When Father Judge's junior-laden baseball team dropped three games out of the gate, Mike Taffe couldn't help but fear the worst.
"We don't have a lot of varsity experience, and that was pretty obvious early on," the senior rightfielder said. "You worry about it being a real down year."
On a gloomy and drizzly Friday afternoon, Taffe and the Crusaders finally saw a ray of light. Totaling 10 hits, the hosts downed Cardinal O'Hara, 11-5, in a Catholic League Red Division matchup at Krajewski Family Field.
"After those three losses, we had our heads down," Taffe said. "I said to my teammates, 'We need to turn things around.' I don't want my senior season to go down like that."
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Taffe, hitting from the No. 8 spot, helped Judge, which last season placed fifth in the Red Division, build an 8-0 advantage on the previously undefeated Lions in the first three innings.
Taffe drove home Bill Romano (walk) with a triple to left-center field in a three-run second. In the third, when the Crusaders tacked on three more runs, he plated Romano (another walk) with a double in the same direction.
"I guess it was a breakthrough game of sorts for me," said Taffe, a wide receiver in football. "When I'm at the plate, I'm not trying to do anything fancy. I just want to put the ball in play."
Early this season, Taffe, a cocaptain and third-year varsity member, began wearing a No. 6 jersey (he switched from No. 20) to honor his grandfather William, who wore the same as an outfielder at nearby Abraham Lincoln.
"Mike is a leader and a great ambassador for the school," Judge coach Tim Ginter said. "A team needs somebody like him, someone to serve as a calming presence when things get rough."
Crusaders junior righthander Sam Natfulin allowed five runs (three earned) and six hits in 61/3 innings. Sophomore Dan Hammer, coming over from shortstop, induced a double-play grounder to second base to clinch the victory.
Of Natfulin almost posting a complete-game win, Ginter said, "That was an exception to the rule. Most games this year, we're going to use two or three pitchers."
Also chipping in on offense for Judge (1-3 overall, 1-3 division) were Hammer (triple, two runs), Austin Mikula (2 for 4, RBI), and Eric Petroski (three runs). O'Hara (5-1, 4-1) used four hurlers.
Cardinal O'Hara 000 210 2 - 5 6 4
Father Judge 233 120 x - 11 10 4
WP: Sam Natfulin. LP: Frank Newman. 2B: FJ-Mike Taffe. 3B: FJ-Taffe, Dan Hammer.