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Franklin Regional rebounding after slow start

Doug Gulasy | Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional catcher Brandon Nania follows through on a swing during a game against Gateway on April 28, 2014, at Haymaker Park.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Franklin Regional baseball team talks often of having the necessary fortitude to respond to adversity.

Recently, proof of the Panthers' resilience is showing on the field.

After beginning section play by dropping four of its first five games, Franklin Regional (8-5, 4-4) had rebounded to win three straight contests and move into a virtual tie for third place in Section 3-AAAA. The top three teams in each section advance to the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.

“I think (their resilience) comes from their veteran presence,” Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler said. “They knew that four losses wasn't the way we wanted to start the year, but it's not the end of the season. At the time, they could have very easily packed the bags in and left, but it shows their intestinal fortitude (to not give up).

“They didn't want to pack the bags in. They wanted this season. The younger guys are playing for the seniors, and the seniors are playing because they want to be in the playoffs. They want to continue the tradition that other players before them established.”

Saddler said the team entered “playoff mode” after a 7-4 loss to Plum last week dropped the Panthers to 1-4 in section play. Franklin Regional responded by pounding McKeesport, 15-0, in three innings; knocking off Class AAAA No. 1 Baldwin, 15-11; and blanking Gateway, 10-0.

The team's offensive approach improved in those three games, Saddler said. After not reaching double figures in runs at all through 10 games, the Panthers surpassed that mark in each of the past three.

“We knew the offense would come around, and it's coming around at the right time,” Saddler said. “The kids are approaching offense the right way. Their approach is great right now. They continue to be patient, find the right pitch to hit. I like our lineup one through nine.”

Franklin Regional showcased its patient offensive approach in Monday's victory over Gateway, working the count for six walks. The Panthers also took advantage of five Gateway errors and five more wild pitches to score 10 runs on just four hits.

“Early in the count, if they found (a good pitch), they were aggressive,” Saddler said. “If they weren't, they made the pitcher come to them. That's exactly what we preach offensively.”

Though Franklin Regional regained its footing in the section with the three-game winning streak, the Panthers still had work to do to clinch a WPIAL playoff berth for the third straight season. They were scheduled to travel to Central Catholic on Wednesday, past the deadline for this week's edition, and will host second-place Plum at 4 p.m. Thursday.

“You never look past any section game, but those games are special,” Saddler said. “You know what each team brings to the table. Both are our rivals. Normally, games are tight, and momentum swings both ways. If you have a lead, you can't be complacent; if you're down, you have to battle. That's the way most section games are, but those ones come with a little more urgency.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email or via Twitter@dgulasy_Trib.

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