‘Walk-off Willy’ lifts Pan­thers into semis

PAUL VI 1, GONZAGA 0

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY ERIC GOLDWEIN eric.goldwein@wash­post.com

As Sam Free­borne jogged to­ward home plate, the Paul VI play­ers stam­peded across his path, bolt­ing to­ward first base and mob­bing the se­nior who earned the nick­name of “Walkoff Willy.”

With a line drive sin­gle to cen­ter field in the bot­tom of the sev­enth in­ning, Willy McGuigan sealed a 1-0 vic­tory over Gonzaga and sent the Pan­thers into the Washington Catholic Ath­letic Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals against No. 7 St. John’s.

Ju­nior Thomas Rus­sell re­tired the last 13 bat­ters in a one-hit shutout, and McGuigan ended the pitch­ers’ duel by hit­ting the first walk-off hit of his var­sity ca­reer on a chilly, driz­zly Satur­day af­ter­noon at the Na­tion­als Youth Base­ball Academy in South­east Washington.

“It was eu­phoric. It was amaz­ing,” McGuigan said. “I haven’t felt a base­ball mo­ment [like it] in my life. It was awe­some see­ing all my team­mates run­ning out, and more im­por­tantly it’s go­ing to ad­vance us.”

The fourth-seeded Pan­thers (18-8) threat­ened with base run­ners all game, put­ting pres­sure on se­nior pitcher Will Thomas and the Gonzaga de­fense. In the sixth they stranded two run­ners, but after Rus­sell re­tired the side in the top of the sev­enth, they fi­nally broke through.

Free­borne, who took the SAT on Satur­day morn­ing and ar­rived at the park 10 min­utes be­fore the game, slapped a hard ground­ball down the first base line for a one-out triple.

McGuigan had been robbed of a base hit in his pre­vi­ous at-bat on a leap­ing catch by Gonzaga short­stop James De­laney, but the Paul VI lead­off hit­ter said that gave him con­fi­dence he could make good con­tact again.

“I was just look­ing for a strike and to hit the ball hard,” McGuigan said. “Hope­fully it would squeak through the in­field and win the game.”

Rus­sell, also fresh off tak­ing the SAT, al­lowed only one base run­ner and notched five strike­outs with a quick and ef­fi­cient 76-pitch out­ing. Gonzaga ju­nior Eli­jah Poole’s third-in­ning sin­gle was the only knock stand­ing be­tween Rus­sell and a perfect game.

The 6-foot-3 right-han­der didn’t over­power the Ea­gles (1311) but hit his spots and kept them off bal­ance with an ar­ray of change-ups, curve­balls, slid­ers and mid-80s fast­balls. He needed only seven pitches to get through the fourth in­ning.

“I’ve al­ways worked quick like that. Just get back in the dugout, get the guys rolling again,” Rus­sell said.

Top-seeded Cadets ad­vance

Ju­nior Dy­lan Hunter had three hits and two RBI as topseeded St. John’s (20-6) beat vis­it­ing Bishop Ire­ton (9-15), 6-2, in a WCAC quar­ter­fi­nal. Se­nior Bruce Hud­son pitched four in­nings in the vic­tory . . . .

Se­nior Zachary Hud­dle­ston hit a walk-off sin­gle with two outs in the bot­tom of the sev­enth in­ning to send third-seeded Good Coun­sel (13-10) past sixth-seeded McNa­mara (8-18), 3-2 . . . .

Sec­ond-seeded DeMatha ad­vanced to a WCAC semi­fi­nal matchup with Good Coun­sel after de­feat­ing O’Con­nell, 8-0, in the sec­ond half of a dou­ble­header at the Na­tion­als Youth Base­ball Academy.

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