The California Area Trojans are headed back to familiar territory.
Wednesday at Ross Memorial Park in Washington in a WPIAL Class A semifinal, the Trojans downed Serra Catholic, 6-4, to make it to their second consecutive WPIAL Class A title game where they will try to win a second straight championship.
“This was a good game,” Cal coach Nick Damico said before turning his attention to his team’s 6-0 lead. “It’s typical of us to get big bursts in innings and then die off.
“But all credit is to (Serra). Their pitchers busted us up and handcuffed us when they had to. That was a quality staff that we faced and we are lucky to get out of here.”
According to Serra Catholic coach Brian Dzurenda, his team did everything but win the game.
“We gave them the game,” the veteran coach said. “We outhit them, we outpitched them and we made a few errors that led to runs in the third inning.
“I tip my cap to them as they played great and Nick is a good friend. They were the better team today and they beat us.”
After Chris Swartz retired Serra (16-6) in order in the top of the first inning, Cal (19-1) took the lead in its first at-bat.
Leadoff hitter Louden Conte was hit by a pitch and stole second base.
After a Zac Quattrone wild pitch advanced Conte to third and Johnny DeFranco struck out, Nate Luketich singled Conte in to give the Trojans a 1-0 lead.
Cal blew the game open in the third as it scored five runs on five hits and received help from three Serra errors as it sent nine players to the plate.
Luketich had an RBI single, KC Zajicek drove in two runs with a single and a third run scored on the play when Noah Kinser misplayed the ball in right field allowing Aaron Previsky to score from first.
Previsky had reached on an error by shortstop Nate Piontka and on the play Conte scored.
Dzurenda replaced Quattrone with Ben Visnesky, and the freshman retired all nine batters that he faced.
“Ben came in and shut them down the rest of the way,” Dzurenda said.
Serra got things going in the top of the fourth as it scored three runs on four hits to cut the lead in half.
Visnesky had an RBI single, Cole McCombs recorded an RBI when Luketich, Cal’s first baseman, bobbled a fielded ball which allowed Quattrone to score, and Piontka scored on a sacrifice fly off of the bat of Jake Eged.
Serra was primed to do more damage as it had the bases loaded with two outs, but Swartz got Noah Kinser to fly out to Previsky in centerfield.
Drake Johnson replaced Swartz on the mound heading into the fifth inning.
The Eagles trimmed the Cal lead to 6-4 in the top of the sixth with two outs as Kinser doubled in Eged off of Johnson.
Damico brought in Conte to pitch with runners on second and third, and Conte got Janosko to fly out to center field to end the threat.
“We had the right hitter up and Parker has been clutch all year,” Dzurenda said. “Had he hit the ball 20 feet to the left or right, it could have been a different game.”
Conte allowed one base runner in the seventh, but he got Cole McCombs to fly out to Previsky in center to end the game.
Cal will now face second-seeded Greensburg Central Catholic (19-3) in the championship game at Consol Energy Field in Washington while Serra will face a familiar opponent, Bishop Canevin (8-7), in the Consolation game.
Damico said that his team is not looking to defend a title that it cannot lose.
“We aren’t looking at it like that and are only playing one game at a time,” he said. “We lost eight seniors and six starters from last year’s team and being here is a testament to how hard they worked.”
Both games will be played on either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Bill Hughes is a freelance writer.