WHEN THE Roman Catholic High baseball team broke its huddle Saturday afternoon, Joe Mangano emerged, head down, tears streaming from his face as raindrops fell from the bruise-colored clouds overhead.
Teammates showered the 6-3, 200-pound first baseman with support, patting his head, arms and shoulder.
Ah, but these weren't tears of sadness; a hodgepodge of emotions were at play. The victorious hero, who knocked in the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning, was just a few minutes removed from believing he had cost his team the game.
"I'm a senior," said Mangano, as his eyes welled again, "you can see the emotions are getting to me."
The Cahillites (8-8) won the thrilling and sloppy Catholic League semifinal against host Archbishop Wood, 6-5, but Mangano's error in the seventh inning helped the Vikings (12-3) tie the game at 5.
An out away from glory, senior shortstop Joe Myers fielded a routine grounder and fired a strike to Mangano, maybe a tinge low and away, but all the first baseman had to do was squeeze it - a play he has made 1,000 times.
So when he closed his glove too quickly and the ball squirted free, leaving runners at the corners, Mangano was devastated.
"I'm not gonna lie, I was out of it," he said. "I was like, 'I can't believe that just happened.' I usually never, ever drop the ball when it's coming my way.
"Hit right off my glove," he added. "I kinda figured if I make the play, that's the last out and we win the game."
Salvation nearly came before the next pitch when starting pitcher Kyle Rogalski, a senior righty, faked to third and caught Wood's Tom Rosenbaum breaking toward second. However, after an infielder froze with the ball in his glove, the ensuing rundown didn't get Rosenbaum and also allowed the tying run to score.
It was a fitting sequence to an intense yet disjointed game that featured 10 errors (Roman 4; Wood 6) and an 8-minute rain delay with underdog Roman outhitting Wood, 11-3. The Cahillites will face the winner of La Salle and Conwell-Egan tomorrow.
Rogalski was stellar, allowing three hits and striking out three in seven innings (90 pitches). Junior righthander Connor McKenna pitched the final two and earned the win.
Dominick McFadden, a senior righty, started for the Vikings and allowed four earned runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Sophomore Joe Lancellotti gave quality relief with five strikeouts and one earned run in 4 1/3 innings.
Phil Isaac went 2-for-5 and drove in a run for Roman. Myers went 2-for-5 and plated two. He also made several nice fielding plays, including a diving stop up the middle and subsequent laser to first for out No. 2 in the ninth.
Mangano's ninth-inning heroics were preceded by senior Conor Smith's leadoff single, which left him at second because of a Wood throwing error. After a failed bunt attempt, senior John Crossfield (2-for-4) moved Smith (2-for-5) to third for Mangano, who put even more pressure on himself by fouling off a suicide-squeeze bunt.
"Coach [Anthony Valucci] gave me a suicide squeeze and I didn't get the bunt down, so I knew it was my job to either hit the ball the other way or get a fly ball, and that's exactly what I did," said Mangano, who who will play baseball at Philadelphia University next season.
Mangano (3-for-4, 2 RBI) flipped a ball deep enough to rightfield to score Smith.
"That [error] really got to me," he said. "That's a play I usually make, and I dropped it. I put my head down and I was like, 'You know what, the team needs me and I'll get another at-bat.' And I got my at-bat, drove the run in and we got the win."
The Roxborough resident said he had struggled at the plate much of the season and got a few tips from former Roxborough High standout Rob Patete (1984), a friend of Mangano's dad, Joe Sr.
Mangano, who wants to become a police officer, also had praise for his coaching staff and teammates.
"Thanks to my coaches for still believing that I could still play after my bad year at the plate," he said. "They still stuck me in the lineup.
"I'm happy my teammates picked me because honestly, if they didn't, I wouldn't be doing this interview right now."
And, of course, there was love for his mother, Patricia, a day before Mother's Day.
"Yeah, I got her flowers and a card," he said. "Typical Mother's Day gift. She says I really don't have to give her anything, but you always have to show your mom that you love her."
So, will he give mom the game ball, too?
"I might have to," Mangano texted later, "because she hasn't stopped talking about how awesome the game was."