Monday was another ’Cats Clincher.
Shenango, which wrapped up its first WPIAL Class 2A title earlier this postseason, won the West with a 5-0 shutout of Serra Catholic in a PIAA Class 2A semifinal at Neshannock.
Now, the Wildcats (23-2), winners of their last 21 games, have one more to go — a state title. They meet Schuylkill Haven, an 8-7 winner over District 2’s Riverside, Friday at 10:30 a.m. for PIAA gold at Penn State’s Medlar Field.
“This is great,” Shenango’s Shane Cato said. “It’s the best feeling ever — going to Penn State with my boys.”
Cato played a big part in punching Shenango’s ticket. The senior righty struck out eight and scattered four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He was pulled in the bottom of the seventh after reaching the 105-pitch limit.
“Shane Cato is a special player. No moment is too big for him, not only on the mound, but at the plate,” Shenango coach Larry Kelly said. “He is our leading RBI guy and our leading hitter. He is 10-1 and the only game he’s lost this year was when he pitched one inning against Mars and we went behind, 2-0, and never caught up. He is a special young man.”
Cato and the ’Cats only allowed one Eagles runner past second base on the evening.
“I was feeling great,” he said. “I was locating outside very well today and I got a lot of early strikes.”
Shenango made things a little easier for Cato with a two-run outburst in the top of the first. Cre Calabria led off the game with a single and moved to second on Tyler Kamerer’s deep flyout. Ethan Bintrim’s sharp single up the middle plated Calabria. Bintrim swiped second and, after a strikeout, came around to score on Zach Herb’s single to left for a 2-0 lead.
“Pitching with the lead is always great,” Cato said. “You feel more confident out there and you can just throw strikes.”
In addition, the Wildcats' early advantage changed the way Serra Catholic (22-3), the 2019 PIAA runner-up, approached the contest.
“It takes them out of their game,” Kelly said. “They like to bunt; they like to hit and run. So, to come out early and jump on them for two runs, kind of takes them out of their game and makes them play a game that they’re good at, but they can’t do the things they’re really good at.”
The Wildcats doubled their lead in the fourth when Shane Cato swatted a two-run double. Calabria reached on an error and Bintrim drew a one-out walk. Both players scored when Cato scorched a double to deep left-center field.
“It was great,” Cato said. “I just barreled it up and sent it into the gap.”
“When Shane hit that ball and we scored those two runs, I knew it was over,” Herb added.
Herb reinforced his belief in the bottom half of the frame when the Eagles had a chance to erase the shutout. They had runners at second and third with two outs. Max Rocco hit a soft chopper to the left side of the infield. Herb, the third baseman, charged toward the mound, gloved the ball and fired a throw to first on the run to retire Rocco and end the inning.
“This is just amazing,” Herb said. “We’ve been working for this all year.”
Shenango pushed its lead to 5-0 in the top of the seventh. Cato was hit by a pitch with one out. Herb singled and Gabe Yanssens followed with a two-strike single to left that plated Cato. It was the 10th hit of the day for the Wildcats, who smacked the ball hard all evening throughout the lineup.
“We work every day at practice on hitting line drives. We just need base hits. We don’t need home runs,” Herb said. “We just want base hits and to get people in scoring position and hit them in.”
“We’re always putting pressure on the defense,” Cato said. “It’s hard; when there are runners on, you’re always thinking about what to do, especially when you’re pitching.”
Cato got the first two outs of the bottom of the seventh, but gave up a single. That put him at his pitch limit. Herb came in and got a flyout to end the game.
Bintrim and Herb both led the Shenango attack with two hits.