With Chaminade lefthander John Downing and St. John’s the Baptist righthander Kyle Chase opposing each other in a CHSAA baseball semifinal on Monday, runs were likely to be scarce. And that was the case as the two aces staged the pitcher’s duel envisioned.
The difference ended up being small miscues. St. John the Baptist cracked the door open for the Flyers to reach the championship series by making a pair of throwing errors in the first inning that led to two runs. And Downing made sure they squeaked through for a 2-1 victory at Mitchel Athletic Complex.
Second-seeded Chaminade (12-4) will face regular-season champion Kellenberg (13-3) in a best-of-three series for the title with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday. Chaminade needed to win all three regular-season meetings against the Firebirds in the last week to finish first; it won the first two, but lost the season finale.
“This is a pressure game with the season on the line, much more than the first game of the [championship series],” Downing said. “We went into it with the mindset of a championship game because it was win or go home.”
Downing, who improved to 6-0 on the season, allowed one run, four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Chase gave up two unearned runs, three hits, two walks, two hit-by-pitches and four strikeouts for the Cougars (8-7).
“He was able to throw any of his three pitches in any count for strikes,” Chaminade catcher Brian Heckelman said. “He had it today, especially when they got runners on base.”
In the sixth and seventh innings, SJB got the leadoff man on but couldn’t get the tying run across.
In the sixth, Flyers third baseman Michael Sweeney made a great play charging in and throwing to first for an out. After Downing got the second out on a strikeout, Heckelman made a perfect throw to Sweeney to cut down an attempted steal of third to end it.
In the seventh, the Chaminade executed a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.
“It was great watching [Downing] make the big pitches when they had guys on base,” Sweeney said.
“My philosophy is that pitching and defense wins,” Flyers coach Mike Pienkos said. “They gave us two runs and [Downing] and the defense made it stand up. Both pitchers were great. Chase is a competitor, but [Downing] matched him pitch-for-pitch the whole way.
In the first, Chase lost the leadoff man on a hit-by pitch. Vin Roman’s sacrifice got thrown past first to put runners at first and second. Heckelman’s one-out grounder could have gone for a double play, but the throw to first sailed wide and allowed Sweeney to score. Matt Brandt’s single to rightfield scored pinch runner Matt Travaglia with the second run.
“Pitching with a lead sends my confidence through the roof,” Downing said. “We just have to keep them off the board and our defense can really play.”
Chase and Aedan Forde had one-out singles for the Cougars in the third and Christian Alicea had a run-scoring groundout. But Downing got an inning-ending ground out to strand the tying run at third. SJB got only one more runner into scoring position.
“We’re loaded with juniors and we’re really looking forward to next season,” Cougars coach Casey McKay said. “I told our guys to remember this feeling in the offseason and come back motivated.”