ShareThis Page

Solid hitting, pitching leads Franklin Regional into postseason

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Franklin Regional's Patrick Kukalis is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run against Plum on Friday, May 3, 2013, at Plum High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Franklin Regional's Nick DiDiano delivers the pitch against Plum during a Friday, May 3, 2013, baseball game at Plum High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Franklin Regional's Danny McGrath readies for a tag against Plum during a Friday, May 3, 2013, baseball game at Plum High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Franklin Regional's John Bondi celebrates an out against Plum's Mike Maleski at second base during a Friday, May 3, 2013, baseball game at Plum High School.

Updated 35996 hours ago

Eleven times during its 18 regular-season games this season, the Franklin Regional baseball team scored in double digits. Not surprisingly, the Panthers won all of those games.

Perhaps more impressively, the two most recent times the Panthers scored just two runs, they also won.

Both are very encouraging signs as Franklin Regional prepares to enter the postseason next week.

“We've been doing a great job hitting the ball, getting lots of runs,” Panthers coach Bob Saddler said. “We've been able to put up some good numbers and have become a very good offensive team.

“But when we've had to pitch well and play defense — like last Friday versus Plum (a 2-0 win), we weren't scoring so much, and we got the pitching performance that's needed. That's just one way we've shown that we can succeed in any type of game. As long as they execute like we know how, I think we will be OK no matter what.”

Following Tuesday's 12-2, nonsection win over Penn Hills, Franklin Regional improved to 14-3. The Panthers completed Section 3-AAAA play at 8-2, in second place behind Central Catholic. The WPIAL playoffs are scheduled to begin next week.

The Panthers will finish a season with a winning record for the first time since 2008. This is their second consecutive season making the playoffs; Franklin Regional lost in the first round last year. The Panthers have the look of a contender this season.

“We've just got to take it a game at a time, but obviously the goal is the WPIAL championship,” senior shortstop Danny McGrath said. “We're good enough to beat anybody we come up against. Hopefully, our bats stay alive, and we feel like if that happens we have a chance at the WPIAL championship, absolutely.”

McGrath, whose .540 batting average is tops on the team, is part of a senior core of three leaders who will play in college next year. McGrath is a California (Pa.) recruit, center fielder Nick Vento (.509 average) will play at Washington & Jefferson and pitcher/first baseman Nick DiDiano (four pitching wins) is headed to Mount Aloysius.

“All three seniors lead by example, and they've done a great job at that this year,” Saddler said.

DiDiano's all-around value was shown when, over a five-game span, he had a four-hit game in a win against Woodland Hills and pitched a complete-game shutout in a victory at Plum.

The leadoff man in the order, McGrath has been a standout offensively and defensively. Vento's behind him — both in the field and in the batting order at No. 3.

“Having those two guys up the middle eases your mind when anything's hit,” Saddler said.

Left-handers DiDiano and sophomore Justin Johnson and junior right-hander Brett Myers handle most of the pitching duties for a Franklin Regional team that has allowed one run or less in four of its past six games.

“The pitching's been giving us a chance all season,” McGrath said. “That's all we need for the offense — a chance. We feel like if we are kept in the game we'll hit enough to win.”

Behind the plate, calling games, throwing out runners and as the team's cleanup hitter, junior catcher Brandon Nania has been a primary contributor to the Panthers.

Junior outfielder Patrick Kukalis, sophomore second baseman John Bondi, sophomore first baseman Nick Munson and junior left fielder Colin Jonov are other parts of the dynamic lineup.

“Any time you win (15) games you have things going your way,” Saddler said. “Our guys are doing a really job showing up every single day, playing their best baseball right now.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.