By the time he had thrown four pitches Saturday afternoon in the second and potentially final game of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference baseball championship series, Paul VI Catholic junior right-hander Joe Salzano had given up three hits.
“He can sometimes be a slow starter,” Panthers senior catcher Blake Banet said afterward. “But when he gets into it, he’s really sharp.”
After allowing those three hits, it’s safe to say that Salzano got into it and was really sharp. He retired in order the next 14 McNamara batters, allowed only two hits thereafter and issued no walks in a 3-2 victory over the Mustangs that forces a third game in the WCAC’s best-of-three championship series.
Second-seeded Paul VI (19-11), in the league final for the fifth time in eight years, could snag its fourth WCAC title and first since 2009 — when the 15 current seniors were freshmen — with a victory at 1 p.m. Sunday at Shipley Field on the University of Maryland campus.
McNamara (13-17), the tournament’s eighth seed in the nine-team league, is seeking its first WCAC title, on the heels of a where-did-they-come-from run that included a quarterfinal upset of top seed St. John’s, a two-game semifinal sweep of fourth seed St. Mary’s Ryken and a 5-1 win over Paul VI on Friday in the first game of the championship series.
Salzano, who threw only 76 pitches, did not strike out a batter until he fanned a Mustang for the final out, but he was more than effective enough to stop McNamara’s postseason winning streak at four. He got 10 groundball outs.
“I’ve been pitching well all year and my team’s been behind me, getting hits, [making] outs,” said Salzano, adding that he relished being on the mound in a must-win game. He has been the winning pitcher in all three of his team’s victories over McNamara this season.
“He really settled in,” Paul VI Coach Billy Emerson said. “He forced contact, and our defense made plays and we were able to get through this thing. It’s never easy, man. [McNamara] is the hottest team in our league. . . . We’re trying to survive pitch by pitch. Happy to get to Sunday.”
Paul VI, which stranded 12 baserunners, took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Senior Mitch Aker doubled the first pitch of the game, went to third on a flyout and scored on a single by senior Richard Mancari, who later scored on a two-out hit by senior Tyler Alger. Junior Lucas Martinez delivered a two-out RBI hit in the third to make it 3-1.