Heading into this season, with just one postseason win in three seasons, playoff success had been a thing of the past for Paul VI baseball. But behind a tight-knit senior class, the Panthers brought it back this spring as they marched to the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association final.
Sunday night at Richmond’s Shepherd Stadium, their run finally ended with a 5-1 loss to Collegiate.
“We had great senior leadership. All our seniors were determined to compete for a championship,” Coach Jeff Nolan said. “They willed it more than anything. They were a determined group.”
Paul VI trailed 2-0 when senior Jack Cunningham scored from third on a groundball by junior Mike Morgan to cut the deficit to 2-1 heading into the final inning. Collegiate plated three runs in the top of the seventh to provide insurance for junior left-hander Evan Justice, an N.C. State commit who allowed four hits in his complete-game victory.
“He put a lot of movement on his fastball and curveball. He was tough to hit,” Cunningham said. “We just didn’t play to our own standard. Their pitcher didn’t have anything to do with us losing. We hit really well in the last couple games, and it all fell apart today. We weren’t ourselves.”
The game was the last one for Nolan, who announced earlier this month that he was stepping down as head coach. Nolan, who was with the program for 14 years, led the Panthers to a 77-37 record after taking over as head coach in 2013.
“He is a baseball coach and a life coach and has helped a lot,” Cunningham said. “What I’ll miss the most about Coach is the fun he puts into the game and the attitude that no challenge was too hard for us.”
Earlier this month, Paul VI (24-8) pushed eventual Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion St. John’s to three games in the WCAC semifinals. Despite falling short in both the WCAC and VISAA tournaments, the Panthers had a breakthrough season that sets up the program for a bright future.
“Our main goals this season were winning the WCAC and state championships, so we came close but in the end couldn’t accomplish it,” senior shortstop Michael Coritz said. “But I definitely think we left the team in a good spot. We made a lot of positive strides this season. We set a good example here leadership-wise. PVI is headed in the right direction.”