Panthers Win Division II Crown
The Panthers finish a two-game sweep over Prout with a 4-1 victory on June 8.
The Prout School Crusaders led, 1-0, after three innings Wednesday at McCoy Stadium, but the Johnston Panthers scored two in the fourth, one in the sixth and one more in the seventh to win Game 2 by a score of 4-1 and capture the state Division II crown.
Gian Bianchi picked up the victory for the Panthers, pitching a complete-game three-hitter from a sun-soaked mound in Pawtucket. With temperatures rising into the high 80s and low 90s, he mixed a good fastball with his effective off-speed stuff to rack up seven strikeouts, two days after Dylan Pingitore notched eight Ks in Johnston’s Game 1 victory.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Just pitch your game, keep the ball low, limit them to a few hits, and we’ll be all set,’" Bianchi said. "I knew we were going to hit the ball.”
Johnston failed to produce a run with three first-inning singles, however, and after the Prout School’s Christopher Siravo plated Brendan Natal with a sacrifice fly in the second inning, the Panthers went down, 1-2-3 in the third, still trailing, 1-0.
Greg Doutre’s fourth-inning RBI-double erased the JHS deficit, and Steven Perfetto’s two-out, infield single helped Johnston to establish its advantage Wednesday. With Doutre at third after back-to-back groundouts, Perfetto hit a hopper past the mound, toward center field.
Prout School second baseman Andrew Horsfield slid to his right, fielded the bouncer cleanly and threw to first baseman Holden Bussey, but Perfetto’s foot touched the bag before the ball found Bussey’s mitt. Doutre scored, and Johnston led, 2-1.
“They executed. They’re a tough group of kids,” said Prout head coach Mike La Barbera. “When they have a chance to score, they pounce.”
Crusader James Noon blanked the high-powered Panthers in the fifth, but senior Nick Loffredo helped Johnston to tack on another run with an RBI-single in the sixth. Senior Ryan Geraghty added a run-scoring triple in the seventh, before Bianchi returned to the hill to secure the victory.
“I’m just proud of these guys,” said Johnston head coach Stephen DeMeo. “When we got beat by Prout last year in the playoffs, we went to school to turn in our uniforms. I made a vow to the nine seniors, and Gian and (Chris) Pistacchio, that this year would be for them.”
After the game, DeMeo and his three co-captains— Loffredo, Geraghty and Doutre— accepted the first-place trophy for Johnston, and the award for tournament MVP was given to Gian Bianchi.
“I’m in shock. I’m just so happy right now, I can’t even explain it,” Bianchi said after pitching four hitless innings to end the game. “MVP’s amazing, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without my team.”
Johnston wraps up the 2011 campaign with 23 wins, three losses and its third postseason crown.
After a 20-win season and fourth consecutive finals trip to McCoy, the Crusaders will look to 2012 for another opportunity to capture an elusive first championship.
“Eight years in the Interscholastic League as a competitive baseball team, four years at McCoy Stadium — we’re playing good ball," La Barbera said. "Maybe we’ll get over the hump, maybe we won’t. Who knows? But I think we’re representing our state of Rhode Island very well. I think our kids play good, disciplined baseball, respectful baseball — but you always want to win.”