Serra certainly knows how to win ‘em in style.
The Padres (11-3 in WCAL, 24-5 overall) surged to victory in yesterday’s West Catholic Athletic League Tournament semifinal at Schott Stadium, rallying for four runs in their final at bat to walk off with a 6-5 win over Valley Christian. Christian Conci notched the decisive hit, lining a single through the middle on a two-strike offering to drive home Jordan Paroubeck with the game-winning run.
“This is what we’ve been doing all year,” Conci said. “We’ve been down multiple times this year. We never doubted ourselves. We stayed the course and won the game.”
Valley Christian (7-7, 17-11) jumped out to an early lead, scoring in each of its first four at bats. The Warriors relied on a small-ball attack, executing three stolen bases and four bunts through the first three innings. Conversely, Serra made some loud contact early — paced by a 3-for-4 day for leadoff hitter Michael Tinsley — but could do little in the way of run production. The Padres scratched out single runs in the first and sixth and entered their final at bat trailing 5-2.
“In the seventh inning, it all turned around,” Tinsley said. “Everything just kind of clicked, where we got the guy in scoring position and that big hit came. It just took that one little turn.”
That one little turn came in the form of a leadoff walk to pinch hitter Nick Toomey. Six straight batters went on to reach base without Serra ever making an out in the inning.
“I think the leadoff walk with Toomey coming off the bench … in a subtle way, you could feel the energy, and feel the momentum shift,” Serra manager Craig Gianinno said.
The walk to Toomey knocked Valley Christian starter Chris Manderson out of the game. The big junior right-hander allowed three runs on five hits over six-plus innings to take a no-decision.
Serra rallied for three straight hits off Valley Christian reliever Ben Hughes. Tinsley flared a single to right to move Toomey to second. Mickey McDonald followed with an RBI single to right field to score Toomey. Paroubeck then scorched an RBI single to right to plate Tinsley.
With Valley Christian sophomore right-hander Mark Quinby into the game, Paul Murray laid down a sacrifice bunt, then reached safely on a throwing error which allowed McDonald to score the tying run. Conci followed with an initial attempt to squeeze home the winning run, but the senior fouled the pitch to the backstop. On the next offering, Conci smashed a high fastball into center to win it.
“Towards the end there, I guess (it was) the old adage: better late than never,” Gianinno said. “Guys really buckled down and did it when it counted most.”
From the outset, Valley Christian seemed to be in the driver’s seat. The Warriors made fast work of Serra starter Matt Gorgolinski. The senior right-hander lasted just 2 1/3 innings, before Matt Blais emerged as the pitcher of record. Blais yielded one run over 4 1/3 innings to earn the win, improving his record to 3-1.
In the top of the first, Valley Christian got on the board by virtue of two favorable bunts. Warriors leadoff hitter Bryson Brigman sparked the rally with a single to center. After Brigman stole second, Will Chase bunted him to third, but a hurried throw by Gorgolinski sailed out of play allowing Brigman to score, with Chase advancing to second. Keenan Brigman bunted Chase to third, and Chase later scored when a squeeze bunt by Hughes went for an RBI single, giving Valley Christian a 2-0 lead.
Serra answered back in the bottom of the frame. Tinsley led off with a loud single to left. With one out, Tinsley stole second, then scored on the next pitch when Paroubeck rapped an RBI single to right, cutting Valley Christian’s lead to 2-1.
Valley Christian kept adding to its lead though. In the second, Bryson Brigman again got things started with a two-out walk, then later scored on a bloop single to right by Keenan Brigman.
In the third, Hughes led off the inning with a single to right, then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kyle Marinconz. An infield single by Adam Belluomini knocked Gorgolinski out of the game. Then with Blais on the mound, Hughes scored on an RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of Dalton Craig.
In the fourth, Chase drilled a one-out double to left, then scored on a two-out single by Kay, giving Valley Christian a 5-1 lead.
“[Small-ball is] the way we normally play,” Valley Christian manager John Diatte said. “We were looking for our opportunities to be able to scratch out runs and we were able to scrap some runs early. But we left 10 runners on base and in later innings we just didn’t get hits that we got earlier in the game.”
In the sixth, Serra scratched out a run. Murray and Conci led off the inning with back-to-back singles, then moved up on a wild pitch. With one out, Neil Sterling hit an RBI fielder’s choice to score Murray, cutting Valley Christian’s lead to 5-2.
Then in the seventh, the Padres offense came out intent on showing why they are the No. 1-seeded team in the tournament.
“We were just ready to fight,” Tinsley said. “We had no intention of going home right now. And everyone, we all had a certain mindset, and everybody followed that perfectly.”
With the win, Serra looks to repeat as WCAL Tournament champs tonight, squaring off with the winner of yesterday’s semifinal nightcap between St. Francis and Bellarmine. First pitch at Schott Stadium is slated for 6 p.m.