Pope John Paul II falls to Radnor in district opener

WAYNE — A lot can change in the course of a season.

After getting out to a rough start on the 2015 campaign and losing four of its first five, Pope John Paul II looked nowhere near the District 1-AAA and PIAA-AAA defending champions from the season before.

The Golden Panthers had graduated eight seniors and turned to first year head coach Matt Eckman when the 2015 season rolled around.

Spearheaded by four straight wins late in the campaign, the No. 6 seed Golden Panthers clawed their way back to a district berth to defend their title, but went on to fall to Radnor 4-1 in the opening round on Tuesday afternoon Radnor’s at Library Field.

“Credit to our guys for responding, even when our team was down throughout this season,’ said Eckman. “We had eight losses just 11 games in, but they didn’t let that effect them. They fought hard in every game and clawed their way back to get here.’

With the win, Radnor will face Sun Valley — who upset Chichester 6-0 in the first round — on Thursday.

Sean Corelli was just one out short of the complete game for the No. 3 seeded Raiders, where he limited to the Golden Panthers to just one run on eight hits and two walks while striking out four.

With the bases loaded and two out, Cameron Connolly came on and struck out the lone batter he faced to effectively end the Golden Panther threat as well as their 2015 season.

“Our pitching staff was dynamite,’ said Radnor head coach Mark Jordan. “Sean is anything but overpowering out there, but he does a good job of painting the corners and hitting his spots. He’s got a lot of pitches he throws well, which lets him keep hitters off-balance.’

PJP’s Kevin Shields was also effective on the mound, yielding four runs (two earned) on five hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings of work.

Behind the senior left-hander, the Golden Panther defense made four errors, not including a miscommunication in the first inning to give Radnor an early lead.

“We’ve played a lot better in the past than we did today,’ said Shields. “It wasn’t PJP baseball. I didn’t have my best stuff, and we made too many mistakes and gave them too many outs.’

Vinnie Togno went the rest of the way for PJP, where he allowed two hits and struck out two.

At the plate, second baseman Connor Beaudoin reached base all three times on two singles and a walk, to go along with a stolen base and the team’s lone run scored. Kyle Miller knocked in Beaudoin in the top of the third, while Billy Hitman and P.J. Heller each had two hits.

For Radnor, catcher Will Girton had two hits and an RBI while Garrett McGurl had a hit and two runs scored. Corelli also helped himself with a bunt single to knock in a run in the fifth.

Connor Wilson and Matt Schaefer each scored a run and stole a base.

“We played small-ball, something we hadn’t done all that often this year,’ said Jordan. “Their pitchers were keeping our bats in-check, so we looked to manufacture runs when we could.’

Although Pope John Paul’s season comes to end on a rough note, there is still a lot to be said of the Golden Panthers’ efforts in getting back to the tournament they dominated last season.

“Our starting lineup had three returning starters from last year, so we were inexperienced,’ said Hitman. “But I couldn’t be (more proud of) my team. Nobody expected us to win more than five games, and we made our second district appearance in a row. This year definitely sets another standard for the young talent coming up.’

“We won five of our last seven games and started to look like a team that could really compete,’ said Eckman. “This is a tough way to end it, but this was a really good season. Our players came a long way from where we were in March, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.’

NOTES — The Golden Panthers left nine men on base while the Raiders left eight … PJP’s 4-5-6 batters were held hitless with a combined five strike outs.

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