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Fast start to season for Franklin Regional baseball

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional senior Danny McGrath turns on a pitch for an RBI single in the fourth inning of the Panthers' 3-2 nonsection win at home over Knoch on Thursday, April 4, 2013.

A year after breaking a playoff drought, Franklin Regional's baseball team is coming out of the gates quickly this season.

The Panthers are off to a 5-1 start this year, which includes a 3-2 nonsection win over Knoch on Thursday and a dramatic 6-5 win over McKeesport on Monday to open Section 3-AAAA play.

The win over McKeesport (1-3, 0-1) was a particularly important one for Franklin Regional (5-1, 1-0), which only has a 10-game section schedule this season. After trailing, 5-2, in the sixth inning, the bats came alive for the Panthers.

FR scored twice and loaded the bases to chase Tigers starter Eddie Stockett from the game, and Nick Munson took one for the team by getting hit by a pitch to record the tying RBI. Danny McGrath then hit an RBI single to cap a 3 for 4 day and give FR a 6-5 lead going into the seventh inning.

“The kids came up in the sixth inning and just had quality at-bats,” Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler said to Keith Barnes of the McKeesport Daily News. “They just looked for their pitches to drive and they got them. (Stockett) pitched a heck of a game and kept our bats at bay and made us swing at pitches we didn't want to swing at.”

The game had a controversial finish when Nick DiDiano struck out McKeesport's Joe Driscoll on a ball in the dirt. FR catcher Brandon Nania's throw to first sailed into the outfield and play continued, but as Driscoll continued rounding the bases, play was halted and he was called out for running inside the baseline on his way to first.

Two batters later, DiDiano recorded the final out to pick up the save on Justin Johnson's win on the mound.

Though the Panthers suffered their first loss of the year on Friday in a 7-4 nonsection loss to South Park, they've shown their toughness in close games, including the home opener against Knoch.

The visiting Knights scored in the first inning on a fielder's choice by Taylor Sharer, but FR pulled ahead, 2-1, on RBI hits by Nania and Patrick Kukalis in the bottom of the first.

FR added another run in the fourth when McGrath hit an RBI single, but it was the pitching of Brett Myers that kept the Panthers firmly in control of the game.

After giving up two hits and a run in the first inning, Myers allowed only three hitters to reach base over the next five innings, and he retired the final eight batters he faced.

“We know every time Brett steps on the mound, he's going to give us a quality start,” Saddler said. “He always gives us 100 percent, and he's really stepped up for us in his two starts, down in Florida against North Hills and (Thursday) against Knoch.”

“I feel like as the game goes on, I get stronger, and I start to get to know the hitters more,” Myers said. “You learn where to pitch them and where they'll go chasing pitches.”

Myers also gave credit to Nania behind the plate, as the communication between the two seemed to be spot on throughout Myers' six-inning outing.

“He's really the captain of this team, as a catcher, and he calls everything behind the plate,” Myers said. “I can shake him off if I want, but he usually knows what pitch to throw more than me. He's always right there.”

Myers finished with five strikeouts, and he was relieved for the final inning by Johnson. After striking out the first batter he faced, Johnson gave up back-to-back hits, including an infield roller that stopped dead on the third-base line.

The sophomore pitcher allowed a run on an RBI fielder's choice to Hunter Balliet, but he struck out Knoch's Jordan Hickey to end the game and pick up the save.

The Panthers now move into the heart of their section schedule with two more league games scheduled for this week.

Franklin Regional was scheduled to face another of its new section opponents, Baldwin, on the road Wednesday, after this edition's deadline.

The Panthers return home to Haymaker Park on Friday at 4 p.m. to host Gateway. The Gators entered this week winless, and that streak continued Monday with a 5-1 loss to Central Catholic.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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