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Panthers shake off rough start to down Piedmont Win in regular-season finale earns St. Mary’s a first-round bye in BSAL playoffs

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Thursday May 09, 2002

The St. Mary’s High baseball team clinched second place and a first-round bye in the BSAL playoffs with a dramatic 7-5 win over Piedmont on Wednesday. Joe Storno shook off a first-inning three-run blast by Piedmont’s Peter Boyle to go the distance for the win. 

St. Mary’s (12-12 overall, 8-3 BSAL) got the meat of their runs in the fourth inning, scoring five times despite getting just two hits. Moore led off with a single and Storno walked, but Tom Carman hit into a third-to-first double play, and it looked as if Piedmont starter Nikhi Aurora would get through the inning unscathed. But the hurler’s control problems came back to bite him as he walked Jeff Marshall and Marcus Johnson on eight pitches to load the bases. 

Up stepped shortstop Manny Mejia, the bottom of the St. Mary’s order. The diminutive Mejia had a great at-bat, fouling off three two-strike pitches before hitting a bouncer that Piedmont third baseman Danny Rossi couldn’t handle, allowing Storno to cross the plate with the Panthers’ first run of the game. Chris Morocco followed with a long single off of the short rightfield fence, driving in Marshall and Johnson to tie the game. 

Aurora should have been out of the inning already, but more bad defense turned the tide. Pete McGuinness hit a flyball to left-center, and centerfielder Rand Thygeson called off his leftfielder before muffing the ball, setting off a wild sprint by the St. Mary’s baserunners that ended with two runs scoring for a 5-3 Panther lead. 

Aurora put the blame for the rough inning on himself. 

“I just lost my control and couldn’t get it back,” he said. “After walks, that’s when bad defense happens because the defense relaxes. It was all my fault.” 

Boyle’s first-inning home run, a massive shot over the high fence in rightfield, started things off on a sour note for Storno and the Panthers, but Shimabukuro said he wasn’t worried about his pitcher. 

“I wasn’t worried about Joe, I was worried about us putting the ball in play and getting some runs,” Shimabukuro said. “Our offense didn’t do as well as it could. We were swinging defensively early in the count and not getting any good shots.” 

The Panthers chased Aurora in the fifth. Moore and Storno started things with back-to-back singles, and Aurora walked Carman to load the bases before leaving the game in favor of Alex Danoff. Danoff got out of the inning with minimal damage, with Moore scoring the only run on a Marshall groundout. 

The Highlanders (14-7, 7-3) tried to mount a comeback of their own in the fifth, but could only get two runs across. Mac Conn led off with a double that kicked up chalk on the leftfield line, and Storno lost Olson on a free pass, bringing Boyle to the plate with a chance to tie the game. Storno’s steady diet of outside fastballs and curves paid off with a strikeout, and Ryan Tovani popped out for the second out, but Jay Carson hit a cheap double off of the shallow rightfield fence, scoring Conn and Olson to get the Panthers within a run. 

Morocco added an insurance run in the sixth, leading off with a solo homer to left off of Danoff for his third RBI of the day.  

With a little extra breathing room, Storno made the lead stand up, although the Highlanders did get two runners on in the bottom of the seventh before Jon Cox struck out to end the game. Mejia also made a huge play in the seventh, taking a one-hop screamer from Boyle and turning it into a double play. 

Storno had a typical outing, giving up 10 hits and two walks but fighting every inch of the way after getting a break from pitching last week. The first-round playoff bye is probably more important to the Panthers than any other team, since Storno is their only experienced pitcher. He will throw in the semifinal game on Wednesday, and if St. Mary’s advances to the championship game, even Shimabukuro couldn’t say who will take the mound for the Panthers. 

St. Mary’s almost had to wait until Friday to learn their postseason fate, thanks to an odd bit of scheduling that has half of the BSAL’s teams playing 12 games and half playing 11. If Salesian had beaten first-place Albany on Wednesday, they could have claimed second place with a win over John Swett on Friday, as they would have had an extra win. But the Chieftans made it easy on the Panthers, falling 7-2 to Albany.