The St. Mary’s Colgan Panthers turned momentum on its side in the Class 3A regional final Thursday night against the Riverton Rams.
Riverton staked a 2-0 lead after four behind Nolan Wall throwing a strong game on the mound and two solo home runs by T.J. McDonald off Colgan senior V.J. Piccini.
The Panthers retired the Rams in the top half of the fifth and loaded the bases in the bottom half, coming through with two RBI groundouts and a RBI single to gain a 3-2 lead. Christian Cedeno relieved Piccini in the seventh and the Panthers worked their way out of a bases loaded jam with a strikeout and a pop out caught by Cedeno over his shoulder for the final out.
“Riverton playing the second game, they came off a big win,” Colgan head coach Mike Watt said. “They had to battle with Southeast and they came out with a big win. They’ve got a lot of emotion and that carried right over into this championship game. They turn a big double play early. They were playing very well and I told our kids, ‘Hey, just keep plugging along and do what we do.’ We’ll get an opportunity and the kids did a great job.”
Colgan missed on scoring opportunities in the first and second innings, leaving behind two runners in each frame. However, the Panthers made the fundamental plays in the pivotal fifth inning.
Piccini and Tully Yoakam started with walks against a tiring Wall, then Nate Grimaldi struck a solid bunt up the third base line fielded by Wall in no man’s land. Wall pocketed it and the bases were loaded with Panthers.
Piccini, Yoakam and Grimaldi all came around to give Colgan the lead — Colton Gilbert and Ryan Cedeno picked up RBI on 4-3 groundouts and Christian Cedeno hit a strong RBI single.
“We work hard on runners on third, getting a ball on the right side,” Watt said. “I believe Colton Gilbert was down 0-2 and got a groundball to the right side. Christian got a hit to tie it and we got another groundball to the right side to go ahead from Ryan Cedeno. We had two outs but we got two runs. That’s what we talked about. We’re not a home-run hitting team and we’ve got to execute. I tell them all the time, ‘If we have five runners on third base and we get five groundballs on the right side, we’re up 5-0.’”
Piccini retired Riverton 1-2-3 in the sixth and walked Jake Neal to lead off the seventh. Watt called on Cedeno in relief, a great luxury to have.
“V.J.’s been great all year long,” Watt said. “That makes him 6-1, I believe, ERA’s probably under 2.00. Other than two pitches, he was in control. Just for his sake, I wish he could have finished it but Christian came in and made it a little bit exciting but got the job done. It was awesome.”
Page 2 of 4 - Piccini, a senior and multi-year starter (versatile player) for the Panthers, tried expressing his elusive feelings about the victory Thursday night.
“I don’t know,” Piccini said. “It’s so surreal. . . . I don’t know, Christian Cedeno, if you don’t love that kid, you’re lying. He’s a helluva player, it’s insane.”
Other than a pair of solo home runs by McDonald, Piccini allowed only one hit.
“I’m not always one to keep my cool that well but Coach Watt preaches being calm the whole time,” Piccini said. “I gave him a couple pitches I shouldn’t have gave him and he did something with them. I give him credit for that but either way, we got the win and that’s all that matters to me.”
Postseason baseball hinges on pitching and the 13-2 win over Galena in the semifinal gave Colgan a chance to rest Cedeno and save him for a situation like the seventh inning of the regional final.
“We were fortunate in the first game to put up a lot of runs and he only threw three innings in that first game,” Watt said. “He came in and really was at full strength. He had only thrown 40 pitches. I thought he had very good velocity.”
Colgan returns to state baseball after a one-year absence and its seniors Piccini, Grimaldi and Grant Normand extend their baseball careers.
“Before the game, that’s all we talked about,” Piccini said. “We want to go back to state. I missed it personally and I know these guys have. I’m excited.”
“You could see the excitement there when Christian made the catch to end the game,” Watt said. “The kids dogpiled . . . that’s awesome. That’s why we play, that’s why I coach, to see that great sense of accomplishment and hopefully, we can get to do that again at the state tournament.”
Colgan improves to 17-5 (counting its regional bye) and Watt said the Panthers will likely be a No. 5 seed with Lyons as their first opponent in Manhattan. This is the first 3A state appearance for the Panthers in only their second year at that classification.
Wichita Independent, Silver Lake and Humboldt own the top three seeds.
Colgan 13, Galena 2
The Panthers rolled in the semifinals on the strength of the pitching of Christian Cedeno (three no-hit innings) and 11 runs scored in the first two innings.
