EAST WHITELAND >> Archbishop Wood got off to about as good a start as it possibly could Saturday.
After that, it was a pretty tough day for the Vikings in the Philadelphia Catholic League baseball championship at Immaculata University. Wood’s first inning lead didn’t even last through the bottom of the frame and an injury to catcher John Gifford in the third inning left the players and coaches shaken.
In the end, it was the Saints who prevailed 6-4 to win their second straight PCL title.
Gifford, a junior, was hit in the head by a pitched ball that took a hard hop in the dirt in front of him. Initially shaken up, Gifford wasn’t able to keep his balance upon standing up and was transported to Paoli Hospital.
Wood coach Jim DiGuiseppe Jr said Gifford was responsive and his vital signs were strong as he was taken off the field.
“I’ve never had that happen in 21 years here at Wood and in several years as a football coach and wrestling coach, I have never had that type of situation and fortunately, JR (Gifford) is going to be fine,” DiGuiseppe said. “Priority one was to make sure everything was under control with JR and once the EMTs were here and everything was good with him, I addressed the guys. I let them know JR was going to be fine and was in good hands.
“They’re young kids and my job is to try and steady the waters as the leader and try our very best to get refocused on the task at hand. For being young kids I thought they did a good job.”
To the players’ credit, they were able to get their energy back on the game although third baseman Anotnio Rossillo admitted it was tough at first with everyone thinking about their teammate and friend.
“It was hard and it took us a little bit, seeing JR go down, it was scary,” Rossillo said. “He’s not only your player, he’s your friend and brother. After an inning, we got back. It was hard but we gave it our all, all game. After we took that in and moved on from it, we tried to focus on winning the game.”
Wood started the game with some fire, taking a 3-0 lead on the Saints in the top half of the first inning. Rossillo, who was 2-for-4 on the game, hit a two-run double to start the scoring and the third baseman later came in to score on a Neumann-Goretti throwing error.
The Saints, who were the No. 2 seed in the PCL, came right back against Vikings starter Jack Colyar. Three of the first four batters reached base, with centerfielder Colin Eiser scoring when No. 5 hitter Steve Pizza glanced a ball just inside the first base line that Wood had no play on. The four game umpires had to convene and discuss the play but ruled it a fair ball that did not contact the runner.
Brian Reynolds had the big hit of the inning, a two-run single that tied things up.
“It hurt the momentum but we kept saying in our huddle to just forget about it,” Rossillo said. “It’s like coach says, just flip the page. It’s a new game, when they scored three runs, it was like a 0-0 game, a brand-new game.”
Wood regained the lead in the third when Gifford hit into a fielder’s choice and Mike Ferrara beat a throw home on an attempted double play. The Vikings wouldn’t score again but had their chances against Saints lefty Phil Sanborn, who threw a complete game.
After play resumed following the injury to Gifford, Neumann-Goretti took its first lead in the bottom of the third thanks to two runs scored off wild pitches. The Saints added one more run in the fourth on RJ McGettigan’s RBI groundout, with another wild pitch moving run-scorer Aiden Baur to third base.
“It’s the way the ball bounced today, you congratulate your opponent and you move forward,” DiGuiseppe said.
Two guys the Vikings coach specifically credited were seniors Dan Trimber and Greg Cannon. Trimber pitched in relief of Colyar, taking over in the fourth and holding the Saints in check outside of the fourth inning run he gave up.
Cannon replaced Gifford behind the plate and responded well in a difficult situation. The senior also singled in the sixth inning to start Wood’s best threat to N-G’s lead.
Wood loaded the bases with one out in the sixth before Sanborn struck out the next two batters. The Vikings didn’t make it easy, with right fielder Mick Pristas waging a 12-pitch at-bat against the Saints’ lefty before he finally went down swinging.
The Vikings fell short of their second PCL title in the last three seasons, but they still have a chance to claim their third straight District 12 title when they face Franklin Towne Charter on Thursday June 1 in a 4pm start at La Salle’s Ward Field before heading to the state tournament.
“We’ve been up and down during the season but it doesn’t matter once you get into the playoffs,” Rossillo said. “It’s a whole new start. Today wasn’t the outcome we wanted but we tried our best and gave it our all. Now we forget about it and get ready for the next one.”
Neumann-Goretti 6, Archbishop Wood 4
Archbishop Wood 301 000 0 – 4 6 0
Neumann-Goretti 302 100 x – 6 7 2
WP: Phil Sanborn. LP: Jack Colyar. SO-BB: Sanborn 7-1, Colyar 2-4, Dan Trimber 1-1.
2B: Antonio Rossillo (AW), Jared Healey (NG). Multiple hits: AW – Rossillo 2-4; NG – Healey 3-3, Brian Reynolds 2-2