In a battle of aces, Dragons come up just short against New Castle
ERIE, Pa. – One run in the first inning was all it took to decide Monday’s PIAA 4A first round game between Warren and New Castle.
Unfortunately for the Dragons, that run belonged to the Hurricanes.
In a battle of sophomore aces, it was Rocco Bernadina and the Canes’ that edged Ben Berdine and the Dragons, 1-0 at Ainsworth Field.
“You can prepare all year for the better pitching. Sometimes you hit it, sometimes you don’t,” said Warren coach Rick Eaton. “You play tight ball games like that in high school, in the playoffs when you’re facing that kind of pitching.”
Bernadina, quite simply, was phenomenal.
His 3-pitch mix kept the Warren (16-7) offense off-balance all game. Coming off a career-high 14 strikeouts in the WPIAL third-place game, he fanned 12 Dragons, allowed just four hits and walked one.
“For a sophomore, what else can you say? You look at him, he’s intimidating to begin with, with his stature and his size,” said New Castle coach Bill Cook. “To go out there and continue to hit his spots, to have 12 strikeouts and only one walk. You can’t ask for anything more.”
The lone run of the game came courtesy of a 1-out RBI single off the bat of Matt Senchak, which brought in Nic Morell, who singled to lead off the game. The ball was hit deep in the hole at short, and Ryan Rafalski made a great play to get to the ball, but his throw to first sailed, allowing Senchak to get to second.
That was the only blemish in what was a brilliantly played defensive game by both teams. Berdine got a groundout and a strikeout to end the frame, and from that point on there was a whole lot of pitching and defense.
“You go up 1-0 early, that really raises team morale,” Cook said.
Berdine gave up three singles in the second inning, but he also had plenty of swing-and-miss stuff, striking out the side to keep the game at 1-0.
In fact, he wiggled out of jams in both the second and third innings before really settling in, retiring nine of 10 at one point.
“From being a freshman last year, he’s really buying in and working hard to become a good pitcher,” Eaton said. “He’s right up there. If anything, he’s right there on that (Bernadina’s level). And he’s only going to get better.”
That stretch also included a brilliant defensive play by right fielder James Swanson to end the third.
With a runner on first and one out, Dante Micaletti hit a tailing fly ball that looked like it might drop, but Swanson was able to run it down. Vince Soukovich, who singled with one out, certainly thought it was down as well, racing around second base. Once Swanson caught the ball, he ran it all the way back in to step on first for the double play.
“We made some nice plays to keep it at 1-run,” said Eaton. “That was a nice play by Swanson.”
Bernadina, meanwhile, was dialed in.
He gave up singles in each of the first three innings to Micah Passmore, Ryan Arnold and Mitch Grosch, but got strikeouts to end both the first and second and an inning-ending double play in the third.
The Dragons threatened in the fifth, as Lance Baldensperger walked, was sacrificed to second and went to third on a passed ball with two outs, the only time the Dragons put a runner on third all game.
Bernadina wasn’t phased, as he got strikeouts No. 9 and 10 to finish off the inning.
“His slider and his command set him apart,” Eaton said. “He’s one of the best pitchers we’ve faced.”
Berdine was lifted after giving up a 1-out single in the sixth. He struck out six and threw 55 of his 69 pitches for strikes.
He gave way to Rafalski, who immediately got a groundout for the second out. However, Bernadina reached on a fielder’s choice and JT Micco walked to bring the leadoff man Morell to the plate.
The senior laced a ball to center, but Baldensperger was able to track it down to keep it a 1-run game.
Bernadina retired the top of the Warren lineup in order in the bottom of the sixth, and Rafalski set down the ‘Canes (12-10) 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh, giving the Dragons one final chance.
Aidan Morrison singled to leadoff the inning and was sacrificed to second by Rafalski.
After Bernadina got a strikeout for the second out, Arnold hit a ball to third that was bobbled by Bernie Fabian. Arnold reached first, but Fabian caught Morrison a little to far off second base to end the game.
“We had three or four good hits today, we just needed that key hit and we didn’t get it,” Eaton said.
Added Cook: “They’re a really good team. We expected coming in that it would be tough. We knew it would be. They’re District 10 champions.”
Bernadina has now thrown back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs, as New Castle advances to play WPIAL champion Beaver on Thursday.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Cook said.
For Warren, it was a tough end to what was a terrific season.
The three seniors – Morrison, Baldensperger and Austyn Cummings, went out on top with a District 10 championships, and all three will be continuing their baseball careers – Morrison at Canisius, Cummings at Millersville and Baldensperger at Niagara Community College.
– – –
NEW CASTLE (1)
Morell lf 4-1-2-0, Grippo ss 4-0-0-0, Senchak cf 4-0-1-1, Cartwright c 3-0-0-0, McCulley cr 0-0-0-0, Soukovich rf 3-0-1-0, Micaletti 2b 3-0-2-0, Gibson dh 3-0-2-0, Bernadina p 2-0-0-0, Klik cr 0-0-0-0, Micco 1b 2-0-0-0, Miller cr 0-0-0-0, Totals 28-1-8-1
Grosch 2b-ss 3-0-1-0, Passmore 3b 3-0-1-0, Cummings dh 3-0-0-0, Morrison c 3-0-1-0, Rafalski ss-p 2-0-0-0, Baldensperger cf 2-0-0-0, Arnold lf 2-0-1-0, Berdine p-1b 2-0-0-0, Swanson rf 2-0-0-0, Totals 22-0-4-0
New Castle 100 000 0 – 1 8 0
Warren 000 000 0 – 0 4 1
SB – Passmore (W); SAC – Arnold (W), Rafalski (W), Bernadina (S); HBP – Cartwright (by Berdine); DP – Swanson (Unassisted)
IP H R ER BB SO
Bernadina (W, 6-1) 7 4 0 0 1 12
Berdine (L, 5-1) 5 1/3 8 1 1 1 6
Rafalski 1 2/3 0 0 0 1 1