Rocky Grove inches past CW North Catholic in PIAA semifinals

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Monday, June 11, 2018 | 11:06 PM


Baseball is a game of inches.

For Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, it was a couple of inches that kept the Trojans from a trip to the PIAA championship game.

Tyler Clayton's diving catch of Luc Madonna's shot down the right-field line secured the final out in Rocky Grove's 2-1 victory over Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the PIAA Class 2A semifinals Monday at Neshannock.

“They call it a game of inches for a reason,” Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic coach John Haggerty said. “The kid just was dialed in on the ball off the bat, and it just could not find the ground.

“You talk about holding your breath for about three seconds of air time,” Rocky Grove coach Bill Wilson said.

The Trojans (20-6) had struggled to string together hits all game against Rocky Grove starting pitcher Travis Perry. The Youngstown State commit threw 6 23 innings, scattering three while striking out 12 batters, including a string of six straight in the first half of the game.

After striking out the first two batters in the bottom of the seventh, Perry was pulled for exceeding the 100-pitch limit. Tyler Knupp came on in relief, and on the first pitch he threw, Nate Saar drove a deep double to left-center to keep hopes alive for Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. Knupp then hit James Williams in the next at-bat, bringing the top of the order up for the Trojans. Wilson then decided pull Knupp.

“He was up (in the zone). Sometimes he's up, sometimes he's down. He's a finesse pitcher, and he needs to use his different pitches to get the outs,” Wilson said. “We had him on a short leash because of his speed, but tomorrow he could come back and shut three guys down.”

Scott Perry, Travis's brother, gave up a single off of the glove of Knupp at third base, scoring Saar from second and cutting the Oriole lead in half. Madonna then came up and hit the opposite-field shot that Clayton caught to end the game.

“If (Madonna's hit) finds the ground, game over, because Lynch was hauling (from first).”

Madonna had another flare for the dramatic in his second at-bat, and again fell short by inches. After Danny Lynch reached on a one-out walk, Madonna hit another opposite-field flare down the right-field line for a base hit. The ball then scooted by Clayton in right field, and Lynch was waved all the way around third. Clayton got the ball back to the infield, and second-baseman Koby Winslow's relay throw to the plate was just in time to retire Lynch.

“I could have the third inning back, I wish I could,” Haggerty said after the game. “Can't rewind the clock. I don't know if I would have sent Lynch there; I think we could have gotten a run there. … That's just the game. It's tough.”

Clayton and Winslow did the offensive damage as well for Rocky Grove. Scoreless in the top of the fifth, Clayton led off with a double down the third-base line. Winslow then bunted to advance Clayton to third, but the speedy Winslow hustled down the line and reached first without a throw. Knupp got an RBI single, followed by a Travis Perry RBI groundout to give Rocky Grove a 2-0 lead they would not surrender.

The fifth inning was the only blemish on what was otherwise a near-perfect game on the mound for Ryan Feczko. The sophomore lefty threw a complete game, surrendering those two runs on six hits, striking out six and without giving up a walk.

Danny Lynch led the way offensively for Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, going 3 for 3 with an RBI. Lynch reached base in all four of his at-bats.

Rocky Grove (16-3) advances to the play in the state championship game against District 3 champion Camp Hill (22-4) at 1 p.m. Thursday at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

For Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, the season ends one game shy of a trip to Happy Valley but does not detract from a special season for the Trojans.

“To end the season with a WPIAL championship, the section title, and to make it to the semis in the state, it's just a really special run,” Haggerty said. “To be able to know that we've gotten to this point, it means a lot to me, and that's what I told them. I'm just very proud of this group of young men.”

James Dotson is a TribLIVE High School Sports Network broadcaster.

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