Sports 06-24-2015

Baseball is the main course in the Costanza household

Matt Costanza sat in traffic Saturday morning trying to make the way from his Point of Pines home to the baseball batting cages on Route 1 in Saugus.  Sunday morning, he was on a bus headed to New Jersey to join up with his AAU baseball team in a regional tournament.

In between?

Oh yea.

The St. Mary’s of Lynn High School junior spent Saturday afternoon at Fitton Field at Holy Cross College (Worcester), playing third base, and becoming part of Spartan baseball lore as he and his teammates rolled to a 3-0 victory over Mt. Greylock to deliver St. Mary’s to the Massachusetts Division III State Baseball Championship, the school’s first since 1988.

For Costanza, it was “pure excitement” as pitcher Brendan O’Neil nailed his ninth strikeout of the game to seal the shutout win and the title.  “Just an overall feeling I had never felt before,” he said in an email from New Jersey Sunday night.  The 5’10, 155-pound infielder/pitcher conceded that he had tried to imagine what it would be like to win.

“I had thought about what it would feel like before the game, but it was completely different than what I expected,” he said.

Probably a lot of folks didn’t expect the St. Mary’s team to end up in the victorious pig-pile at the end of a State Championship game.  Especially the way the season began.  The Spartans stumbled to a 5-4 start in April and didn’t seem destined for any type of championship.

“Our coach (Derek Dana)  kept stressing that we needed to play together and not for ourselves,” Costanza noted, thinking back to the season’s slow start.  “We weren’t playing bad, just mental mistakes and not battling at the plate like we knew we could.”

As the weather warmed and the local fields recovered from the winter’s snow, the little things that make baseball success started to fuse.

“We practiced every day with few days off and perfected our physical and mental skills of wanting each and every game as if it were the most important game of the season,” Costanza said.

It paid off.  The team gelled and finished the season 14-6, good enough for a sixth seed in the 21-team Division III North sectional.  But a tough road lay ahead.  After an opening round win over Newburyport, the Spartans had to square off against a third-seeded Arlington Catholic team that beat St. Mary’s twice during the regular season.

“They beat us twice before against our two best pitchers, once at our field and once at theirs,” Costanza commented. “Playing a team that good at their home field in the playoffs we all knew would be a challenge.”

When St. Mary’s took a 5-2 decision, the tumblers started to hint at success.

“I think that bus ride home from that game was when it clicked that we can beat any team we face,” he said.

Those feelings were right on.  St. Mary’s upset No. 1 seed Austin Prep in the North Regional finals, and that game produced Costanza’s personal highlight of the post-season.  Costanza’s heroics were grounded in his versatility, as he rose to the occasion both on the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box.

 “We were tied 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, and I had to come in to pitch with runners in scoring position and two outs. I managed to get the out, and allow no further runs as we went 3 more innings with them into the 10th.”

The competitive junior took offense into his own hands in the 10th inning, when he knocked in the go-ahead run on the way to a 7-4 win.

As a matter of fact, game-winning hits were the norm in the Costanza household this spring.

Matt’s older brother Alec, a freshman at Suffolk University, had the game winning hit when the Rams beat Johnson and Wales University to capture the 2015 Great Northeast Atlantic Conference championship in April.  For Matthew, his brother’s success is as much a joy as his own—and vice versa.

“My brother is always there for me, helping me get better and moving me forward in my baseball career,” Matthew said. “He was at almost every big playoff game this year to root me and my team on, and was probably happier than I was when we won.”

The brothers’ baseball success has been a joy and a chore for their parents, Libby and Revere dentist Dr. Craig Costanza.  The life of Baseball Parents means travel, frigid games in early April, long rides through the summer for AAU baseball, and a lot of nail biting like in the Massachusetts State baseball tourney.

“This kind of excitement is exhausting,” joked Dr. Costanza after he saw his last patient of the day Monday. “The games were so close, and to win it all was just such an amazing thrill.”

Saturday’s title game was just the latest in a long history of baseball pleasures for the Costanza family.  There were early signs it might be like this:  “When Alec was just an infant,” Craig recalled,  ”I used to toss a ball off a wall and it would come back to us.  One time, the ball didn’t come all the way back and Alec took his first steps to get the ball.”

And it’s been baseball and more baseball ever since.  “Alec is 19, Matt 17, and they’ve always been super-close. There was never a rivalry between them, they were completely supportive of each other,” said Craig.  “If one had a big game coming up, the other would pitch batting practice to him. When they weren’t on the same team, they’d always go to each other’s games when they could.”

And when either boy’s games were, well…anywhere…Craig and Libby would pack the gear and be on the road in the wee hours of the morning, touring New England and the Northeast in pursuit of baseball joy.  Naturally, the family was on hand for Matthew’s success in this year’s State championships.

First, the Spartans got by East Bridgewater, 3-2, last Wednesday to set up Saturday’s showdown against a dominant Mt. Greylock team, whose 17-3 record made them the No. 1 seed in the West Sectionals.  Not knowing much about their opponent heightened the challenge.

“We knew nothing about the teams that we were facing,” Matthew commented. “We went in with vague details about the players. With the other teams we faced, we practically knew what the players ate for dinner the night before, but these two teams we didn’t know much about at all.”

But it didn’t matter. Matthew adhered to his game-time concoction of Gatorade and Red Bull, and abided his habit not to step on the foul lines whenever he walked onto the field, and the Spartans stuck to their “one day at a time” script.  With some timely hitting and O’Neil’s sterling pitching, they raised the coveted State Championship plaque when it was all over.

Yes, quite an accomplishment.

“Our team could really be described the underdogs of the tournament,” said Matthew.  “We battled in every game, and kept rolling. We didn’t stop, and with great coaching and great playing, we took it all.”

Of course, the State Championship is already in the rear-view mirror.  For the Costanzas, it will be another Baseball summer, with Alec playing shortstop for the ADSL club in the legendary Boston Park League, and Matthew travelling with the Show Baseball Club of the New England AAU league.

“It’s all one great ride,” said Craig.  “But a State championship, that’s something special, and that’s going to be a highlight for a long time to come.”

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