By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
GALENA, Kan. —
Of course, junior Christian Cedeno wanted to win for himself. However, he also didn’t want this to be the final game for St. Mary’s-Colgan’s three seniors.
Well, Cedeno helped keep his season and the seniors’ careers alive. He knocked in the game-tying RBI in the fifth and earned the final three outs in relief to help the Panthers edge Riverton 3-2 in the Class 3A regional championship on Thursday. Colgan advances to the state tournament on May 23-24 in Manhattan.
“I knew coming in that this was a big game for our seniors so that really gave me the drive,” Cedeno said. “I mean, I really wanted to win but I know they wanted to win just as bad and I know they didn’t want it to be their last game. So I really wanted to get the win.”
The Rams didn’t make it easy for Colgan.
Riverton (15-6) took a 2-0 lead off a pair of solo home runs from junior T.J. McDonald, smoking a fastball to left in the second inning and another to nearly the same spot in the fourth.
“T.J.’s been a kid who has been a quarter-inch away from getting his stroke going,” Riverton coach Danny Weaver said. “Down the stretch, he’s been swinging the bat very well. You’ve seen tonight that if he’s thrown a fastball and does what he’s supposed to do with it, he’s going to hit some balls a long way.”
Colgan starting pitcher V.J. Piccini allowed little else, giving up only three hits in six innings. Piccini challenged McDonald with another fastball in the sixth but registered a fly out to right.
“I got a lot of confidence in V.J.,” Colgan coach Mike Watt said. “He’s thrown exceptionally well all year. He likes to compete. And did V.J. panic at all? No. He came right back, and after giving up the home run, he shut them down. That’s great composure from a senior.”
The Panthers (17-5) managed only two hits over the first four innings against Riverton starter Nolan Wall. Trailing 2-0, Colgan’s rally was sparked by a pair of walks in the bottom of the fifth. After Wall walked Piccini and Patrick Yoakam to lead off the inning, Colgan’s Nate Grimaldi bunted for a single to load the bases.
Colton Gilbert grounded out to second to score Piccini, and Christian Cedeno’s single tied the game at 2. Freshman Ryan Cedeno grounded out to score Grimaldi and give Colgan a 3-2 lead.
“No lead is ever safe, especially against an opponent like that,” Weaver said. “We felt like things were kind of going our way early, obviously. But we knew there was going to be a challenge. They strung together a couple of hits, and we walked a couple of hitters.”
Riverton had an opportunity to at least tie the game in the top of the seventh.
Piccini walked Jake Neal to lead off the inning. Colgan then turned to Christian Cedeno in relief, but Andy McDonald singled to right and an error allowed runners to reach second and third with no outs. Cedeno struck out the next batter before allowing Wall to reach base on a bunt to ensure the tying run didn’t score.
With the bases loaded and one out, Riverton’s Jacob Montee attempted to score the tying run with a bunt down the first base line. The bunt was placed well but landed foul.
“To be honest, we were going to send them both,” Weaver said. “We were going to send the guy from second, too. We work at it all the time, or we wouldn’t do that with one out. We work it a lot, but it just didn’t quite get in fair territory.”
Cedeno eventually struck Montee out and made a play off the mound, catching a Greyson Spriggs pop-up to end the game.
“It was a game where you hated to see someone lose,” Watt said. “Give Riverton credit, because they played their tails off and did a great job. Give my kids a lot of credit, too, because they competed. We were down two and didn’t panic. We plugged along and waited for our opportunity.”
Colgan is advancing to its record 43rd state baseball tournament after falling short last season.
“Before the game all we talked about was wanting to get back to state,” Piccini said. “I’ve missed it, personally. I know these guys have. I’m excited.”
In semifinal games Thursday, Colgan beat Galena 13-2 and Riverton beat Southeast 5-2.