By John Lachmann
FLORENCE, Ky. – It was a fitting way for Newport Central Catholic to return to state.
After making two spectacular catches to help preserve NewCath’s regional semifinal win on Wednesday, Dominic Pangallo hit the turf to snare the final out with another highlight-reel grab in the championship game.
The junior right fielder’s diving grab with the bases loaded sealed the Thoroughbreds’ 3-1 win over Highlands in the Region 9 final at Florence Freedom Field on Thursday.
“With the two great catches that he made the other day and then to make that one…” NewCath coach Jeff Schulkens said. “He’s played great defense for us all year.”
NewCath became the first team to win back-to-back 9th Region tournaments since Highlands claimed consecutive titles in 1996-97. The Thoroughbreds had not accomplished that feat since 1975-76.
Like he had twice the previous day, Pangallo took off after a pop up down the right field line and went into a roll. When he came to a stop, he held up the ball he had just caught for the final out.
“It’s an amazing feeling, but it’s even better to know that our seniors are going out with a (regional) win, going out happy,” Pangallo said. “I’m glad I could do whatever I could do to make them feel that feeling again, because I know they love it.”
Highlands opened the scoring when juniors right fielder Jacob Heck and center fielder Hector Molina belted back-to-back one-out doubles in the bottom of the third.
Bluebirds freshman right-hander Mitchell Jones held NewCath to one hit and one walk over the first three innings, but the Thoroughbreds tied the score in the top of the fourth on a line-drive single up with middle by junior designated hitter Connor Bartels.
The hit came with two outs, and the run was unearned since Highlands had committed a throwing error, giving NewCath an extra out.
The Thoroughbreds managed just two hits the first two times through the order, but Schulkens was optimistic his players would fare better in their third plate appearances.
“I was hoping so – there’s no guarantee but I liked our chances,” Schulkens said. “We hit some balls hard (early), but we were beating it into the ground and they were making plays defensively.”
Jones struck out the first two hitters in the top of the fifth, but Pangallo drew a walk and was tripled home by senior shortstop Nick Woltermann, making it 2-1.
Junior right-hander Josh Cain singled to right center, plating Woltermann and extending the Thoroughbreds’ lead to two.
Cain held Highlands to three hits over six innings, but the Bluebirds belted three singles in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with one out. Cain had thrown just 74 pitches entering the frame.
But despite the low pitch count, Schulkens turned to senior right-hander Andy Miller with the tying runner in scoring position.
Cain admitted he was starting to tire in the last inning.
“My velocity must’ve slowed down a lot,” Cain said. “They were freaking killing me every pitch I threw, and I was just trying to throw strikes, get some ground balls.
During the meeting on the mound, Cain could be seen lobbying to stay in the game.
“I love his competitive nature,” Schulkens said. “He’s a competitor – he wants the ball. I said, ‘Josh, you’ve thrown a (heck) of a game, we’re going to change it up here, we’re going to bring in Andy’, and Andy did a (heck) of a job.”
Miller came in and induced a fly ball to shallow left field for the second out before Pangallo’s diving catch on the slicing pop up by junior catcher Quentin Murray.
“He’s been phenomenal this whole tournament, so thank God for him,” Cain said.
For the second straight day, NewCath won by two runs, and in both games Thoroughbreds pitchers stranded the potentially game-tying runner at second base.
NewCath held off Ryle, 5-3 in the regional semifinal on Wednesday. A Ryle looper down the right field line that would have tied the score dropped inches foul with two outs in the seventh in that game.
“We’re obviously used to it,” Pangallo said. “In a game like this it’s unbelievable to know the feeling that you won it in a tight situation like this.”
NEWPORT CC 000-120-0—3 7 0
vs. HIGHLANDS 001-000-0—1 6 2
WP: Cain (7-5). LP: Jones. SV: Miller. HITTING LEADERS: NCC—Woltermann 2-4, 3B; Hoffstedder 2B. H—Molina 2B; Heck 2-3. RECORDS: NewCath 24-16-1, Highlands 18-21-1.
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