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Superman in spikes

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By DAVID PEVEAR Sun Staff

LOWELL -- What does this UMass Lowell baseball team have that 11 previous Regional qualifiers lacked?

Why is this team going to the Div. 2 World Series, where no UMass Lowell team has gone before?

Has this team simply been blessed with a kinder fate, a few lucky breaks, a deeper pitching staff, a roast beef sandwich delivered in the nick of time?

What exactly is it that prevented yet another Regional heartache?

"Jon Cahill," answered longtime UMass Lowell assistant coach Ken Connerty, a gleam in his eye as this former River Hawk great left LeLacheur Park finally satisfied Saturday evening.

Connerty was only half-joking. Cahill was on UMass Lowell teams that fell short the previous three years as the top seed in the Northeast Regional. But this year the senior shortstop from Peabody has played like no River Hawk before him. His performance has transcended his team-leading .421 batting average, to go with his eight homers and 50 RBIs.

Last week Cahill was named the Div. 2 Northeast Region's Player of the Year, which will assure Cahill a well-deserved spot on at the least the Div. 2 All-America third team. (Senior right-hander Nate Linstad of Chelmsford was the Northeast Region's Pitcher of the Year.)

From a fantasy-baseball perspective, the numbers of Lenny Carter (.403-12-65) and Allen Mottram (.379-10-68) are comparable to Cahill's. Mottram might even be the Manny of UMass Lowell's lineup. As the sophomore from Lawrence goes, so often goes UMass Lowell's attack.

And everyone, particularly the nine seniors, has done his part in this unfinished story. But it's Cahill who has become the Leo Parent of UMass Lowell baseball, a leader who along University Avenue will be remembered more for the legend than the exceptional numbers.

From the day in March when he homered in his first at-bat after an emergency-room visit because of a beaning in Florida, Cahill has shown the way.

He gets big hits, makes beautiful plays and then grabs the ball to pitch the games that must be won.

"I always want to be in the middle of it," Cahill said Saturday after being named MVP of the Northeast Regional.

"The was his fourth year in the Regional," said UMass Lowell coach Jim Stone, "and I just think he was sick and tired of not winning it."

Cahill also came up a victory short of a state title his senior year at Peabody High.

After Cahill threw 49 pitches while working the first four innings of an 18-3 rout of New Haven last Friday night, Stone was asked if Cahill would also be his starting pitcher the following morning.

"He wants the ball," answered Stone, in a tone that suggested it wasn't within Stone's powers to pry the ball away from Cahill.

After a sore right elbow limited Cahill to 16 1/3 innings of pitching during the regular season, he pitched 22 innings the past two weekends, including complete-game victories that extended the Northeast-10 and Northeast Regional Tournaments to winner-take-all games, won by UMass Lowell.

Early in Cahill's 112-pitch, 6-2 victory over Concordia (N.Y.) College on Saturday, after throwing 49 pitches Friday night, "the coaches wanted to take him out," said Carter. "But he wouldn't let them."

"Every inning they would come up to ask me how I was," said Cahill, whose right arm was dead tired but still highly effective because of the competitor to which it was barely attached. "But before they could say a word, I gave them the thumbs-up sign, and they walked away."

With the bat, Cahill went 5-for-10 Saturday, forcefully punching UMass Lowell's ticket to Alabama with a three-run homer in the sixth inning of the second game.

"There's not enough you can say about him," said Carter. "He's been a leader all year. We feed off of him."

When Stone presented Cahill with a Superman T-shirt before practice last Tuesday, it was meant as a joke. Stone said Cahill has worn the T-shirt ever since. Now, following Cahill's heroics of last Friday and Saturday, his clubhouse stall may be converted into a phone booth.

"I think the difference this year is that we have nine seniors who were determined to finish the job they started four years ago," said Connerty. "And they didn't let us down.

"And we have Cahill," added Connerty.

"Even in your dreams, you don't come up with a season like he's having," said Stone. "He's absolutely amazing. He's Superman."

Even Superman needs nourishment. Cahill had only a bagel for breakfast Saturday morning. Early in the first game against Concordia, he began feeling faint, as if he had a pocket full of kryptonite. Stone signaled to UMass Lowell director of facilities John DeFreitas in the stands to raid the NCAA hospitality suite to find replenishment for Cahill. That's how a roast beef sandwich in the nick of time helped UMass Lowell to the Promised Land.