IN HIS SPORT of preference, basketball, Matt Simon is finding it's not that simple to earn the acclaim he so much desires.
In the meantime, baseball is filling the emotional gaps.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Simon, a junior, plays first base and bats cleanup for Roman Catholic High. He took the second part of that job description as literally as possible, right when it mattered the most Wednesday, in the home seventh of a Catholic Red classic at Boyce Field that churned on and on for 2 hours, 43 minutes, and included 27 hits (11 for extra bases).
Did someone say cleanup? With one away, as the ninth batter in a vintage rally that had mostly featured pecking away, Simon powered a fastball down the short leftfield line and out onto Henry Avenue, and that walkoff grand slam vaulted the Cahillites over Archbishop Ryan, 18-15.
The runs were Nos. 5 through 8 in that half-inning and what a wild game they capped. Roman led, 7-2, after two innings. Ryan led, 12-7, after 3 1/2. And - time to do some arithmetic - the Raiders' lead was 15-10 as Roman came to bat for the final time.
As Colin Cooke strode to the plate, silence dominated Roman's bench area.
"C'mon, guys. Let's keep the noise up," said coach Anthony Valucci, standing at the side of the backstop. "We're still in this."
Said Simon: "I thought we'd have a chance. But I never expected to be the one to get the game-winning hit. Especially on a home run."
Against sophomore righty Nick Centeno, who began the game at third base and then sat briefly before re-entering to pitch, Cooke tripled to right. Dan Sowisdral delivered an RBI single in the same direction. Nick Stoffere singled to right-center. An infield bobble let in a run. Phil Isaac flied out. William Dougherty ripped an RBI single to center. Paolo Gambaro milked a walk. Tom Carroll bagged an RBI single on a semi-liner to center that barely cleared the glove of the leaping second baseman, Bobby Romano.
"I thought Tom Carroll was going to win it for us," Simon said. "But the fact that he only got a single, that set me up for the winning hit."
Ryan catcher Matt Graber, who turned in an incredible performance (4-for-4, double, two homers to dead center, eight RBI), said the pitch was on the outside part of the plate.
"I was sitting fastball," Simon said. "To me it looked like it was right down the middle. My eyes lit up."
And then his legs began churning.
"I only looked at it once, real quick," he said. "I thought it might hook foul. I was running hard. When I got near first, coach [Ryan] Morris yelled, 'You can slow up!' That's when I knew . . . Home run! Grand slam!' "
Simon, of course, was mobbed the moment his foot touched the plate. Respecting their opponent, the Cahillites didn't rejoice for too long before making their way through the handshake line.
As the Raiders prepared to head to rightfield to meet with coach Ron Gerhart, a sub could be heard muttering, "That's embarrassing. The fact that we could put 15 runs on the board and lose . . . "
Close to 10 minutes later, Graber's eyes were still moist.
"The hitting part, it made me feel great," the junior catcher said. "But to lose like that . . . We fought hard all game. Can't put our heads down.
"I kept thinking, 'We'll get out of this.' Then it was, 'Maybe they'll just tie us so we can get another at-bat.' I thought that ball was gonna go foul. To see it turn into a homer . . . Rough."
Simon finished 2-for-5 with a walk, run-scoring single and five RBI. Cooke, who got the "W" with 2 1/3 innings of shutout relief, went 4-for-5 with a triple, three-run homer and four RBI. Carroll went 3-for-4 with a double, sac fly and three RBI. Dougherty singled twice and walked twice en route to two RBI.
For Ryan, Gage Galeone complemented Graber's performance with a three-run homer. Also, Dan Stahl doubled twice for one RBI and Justin Price managed two singles along with a sac fly.
Simon, who lives on Magdalena Street, footsteps around the corner from rightfield at Boyce, this past winter was mostly a deep sub for the hoop Cahillites.
"It's rough not playing much, but I'm sticking with it," he said. "I've had some good moments these past couple weeks with my AAU team, Competitive Edge, and I'm getting looks from colleges. I'm hoping to play as a combo guard."
Meanwhile, would he like to take another ride on Wednesday's baseball roller coaster?
"It was awesome!" he said. "I could do that again. That was a great experience for us to go through as a team."