Franklin Regional baseball finishes second in section
The Franklin Regional baseball team can still win slugfests, as evidenced by a 17-16 victory last week over Central Catholic.
But the Panthers are proving they can win pitchers' duels, too.
Franklin Regional (14-3, 8-2) closed out the section portion of its regular-season schedule with a 2-0 victory Friday at Plum. With the win, the Panthers clinched a second-place finish in Section 3-AAAA in advance in the WPIAL playoffs, which begin next week.
“The kids did a phenomenal job (in) key situations (and) pressure situations,” Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler said. “We were focusing on those sorts of things in practice. We know what Plum brings to the table — they like to play small ball. We went over that, and the kids made plays.”
After struggling in bunt coverages in a 9-1 loss to Plum on April 18, the Panthers' defense frustrated the Mustangs on Friday. Franklin Regional threw out five Plum runners on the basepaths, including three in scoring position.
It began from the first inning, when catcher Brandon Nania threw out would-be basestealer Austin O'Block at second base, and continued throughout. Pitcher Nick DiDiano twice threw runners out at third base on bunt attempts, and Danny McGrath converted a double play at second base after catching a line drive in the third inning.
“It just comes down to execution,” Saddler said. “(The first game), we didn't execute. This game, we showed Plum and we showed everybody else what we're capable of, what we do on a regular basis. In my opinion, that (first) Plum game didn't represent what we do.”
DiDiano scattered six hits and struck out three batters in pitching the complete-game shutout.
The game turned into a pitchers' duel, as Plum freshman Alex Kiriloff held Franklin Regional without a hit through five innings. After Franklin Regional loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the first inning, Kiriloff recorded two strikeouts and a popup to keep the Panthers off the board.
Franklin Regional finally broke the scoreless tie in the sixth inning. Junior Patrick Kukalis led off with a single, moved to third on Nick Vento's base hit and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brandon Nania.
The Panthers added another run in the seventh when Kukalis drew a bases-loaded walk. Franklin Regional completed the shutout after catching O'Block in a rundown between first and second base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“I'll take as little offense as needed to get the win, as long as we get the W,” Saddler said.
The team put up significantly more offense in last Wednesday's 17-16 victory over Central Catholic, as the Panthers and Vikings combined for 46 hits in nine innings of baseball. Franklin Regional held leads of 10-1 and 15-11 but needed extra innings to put away the section champion Vikings.
The Panthers were scheduled to play nonsection games this week against Penn Hills (Tuesday), Latrobe (Wednesday) and Connellsville (Friday). The playoffs will begin next week, and the team is awaiting the news of its first-round opponent.
“You're going to play a great team in the playoffs regardless,” Saddler said. “That's one thing I learned last year and in my three years here. Every team in the WPIAL, even if they're not a playoff team, comes to the table ready to play.
“As far as us going into the playoffs, I like what we've been doing. I know our kids are going to work hard, (and we'll let) the chips fall where they may.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.