WASHINGTON, Pa. – Montour got “Berned” Wednesday night.
New Castle’s Rocco Bernadina pitched a one-hit gem to lead New Castle to the program’s first-ever WPIAL Class 4A championship with a 5-0 win over the Spartans at Wild Things Park.
The Red Hurricane senior, a Kent State recruit, dominated Montour’s batters. He struck out 14 and allowed just two baserunners on the night.
“It’s absolutely incredible. I couldn’t ask for much more,” he said. “I was able to have all my friends here and everybody that I care about — they all showed up because that’s what New Castle does. Everybody sticks with each other.”
New Castle (14-9), which lost twice to top-seeded Montour (15-6) during Section 2 action, got to work quickly against the Spartans with a pair of runs in the first inning. Dante Micaletti, Dom Fornataro and Anthony Miller all singled. Bernadina drove in a run with a fielder’s choice and Donny Cade followed with a run-scoring single for a 2-0 lead.
“We had a really strong first inning and just rolled from there,” New Castle coach Bill Cook said. “To start early and get on top sets the tone. It gets the crowd into it. To have a first inning where you put runs on the board, our mentality becomes to win the inning. If you win each inning, then you win the ballgame.”
The run support was all Bernadina needed. He retired the first 13 batters he faced before Mason Sike collected the team’s only hit — a single — in the bottom of the fifth.
“I told my guys that they had to get me one run and we’re winning this game,” Bernadina said. “It happened and we are where we are.”
The ’Canes added an insurance run in the top of the third. Fornataro hit a one-out double. He went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Miller’s groundout for a 3-0 lead.
New Castle added a run in the fifth when Fornataro walked and advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt. He came home on a wild pitch. The ’Canes produced their fifth run in the sixth. Cade led off with a walk and eventually scored on George Joseph’s squeeze bunt.
Bernadina slammed the door as he struck out seven of the final nine batters he faced, despite a constant drizzle that affected his grip of the baseball.
“Rocco is a man among kids, so to speak. He is a big man, he really is,” Cook said. “To come out in the championship game and throw a one-hitter against a tremendous team is great. We played them twice before this year and we know what they are all about. So, for him to come out here and give a performance like that just speaks volumes.”
Bernadina, whose fastball can reach the mid-90s, relied more on his changeup against Montour.
“I felt like I had command of every pitch. My fastball was really complemented by my changeup,” he said. “I threw my changeup a lot today. It was nice to have something that would slow their bats down because I knew that they were probably sitting on the machine hitting 95 all week. You have to switch it up. They were prepared for something I didn’t bring to the table.”
New Castle begins its quest for state championship Monday when it opens PIAA tournament play.
“This is great,” Cook said. “Our school and our community has been behind us the whole way. It’s just an amazing feeling.”