When it’s “crunch time,” Bellefonte’s Dom Masullo utilizes a breathing exercise on the mound.
The right-handed pitcher inhales for six seconds, holds it for two seconds and then releases it for seven.
Masullo used the “6-2-7” method during crunch time Monday, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning to protect a one-run Red Raiders lead.
“It just keeps me relaxed because any time I get tense I start to overthrow,” Masullo said. “I was doing my ‘6-2-7’ and I was feeling great.”
Masullo pitched five scoreless innings of relief to help Bellefonte edge Chartiers Valley 2-1 in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament at Fox Chapel High School. He allowed two hits, walked four and struck out three in the Red Raiders’ first state playoff win since 2009.
Bellefonte (13-11) advances to the quarterfinals Thursday to take on District 10 champion Cathedral Prep at a site and time to be determined. Cathedral Prep rolled to a 13-2, five-inning win over Mars on Monday.
The Red Raiders are one of the final eight teams left in the state after starting the season with a 1-7 record.
“Come on, you can’t dream of seasons like that,” said Bellefonte’s Storm Smith, who drove in what proved to be the game-winning run in the sixth inning. “When a team starts like that, I don’t think there’s one person that was over there or that was in here that was thinking it except for us.
“We all knew what the talent was. We all knew we had the talent and to be where we’re at and to win a game like that, I think we’re shocking everybody except for ourselves.”
Chartiers Valley took control with three hits and a run in the first inning.
Dante Panucci ripped a one-out triple to left field off Bellefonte starting pitcher Kyler Mellott. Panucci then scored on a single by Cole Horew to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Colton Burd, Mellott’s batterymate, erased the deficit in the top of the second. After Garrett Reiter drew a two-out walk and Dylan Deitrich dropped a single into right field, Burd singled up the middle to tie the game.
Mellott fired a scoreless second inning, and Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel called on Masullo to start the third.
“The momentum was right where it needed to be, and it just felt right to kind of make a switch there,” Fravel said.
Masullo matched scoreless innings with Colts starting pitcher Ross Wilkerson going into the sixth.
Wilkerson gave the Red Raiders an opportunity when he hit Tanner Helms to start the top of the inning.
Bellefonte made him pay.
After Cade Fortney laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Helms to second, Smith pulled a single down the left field line to push the Red Raiders ahead 2-1.
“He’s scrappy for sure,” Masullo said of Smith, who also drove in the go-ahead run in the District 6 championship game. “He’s definitely one of the guys that I want in that moment where we need a run, we need a big hit, I look to Storm for sure.”
The Red Raiders looked to Masullo to seal the win.
When the right-hander lost his command in the bottom of the sixth inning — allowing back-to-back, one-out walks — Smith urged Masullo to be a “bulldog” from the dugout.
“That’s my word,” said Smith, the team’s designated hitter. “I love calling him, Dom’s a bulldog. There’s no doubt about it. And I know when he gets tough situations like that, he’s going to be a bulldog no matter what.”
In a full count, Masullo snapped off a breaking ball to strike out Tristen Zimmer looking for the second out.
But he then walked Konnor Corchado to load the bases.
It was crunch time, and Masullo stayed focused by controlling his breathing with his “6-2-7” technique and thinking only about the pitch he was about to throw.
With Chartiers Valley’s Steve Alauzen at the plate, Masullo fired a fastball — strike one.
He threw a curveball to set up a strikeout pitch — strike two.
He froze Alauzen with a two-seam fastball on the outside corner — strike three.
“I love those situations,” Masullo said. “There’s nothing better than striking out a guy — bases loaded, two outs and the game’s on the line.”
With Masullo on the mound and flawless defense behind him, a pair of RBI singles powered Bellefonte into the state quarterfinals.
“I thought it would take three (runs) to win, but it took two today,” Fravel said with a laugh. “And that’s just the way we’re playing.”