Neumann Goretti reliever Joe Messina can laugh about the intense pressure now — especially with a gold medal around his neck — but it was a little different before his Saints clinched the PIAA Class 2A baseball title on Friday.
Prior to his team holding off Bishop McCort in a 7-4 victory, Messina was faced with a single pitch that could’ve changed the entire face of the game. Smiling afterward from the batting cages at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, he didn’t hesitate in acknowledging that much.
In the fifth inning, with Neumann Goretti nursing a slim 5-3 lead, Bishop McCort was ready to pounce with one out and the bases loaded. That’s when Messina’s number was called and the Saints sophomore was faced with a full count. A thrown ball would’ve been disastrous.
Instead, he located a four-seam fastball for a strike to catch the batter looking -- and then grounded out the next batter. Crisis averted. The Saints added two insurance runs in the next frame.
“After getting out of that, I had all the faith in the world that we were going to win this game,” Messina said. “That was the jam we had to get out of.”
First-year head coach Mike Zolk agreed.
“He loves the pressure,” Zolk said. “And that was big.”
But, early on in the game, the contest seemed to be heading a different way. It looked as if the Saints were going to run away with the title altogether.
Neumann Goretti opened the first frame with four hits, two walks and five runs. Bishop McCort’s catcher had fired an errant toss to the third baseman, which rolled into the outfield and allowed two of those runners to score. At that point, there were some murmurs in the press box about the ins-and-outs of the mercy rule.
But Bishop McCort marched right back in the game. It scored one in the third and two in the fourth to cut the deficit to 5-3. That’s when Messina entered the game -- and, when Bishop McCort created some noise in the final inning, he was there to once again shut it down.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more right now,” Messina said. “We love each other to death, and this was just a culmination of everything.”