Galena pitchers Jace Burris and Aaron Cockerel struggled with their control early on and the Panthers scored 11 runs on six hits and two Galena errors. Senior center fielder Nate Grimaldi led off both frames, reaching on a hit-by-pitch and a walk; he came around to score both times.
Page 3 of 4 - Ryan Cedeno and Austin Kratz delivered back-to-back RBI hits in the first, Cedeno a single and Kratz a double, and senior V.J. Piccini came through with a two-run double. Christian Cedeno and Piccini hit RBI singles in the second, Ryan Cedeno picked up an RBI 3-1 groundout and the Panthers scored their other four runs in a variety of ways capitalizing on Galena misfortune.
Piccini drove in three runs and the Cedenos — Christian, Ryan — plated two apiece. Ryan Cedeno, a freshman, made a veteran's play by driving in a run with a grounder hit to the right side.
Colgan took a no-hitter into the fifth, until Gabe Helton, Trenton Little and Logan Johnson all singled.
In 10 innings pitched against Galena this season, Cedeno allowed no runs on no hits and only two runners. Cedeno threw his perfect game against Galena.
Galena ends its season 12-9.
Riverton 5, Southeast 2
When it rained, it poured on the Lancers.
The Lancers held a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning.
With the rain starting to pour down and the elements starting to plague Southeast pitcher Jason Reed, Riverton head coach Danny Weaver called on Nolan Wall to pinch hit for freshman shortstop Jabes Turner. Wall found a pitch to his liking and he drove it to left center, up and out of the park for a solo home run and a tie score.
Reed scratched and clawed his way out of the fifth with the score still tied — catcher Caleb Biancarelli threw out Greyson Spriggs at second on a steal attempt and Reed struck out Dylan Weaver looking.
Unfortunately for the Lancers, the wheels fell off in the sixth. A dropped pop-up in shallow right and an errant throw allowed Jake Neal to reach third base on two catastrophic errors. With the bases loaded, Jacob Montee delivered the game-winning hit, a two-run single. Spriggs added a RBI double and the Rams took a 5-1 lead into the seventh.
Riverton starter Hunter Deckard retired the first two Southeast hitters but Riley Ulery, Reed and Nick Junior strung together consecutive hits. Ulery started the rally with a double — just missed a homer — and Junior's single brought the Lancers to 5-2. However, Deckard induced Peak into a pop out to second base.
Deckard had allowed only a single run on two Lancer hits entering the seventh. With only two strikeouts and one error, the Rams defense played a pivotal role in securing a regional final spot against Colgan. Meanwhile, the Lancers committed six errors.
Class 3A Baseball Regional
at Galena High School
Colgan 3, Riverton 2
RIV 001 100 0 — 2 5 1
SMC 000 030 X — 3 4 1
Nolan Wall, Andy McDonald (5) and Dylan Weaver. V.J. Piccini, Christian Cedeno (7) and Ryan Cedeno. WP: Piccini. LP: Wall. SV: Cedeno. E: McDonald; Colton Gilbert. HR: T.J. McDonald 2. SB: Jake Neal; Gilbert. CS: Neal. LOB: RIV 5, SMC 6.
Page 4 of 4 - Semifinal No. 1
Colgan 13, Galena 2 (5 innings)
GAL 000 11 — 2 3 3
SMC 471 1X — 13 10 3
Jace Burris, Aaron Cockerel (2), Darrell Adams (4) and Kyler Cook. Christian Cedeno, Drew Dawson (4) and Ryan Cedeno. WP: C. Cedeno. LP: Burris. E: Cook, Gabe Helton, Trenton Little; C. Cedeno 2, Austin Kratz. 2B: Kratz, V.J. Piccini. SF: Alex Bryant. SH: Colton Gilbert. SB: Little; Nate Grimaldi 2, C. Cedeno 2. HBP: Grimaldi 2. LOB: GAL 7, SMC 6.
Semifinal No. 2
Riverton 5, Southeast 2
SE 100 000 1 — 2 5 6
RIV 000 014 X — 5 5 1
Jason Reed, Riley Ulery (7) and Caleb Biancarelli. Hunter Deckard and Dylan Weaver. WP: Deckard. LP: Reed. E: Ulery 3, Biancarelli, Bryan Horgan, Josh Thompson; Jabes Turner. 2B: Ulery; Greyson Spriggs. HR: Nolan Wall. SH: Horgan; Jake Neal. SB: Deckard. LOB: SE 5, RIV 8.