PHILADELPHIA - There's nothing like a few quick runs to give a team confidence and ease the nerves of its starting pitcher.
That's the kind of big boost Steve Cimino gave to the St. Pius X baseball team and starter Joe Kieba Monday afternoon in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA Tournament at FDR Park's Ashburn Field.
Cimino drilled a three-run homer in the top of the first, and Kieba made things look easy after that with a three-hitter and a 7-1 win over Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP). The outcome sends the Winged Lions (14-8) to a state quarterfinal contest on Thursday against Kutztown or Troy at a time and place to be announced.
"That got the opening jitters out," senior third baseman Cimino said of his liner over the fence in left with two out, not far from the 330-foot sign, that brought home Josh Martin and Matt Lesinski. "It felt real good. At first, I didn't think it was going. I put a good swing on it. I just sat back and drove it. We came out swinging. It really relaxed Scooter (Kieba). I think he was real relaxed today."
"It's a lot easier to pitch with support," said Kieba, who walked one and struck out eight, including three in a row to end the game. "I had butterflies. But that helped a lot. It let me know that my team was behind me."
Pius added two in the second on singles by Kenny Brock and Justin Maziarz and RBI grounders by John Vaughn and Martin. A double by Tommy DeAngelis and a single by Martin made it 6-0 in the fourth, and Vaughn's sacrifice fly in the fifth closed out the scoring for the District 1 champs.
"We talked about that - getting a start - and Steve picked us up," St. Pius coach Jeff Pinder said concerning Cimino's homer. "That was big. Steve definitely picked us up by hitting that out. That was definitely big."
While the Winged Lions were collecting 11 hits off two Pioneer pitchers - including two each by Martin, Brock, Maziarz and Vaughn - GAMP (13-9) managed only infield hits in the second and fifth and a single past first to open the seventh. The District 12 champions scored their run in the sixth on a pair of one-out errors and a groundout.
But by then it was too late for the hosts because Kieba still had plenty left in his arm for the seventh. After the leadoff single, the senior right-hander fanned the next three Pioneers on a total of only 10 pitches.
"I was hitting my spots really well and my curveball was on," said Kieba, who threw 91 pitches, 65 of them for strikes. "That was probably one of my best games this year."
"He had everything working," said Pinder. "He hit his spots and used his curveball effectively and he was mixing his pitches. They didn't get a hard hit off him all day. That was probably Joey's best game of the year."
Cimino thinks the Lions can continue to do well in the state playoffs, which wrap up a week from Friday in Altoona.
"I think we just have to stay together and hit the ball and play defense," he said. "Stay together - that's been our motto all year."