ERIE - Chris Danielson was calling it the game of their lives.
The Dragons played like it on Monday at Ainsworth Field, beating Cathedral Prep, 2-0, to win their high school's first District 10 baseball championship in 35 years.
While these players weren't even alive in 1977, getting to their third straight District 10 Class AAA championship game - and winning one - was enough incentive.
Times Observer photo by Jon Sitler
Dragons pile on between first base and pitcher’s mound at Ainsworth Field after Warren won the District 10 Class AAA baseball championship games, 2-0, on Monday over Cathedral Prep. Warren has advanced to the D-10 title game for three straight years, but won its first district championship in 35 years behind a Hank Morrison shutout.
"This core group of guys has played together since tee-ball and we really do deserve this," said senior catcher Andrew Bevevino. "We've been working for this for our entire lives.
"There was never any doubt in my mind (we would win this)," he said. "I knew from the second I stepped on this diamond."
It wasn't so clear to fans sitting on the edge of their seats.
Warren couldn't seem to capitalize on opportunity after opportunity. When the Dragons finally did with a two-run sixth inning, Prep wouldn't make it easy.
Enter senior Hank Morrison, who threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Ramblers and got out of big jams in the sixth and seventh innings to secure the championship.
Bevevino said there was a point in the game in which Morrison told him, "'No more fastballs; I'm just going to throw my splitter all day.'"
Bevevino thought that might mean a few splitters in the dirt, "but that's what I live for," he said.
Morrison gave up two singles to start the second inning, but induced a fly out to center and two pop ups to get out of it. Morrison - picking up where senior Matt Jaskolka left off in a 6-3 semifinal win over Grove City on Friday - allowed just one baserunner over the next three innings.
The Dragons (16-3), on the other hand, had chance after chance to score. In fact, Warren put the leadoff hitter on in five of the seven innings.
Warren loaded the bases without an out in the top of the fourth inning. After Eddie Dorunda reached on the first of two Prep (18-5) errors, Matt Jaskolka walked. With runners at first and second, Preston McMeans hit a high fly ball down the right-field line. With the dimensions only 287 feet down the right-field line, Warren coach Jeff Passaro said he sent Dorunda back to tag up, and the ball hit against the base of the fence for a single. Dorunda could only advance to third. Three straight putouts by the catcher - two on groundballs that turned into force outs at home and one on a strikeout in the dirt - ended the inning without a Warren run.
The short right-field fence at Ainsworth may have come into play two more times. Andrew Bevevino walked to start the top of the fifth, and was doubled off when Morrison hit a low line drive that might have been a base hit had the right-fielder been forced to play deeper.
In the seventh, Bevevino singled off reliever Chris Francis, but was doubled off first again. Morrison hit a fly out to the fence but the rightfielder was close enough to gun down Bevevino, who had strayed too far.
That was after Warren finally broke through in the sixth. With one out, Jaskolka singled to left-center field. On a run and hit, Jaskolka stole second and advanced to third on Scott Hess' throwing error into center.
McMeans scored Jaskolka on a two-strike single. McMeans then advanced to third on pinch-hitter Collin Fantaskey's base hit off Prep starting pitcher Jamie Lauria. It was Fantaskey's second pinch hit in two playoff games.
Kory Thomas' sacrifice fly to center gave Warren an insurance run.
Ted DeSanti and Kody Kondrlik started the bottom of the sixth off with hits for Prep, but Morrison struck out his fourth and fifth hitters of the game in the next two at bats.
With two outs, shortstop Thomas fielded a groundball and threw high to first; first baseman Preston McMeans leaped high and came down with his right foot on the bag just in time for the third out.
In the bottom of the seventh, Morrison got two quick outs. Then Troy Braendel, leadoff hitter Eli Flynn and DeSanti - who was 3-for-4 - followed with three straight singles to load the bases.
Morrison had allowed five hits through 6 2/3 innings to that point. Then, Prep's third hitter, Kondrlik, skied a ball down the right-field like that Jaskolka sprinted into foul territory to squeeze.
The Dragons started a dogpile to celebrate, and Jaskolka sprinted in with the baseball.
"We had two outs and I was throwing a good splitter, and I was just hoping I'd get a groundball or a pop fly," said Morrison. "I've had faith in the guys all season (to make plays).
"Bev (catcher Andrew Bevevino) kept on telling us this could be the last game we ever play together," said Morrison, who had complete-game wins against McDowell and Prep this season. "That motivated us. I walk by that sign (in the gym) every day, and I look at that '77 (for the last time the Dragons won a District 10 baseball championship), and now we have it. There's no feeling to compare."
Morrison (3-1 with a 1.77 E.R.A. in 35 2/3 innings) allowed his defense to make plays because he didn't walk a batter.
"For years, we've always said our senior year is the year we're going to win D-10," said Danielson. "When Kondrlik was up with the bases loaded, I started to get a little nervous, but even then I still felt confident."
Among nine seniors that made up the starting lineup, Bevevino was 2-for-2, McMeans 2-for-3 with a run and RBI, Jaskolka scored the other run, and Thomas had the other RBI. Bevevino is now hitting .423 to lead the team.
Fantaskey, who contributed a key pinch hit and finished in left field, and pinch runner Jason Stanton were the only underclassmen to enter the game for Warren.
Warren plays in the first round of the PIAA Tournament on Monday against the winner of the WPIAL Class AAA consolation game between Thomas Jefferson and Hopewell.
"This is my fifth time in the finals and finally we get one...," said Passaro. "I'm just so happy for these kids. It's got to be an awfully small list of teams that have made the (District 10) finals three times in a row. It's just so special to win. They've been working four years for this."
WARREN (2): ab-r-h-rbi, Danielson cf 4-0-0-0, Bevevino c 2-0-2-0, Morrison p 4-0-0-0, Fantaskey cr 0-0-0-0, VanOrd 3b 4-0-1-0, Stanton pr 0-0-0-0, Dorunda 2b 3-0-1-0, Jaskolka rf 3-1-1-0, McMeans 1b 3-1-2-1, Maeder lf 2-0-0-0, Fantaskey ph-lf 1-0-1-0, Thomas ss 2-0-1-1. Totals 28-2-9-2.
PREP (0): Flynn cf-rf 4-0-1-0, DeSanti ss 4-0-3-0, Kondrlik lf 4-0-1-0, Winkler pr 0-0-0-0, Hess c 3-0-0-0, Lauria p-cf 3-0-1-0, Winkler cr 0-0-0-0, Francis rf-p 3-0-1-0, Fessler 1b 3-0-0-0, Torchio 2b 3-0-0-0, Braendel 3b 3-0-1-0. Totals 30-8-0
Warren 000 002 0 - 2 9 1
Cathedral Prep 000 000 0 - 0 8 2
WP-Morrison. LP-Lauria. ip-h-r-er-bb-so, W-Morrison 7-8-0-0-0-5, P-Lauria 6-7-2-2-3-5, Francis 1-2-0-0-1-1.