The road to McCoy Stadium was a long one for the Bishop Hendricken baseball team.
The Hawks rode a dominant performance by Mike King and a solid offensive day to an 8-0 victory in game one of their semifinal series on Friday, but Johnston forced a game three with a 5-4, extra-innings victory in Saturday’s game two.
Hendricken came into the series without a loss in league play and fresh off a 15-2 thumping of Moses Brown in the region championship. Johnston was riding high too. After a 7-11 regular season, the Panthers upset South Kingstown in the first round of region action and never looked back, beating the Rebels again to capture a spot in the Final Four.
King and the Hendricken offense put upset dreams to rest early on Friday. After King worked a perfect top of the first, the Hawks roughed up Johnston starter Joe Bongiovanni for four runs in the bottom half.
Rob Henry and Ed Markowski started the big inning with walks. John Toppa plated Henry with a base hit and King brought Markowski home with a double. Gian Martellini plated two more runs with a single to left.
Just like that, the Hawks were sitting pretty.
“We played well today,” Holloway said. “The key is getting the four runs in the first inning. With King on the mound, it’s going to be hard for anybody to come back on that. The other team is thinking ‘We’ve got to get five runs off of him to win the game.’ And that’s not easy to do.”
It was especially tough on this day. King allowed one hit in six shutout innings – and that one hit was a line drive that Jarek Krajewski dove for and almost caught at first base.
King finished with six strikeouts.
“He pitched great,” Holloway said.
Dan Thadeio finished the game with a scoreless seventh, and by then, the Hawks were comfortably in front. After the first-inning outburst, the Hawks chased Bongiovanni with another run in the third. Toppa doubled and scored on a wild pitch.
In the fourth, the Hawks broke the game open with three more runs. Lou Umberto led off with a single and Rob Henry walked. Markowski moved each of them up with a bunt and Toppa lined a two-run single into left. A sac fly by King scored Toppa.
“I thought we did a good job advancing runners and putting innings together,” Holloway said.
Toppa led the offensive surge. The sophomore went 3-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored. Martellini and King also drove in two runs each.
“In the middle of the season, we kind of hit a drought, but I think we’ve been really locked in for the playoffs,” Toppa said. “It’s been working for us.”
As impressive as the victory was, though, the Hawks knew they still had work to do.
“The series isn’t over,” Holloway said after game one. “They’re a good team. They’re here for a reason.”
That proved prophetic.
The Hawks jumped to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning on Saturday, but quickly realized it wouldn’t be the same kind of game as Friday’s match-up. Johnston quickly responded with three runs in the bottom of the third. They took advantage of three walks by Hendricken starter Mike McCaffrey and an error, and got a key two-run single by Mike Caparco.
From thee, it was a back-and-forth game befitting a semifinal series.
The Panthers went up 4-2 when Steve Perfetto doubled in a run in the third. Perfetto, Johnston’s starter, also settled in on the mound, working three scoreless frames after giving up the two runs in the first.
In the fifth, the Hawks battled back, tying the game 4-4 on RBI singles by Martellini and Jarek Krajewski. But the Panthers limited the damage when Bongiovanni caught a line drive and doubled a runner off first to end the inning.
Perfetto pitched into the eighth for Johnston and kept the Hawks off the board. Hendricken reliever Matt Murphy – the everyday second baseman who’s seen limited innings – matched him after coming on in the fifth, but eventually Johnston made its move.
In the bottom of the ninth, Ryan McKeon led off with a single. Markowski made a sliding catch on a popped-up bunt for the first out, but Steve Pennacchia and Mike Pennacchia followed with singles to load the bases. With the infield in, Perfetto poked a soft line drive toward left-center field and it fell in for a base hit.
McKeon raced in with the winning run.
The teams would play another day.
“It turned out to be a great game,” Holloway said. “We just didn’t get the job done. We hit too many fly balls, we got the leadoff guy on in a few innings and didn’t move him. We can’t do things like that and expect to win.”