The Panthers rallied to get within one run twice and had the tying run in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh but couldn’t get over the hump, falling 5-4 to the visiting Hawks.
Franklin had a hit in five of the seven innings, putting a runner in scoring position in four of those frames. The Panthers pushed across three runs in the bottom of the fourth and made it a one-run game again with a run in the sixth, but Franklin also left the bases loaded in two innings and left a runner in scoring position in two other frames.
“It was a great game, both teams competed hard and both teams had opportunities…they just made a few more plays than we did today,” said Franklin head coach Zach Brown. “We certainly applied pressure and had our chances, even right there to the end. But unfortunately, some walks, some miscues…and they had two big blows. I’m just really proud of this team, especially the seniors.
“Having that gap year, you wonder and worry about if the culture is going to change. When I say they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to, and they’ve done it with tremendous attention to detail, passion, and effort. It’s a great group and I’m really sad to see this season at times.”
Franklin sophomore Alfred Mucciarone worked around a pair of errors in the top of the first inning, getting a soft grounder back to the mound to strand a Xaverian runner at third. Franklin also put a runner in scoring position in the first on hits from Chris Goode and Nate Cooke, but the former was stranded at second.
The Hawks broke open the scoreless game in the top of the third inning on a one-out single from Liam Foley, who moved to second on a walk to Matt Brinker. Foley came around to score on an infield error as the ball got through on the left side to make it 1-0. On the next at-bat, Xaverian’s John Connolly launched a three-run blast over the fence to give the visitors a 4-0 lead.
Franklin junior lefty Ethan Voellmicke came on in relief and got back-to-back fly balls to get out of the inning without further damage.
Voellmicke gave up one hit in the top of the fourth but quickly bounced back to get out of the inning and Franklin’s offense got them back in the game with a big bottom of the fourth.
Jack Marino kept the inning alive with a two-out single, Eisig Chin followed with an infield hit, and CJ Jette walked to load the bases. Junior Jacob Jette, fresh off a 12 strikeout performance in the semifinals, came in and delivered a huge two-out RBI pinch-hit up the middle to get the hosts on the board.
Sophomore Ryan Gerety kept the momentum going by smacking a line drive to left to score both Chin and CJ Jette to get the Panthers within a run. Goode walked to load the bases again for Franklin but Xaverian starter Ryan Douglas got a pop-up in foul territory to the catcher to keep the lead.
Franklin got two quick outs to start the fifth inning but Connolly struck again, this time with a solo shot over the left field fence to give the Hawks a two-run cushion.
Junior righty James Kuczmiec took over on the mound for the Panthers and retired the Hawks in order to give the Panthers some momentum going to the bottom half.
“Those guys have been just nails for us all year out of the pen,” Brown said of Voellmicke and Kuczmiec, who combined to allow just two hits in 4.2 innings of work. “We do it a little bit differently, we pass the baton and trust those guys to do their job. And thankfully, they’ve really embraced that role. They aren’t questioning me about being a starter. Their role is equally as important and they are out there throwing those critical innings at the end of the game. And we have all the confidence in the world to go with them.
“Ethan did a great job settling it down and this team answers, they really do. We’ve talked a lot about being frontrunners or competitors, and frontrunners kind of go away when it gets tough and these guys don’t. They keep fighting, keep competing, keep clawing and keep applying pressure so I’m really proud of them.”
CJ Jette and freshman Henry Digiorgio earned back-to-back one-out walks and Gerety smacked a single into right field but Brinker fielded the throw from right fielder Justice Ciampa on the bounce and applied the tag at home to cut down a runner.
Goode had a two-out single to load the bases for Franklin and Digiorgio came in to score on a wild pitch. With first open, Xaverian elected to intentionally walk Jake Fitzgibbons to load the bases, and Connolly, who came on in relief, got a big strikeout to end the threat and the inning.
Marino came up with a big one-out hit in the bottom of the seventh, representing the tying run on base. Connolly got another strikeout for the second out but Marino stole second to get into scoring position. Franklin put the ball in play but it was a line drive right at the shortstop for the final out.
“A lot of times we try to use this game as a vehicle to try and teach those life lessons,” Brown said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way but I’m really proud of how they handled it. Some teams come unglued and there’s finger-pointing, but that’s not this group. They stay together, they fought to end because they really care.”
Franklin finishes the season at 16-2.
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