NEW CASTLE —
What a difference a year makes.
One year after missing the WPIAL playoffs, the Neshannock High baseball team not only qualified for the district playoffs, but won the Section 5-AA championship outright by holding off host Riverside, 9-8, in eight innings yesterday.
“We’ve talked a lot about finishing 14-6 last year and not making the playoffs,” Neshannock coach Mike Kirkwood said. “We beat Beaver twice last year. They won the WPIAL championship and were the state runners-up. We were at home twiddling our thumbs, because we didn’t make the playoffs.
“This is pretty big for us. Like every team, the first goal was to make the playoffs, but we wanted to go in on a positive note. We didn’t want to go in as the second- or third-place team. We wanted to win the section, so this was important for us.”
Neshannock (12-0 section, 16-0 overall) is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“We have a young team this year, so to get to this point and be undefeated is great,” Kirkwood said.
With one away in the top of the eighth, Robert Lindsey got the Lancers offense going with a walk and advanced to second on Mark Clause’s single. Frank Fraschetti loaded the bases with another walk before Jeff Sanfilippo plated Lindsey for the game-winning run with the third free pass of the inning.
Rich Serignese, who entered in relief of Fraschetti in the bottom of the seventh, got in a bit of trouble in the bottom of the eighth with a Panthers runner on base, but Clause made a diving catch at the base of the outfield wall for the final out.
“If that ball falls, it’s tied 9-9 with a runner in scoring position,” Kirkwood said. “Give the kids credit. They didn’t give up. It was great to pull out the win.
“As the kids were coming off the field after the third out in the seventh, I told them that I love these kinds of games and that this is why I coach — for these types of moments — so let’s go push a run across the plate.”
After the Lancers plated a solo run in the top of the seventh for an 8-2 lead, Riverside (8-3, 9-4) scored six runs off Fraschetti with two away to force extra innings.
The Panthers ripped five singles and a double before Serignese was able to escape further damage.
“I wasn’t going to leave him in for the seventh, but Frankie had went 1-2-3 in the sixth and that was the only time he did the entire game, so I had to let him go out,” Kirkwood said. “I was hoping to get five innings out of him and in hindsight, that would’ve probably been the right thing to do. I thought maybe he was getting stronger and he got two outs right away, but then they had a couple bloop hits.
“He went 13-straight innings against Riverside and had only given up two runs. That’s pretty incredible. Frankie is only a 10th-grader and he’s been doing a real nice job for us.”
Neshannock grabbed an early 3-0 lead with three runs in the first and answered a Riverside run with four more in the fifth for a 7-1 lead. The Panthers made it 7-2 with a solo tally in the fifth.
The Lancers had opportunities to put the game away, but stranded 14 runners. They finished the game with 10 hits, while Riverside had 15.
“They used four pitchers,” Kirkwood said. “We had to earn what we got. Ten hits is a really nice game, but then you turn around and they had 15 hits.”
Clause led the Neshannock offense with four hits and two RBIs, while Ernie Burkes had two hits and drove in a pair of runs. Sanfilippo ripped a double.
“The strike zone was real tight,” Kirkwood said. “Some good pitches were called balls. You really had to groove the ball. With pitches down the middle, you had a lot of balls being put in play.”
Serignese improved to 6-0 by working the final 1 1/3 innings and allowing one hit and a walk, while striking out two.
NEW CASTLE —
What a difference a year makes.
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