout in the same inning (second).

With one away in the seventh, a walk to Mike "Zoom" Zolk and a single to left by losing pitcher Joey Gorman provided hope. A Saints' fan even bellowed, "It ain't over till we say it's over!" Though Marty Venafro grounded out, he did send the ball to the right side, moving the tying run to second.

As Jimmy Kerrigan strolled to the plate, someone hollered, "This is what you live for, Jimmy! C'mon, kid!" Kerrigan fanned on a curve. Season over. Just like that.

Some Saints plopped onto the dugout bench. Others knelt. Some walked around in circles. All had vacant looks in their eyes. With hints of moisture mixed in.

As his voice cracked, Riverso said, "I wish I could give my mom one more ball."

That had become a tradition. After clinching an unbeaten regular season, then winning the CL and City Titles, the Saints autographed game balls for Vickie Riverso. En masse, they made multiple visits to Jefferson.

"The hospital people weren't too happy with that," Dom said, smiling, "with the way we packed her room."

After claiming the CL crown, right on the field, the Saints did a video tribute for Mrs. Riverso.

"We couldn't have done this without you, Vickie!" one of them bubbled.

Said coach Lou Spadaccini, who got his start in youth ball: "I've been coaching Dom for 10 years. Had Mike for 9. Their parents have been so great to these kids. They opened up their house. Let kids stay over. It's like Vickie's the team mom."

Because of a hip injury, Dom Riverso spent his senior season as N-G's designated hitter. He'd been a starter since midway through his freshman year and his final outing produced, in order, a strikeout, single to center and walk.

He could be spotted crouching in front of the dugout as the Saints mounted their seventh-inning rally, hoping that something, anything, could keep his career alive.

"This is one of the most special groups I've been around in my life," Dom said. "And I've had the most fun with these guys. We're like brothers. I have no words right now for how I feel. Hard to describe things. We're not used to losing. Didn't happen to us all year."

Riverso, who lives near 13th and Jackson, will play college ball at Neumann University, and that means he'll be playing some games against Mike. The family also includes dad Mike and sister Nicole, the oldest at 23.

N-G scored its run in the third and that, too, was unearned because of an errant throw on a try for a doubleplay. John Snyder (2-for-3) was the guy who dashed home.

Gorman allowed seven hits (all singles) and three walks while striking out nine.

Ultimately, Spadaccini gathered the Saints in the dugout and joined with his assistants to talk for maybe 10 minutes. When the session was finished, the coach walked out slowly and tried to provide perspective.

"We gave them too many things - just gave away that one inning with the pickoffs - and our offense went silent at the wrong time," he said. "That pitcher was good, so you have to give credit . . . As time goes on, I'll just remember how phenomenal this group was. This is my hardest last game, by far. These kids are so close, so special."

And so appreciative of Vickie Riverso's role in their lives.

"The support she's gotten, it means the world to her," Dom said.