Riverview strikes early, beats Serra Catholic in 1st round
Riverview didn't know much about Serra ace Cole McCombs besides that he was a freshman and he was a pretty good pitcher.
Not being fully aware that McCombs had a 1.05 ERA and allowed only 20 hits all season heading into Tuesday's first-round WPIAL Class A playoff game against Serra Catholic probably greatly benefited the Raiders.
At least it was beneficial to Dom Conte.
Instructed to be aggressive against McCombs, Conte hammered a two-out, three-run first-inning homer that staked Riverview to an early lead. The Raiders then turned it over to senior right-hander Nick DiBucci.
DiBucci worked out of jams in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to toss a complete game and help Riverview to the quarterfinals with a 6-1 win over Serra at West Mifflin.
Riverview (13-5) will take on 14th-seeded Union (8-7), a 6-5 upset winner over Vincentian (16-3), on Wednesday at Fox Chapel. As for Serra (11-6), it was the first time the Eagles didn't advance past the first round since 2006.
“I didn't expect to be here,” said Serra coach Brian Dzurenda, who started eight underclassmen. “I thought we were going to be a third-place team and we tied for the section. Expectations weren't super high coming into the season. I chalk it up to a learning experience. It was a good lesson learned.”
The lesson learned was simple: You can't make the kind of mistakes the Eagles did against Riverview and have a chance to win.
Serra made three errors that led to all six runs; their pitchers threw three wild pitches; they left 10 runners on base; and they were 3 of 13 with runners in scoring position — all a recipe for disaster.
“At times, a couple of the kids looked like that deer-in-the-headlights,” Dzurenda said. “Saying that, if you told me before the game that we would have more hits than them, I would've expected to win the game.”
Serra outhit Riverview, 7-5, but the Raiders came through with the big one in the first that set the tone for the game.
After an error by shortstop Brandon Coddington kept the inning alive, Conte made the Eagles pay with a blast over the left-field fence to quickly make it 3-0.
“I didn't even know where the ball went,” Conte said. “I was looking out to center field because I didn't see the ball. The first-base coach told me it was gone.”
It gave DiBucci a lead before he even stepped onto the mound.
“You dream about something like that happening in the first inning of a playoff game,” Riverview coach Rich Griser said. “Our pitcher said after that home run that there's nothing like making his job easier with a three-run homer.”
It was only the second extra-base hit McCombs allowed the entire season.
“He grooved it,” Dzurenda said.
Serra was able to answer in the bottom of the inning with a RBI single by Noah Kinser, but that would be the only run the Eagles would score.
After allowing three more unearned runs in the fourth to make it 6-1, Serra wasted a leadoff double by Zac Quattrone in the fourth, two hits in the fifth and a double, an error and a walk to load the bases in the sixth.
“We struggled with that near the end of the year,” said Dzurenda, who noted his team left 15 runners on base during a late-season loss to Bishop Canevin. “It kind of carried over to today. We couldn't get that big hit when we needed it. We expect to win every game we play because we feel that we are better prepared than every team, but just hats off to Riverview today.”