BRIDGEPORT - Steubenville Catholic and Toronto took their Jefferson County rivalry on the road Monday, squaring off in Division IV district baseball semifinal play at the Nierko Diamond.
The trip down Route 7 changed the scenery but the outcome was the same as the three previous meetings. The Crusaders rode the right arm of Jimmy Panella, timely hitting and solid defense to a 6-1 victory, their fourth this season against the Red Knights.
The victory sends Donnie Young and his 22-6 club into Thursday's district title game at Cambridge City Park opposite Berlin Hiland, an 8-0 victor against Tuscarawas Central Catholic.
Steubenville Catholic’s Jimmy Panella delivers to the plate Monday.
Central fans will have an opportunity will also get to see the Crusaders' softball team launch Division III district play against Fort Frye at the same facility. Both games are slated for 5 p.m. starts.
Brian Perkins and company, winners of 18 straight sectional crowns, finish the season at 16-9.
Panella was superb on the hill for Central, scatting six hits - all singles - and fanning seven in the complete-game triumph. He was nicked for an unearned run in the seventh, meaning he has not surrendered an earned run in his last three outings.
After Tyler Antinone started the Toronto fourth with an infield single, the Crusaders senior retired 10 straight, two outs coming on stellar plays by third baseman Steve Mihalyo. Panella did not issue a free pass until the final frame.
''He's been throwing that way all season,'' Young said of Panella. ''He's had one bad outing all year. The rest of the time has been pitching great and has given up very few runs.''
Toronto mounted a threat in the second when Antinone got a leadoff base hit to right. John Romey grounded a single to left and both runners advanced on Ralph King's sacrifice. B.J. Grandinetti came through with a nice running catch in left for the second out and Panella got a strikeout to escape the jam.
Antinone was stranded in the fourth as Panella buckled down and recorded three consecutive outs.
The Red Knights used a King single, a walk, a hit batsman and a Central error to finally crack the scoring column.
''He did kind of run out of steam right there at the end,'' Young said. ''His pitch count has been down but he has been pitching frequently. He got a little winded there at the end but he was on base a lot (Panella reached three times on two walks and a single) and that may have worn him down.''
Central snapped the scoreless tie by scoring five times in the home half of the third. Senior Brannt Pieniazek got things going with a sharp single to center. Chris Murphy worked King, Toronto's starter, for a walk. Grandinetti turned a beautiful bunt down the first base line into a base hit to fill the bases with Crusaders.
Pieniazek was erased at home on a fielder's choice. Brenton Colabella reached on an error, allowing Murphy to score. Panella followed with a single to left, driving home a pair. After Dave Bertoia was intentionally walked, sophomore Aleks Porreca delivered a double to deep left, plating two more.
Spencer Sninchek took over for King and recorded the inning-ending outs. He silenced the Crusaders offense until the sixth. Grandinetti singled, swiped second and scooted home on Colabella's hit.
The Crusaders finished with eight hits, four coming in the decisive third frame. Grandinetti and Colabella both had a pair of singles.
Antinone and Tyler Owens each collected a pair of hits to lead the Red Knights.
''I can't say enough about our kids,'' Perkins said. ''They are resilient and they played hard. They kept competing until the bitter end and we had a shot until the very end.
''This senior class (King, Sninchek, Vance Goddard and Evan Johnson) will be missed. They are great leaders and they showed that leadership.''