‘Walk-off Willy’ lifts Panthers into semis
PAUL VI 1, GONZAGA 0
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.