STEUBENVILLE - Fred Heatherington collected his 500th coaching victory in dramatic fashion Thursday at Vacarro Field.
His Big Red scored four times in the home half of the seventh to earn a thrilling 5-4 win over crosstown rival Catholic Central. The win gives Heatherington, who's in his 26th season, a career mark of 500-189.
For six innings, Central's Chris Murphy held Big Red in check. He allowed just one run and three hits while striking out four. Things, unfortunately, went south for the junior in the final frame.
Justin Corsi launched the game-winning rally when he lined a lead-off single to right. Kasey Peterson then drew a walk before Lucas Herrington got a base knock to load the sacks. Bryan Pierro followed with a sharp single to left, scoring Rob Agresta, who was running for Corsi.
Dimitri Collaros worked Murphy for a free pass, plating Peterson. Herrington tied the score, touching home on Anthony Zorne's RBI fielder's choice. Niko Petrides was intentionally walked to again fill the bases. Pierro scored the game-winner when Branden Jones walked. Big Red's tallies came on three hits and four free passes.
"We didn't play very well for six innings but our kids hung in there," Heatherington said following the emotional victory. "They battled to the end and got us a win.
"They were smart at the plate in the seventh. Early in the game, we had some chances to score but we didn't do it. We swung at some bad pitches.
"Our kids know what they have to do when they get to the plate. They came together in the seventh and got the job done."
Big Red did threaten in the first after Collaros lined a one-out double to right-center. Murphy, however, recorded a strikeout and a pop fly to escape trouble. In the second, Kai McClurg doubled down the line in right, again with one out. He was stranded after Murphy got a K and induced a grounder to third.
Heatherington's now 15-4 club did manufacture a run in the fourth. Petrides was hit by a pitch, Jones walked and McClurg was clipped to load the bases. Petrides scampered home on a wild pitch. Murphy fanned the next two hitters to keep the damage to a minimum.
Two Big Red runners also were gunned down on steal attempts by Central catcher Stone Romano early in the game.
The Crusaders, who earned a 4-1 victory over Big Red earlier in the season, took a 1-0 lead in the second. Austin Oliver worked Corsi for a one-out walk. Johnny DiCarlantonio, Murphy and Tony Barber were all clipped by Corsi pitches, allowing Oliver to score.
Central, now 14-2, recorded its other three runs in the third. Romano got things going with a lead-off double to deep left. Josh Merriman followed with an RBI single back through the middle. Merriman landed at second when Big Red made a play on Romano at the plate. Kutch Clark lined a two-bagger down the third base line to make it 3-0. Clark would score on a Big Red error following a strike out.
Corsi started on the hill for Big Red, giving way to Devin Ferguson in the third. The sophomore worked 4 innings, allowing just one hit.
Don Young's Crusaders had a chance to break things open in the fourth. Brenton Colabella doubled to left-center with one out. Aleks Porreca reached on an error and Merriman walked to fill the bases. Ferguson, however, settled down and worked his way out of the inning.
"He (Ferguson) shut the door," Heatherington pointed out. "Justin (Corsi) struggled a little, but he's OK and he'll be back. Devin did a great job for us. He threw strikes, made them put the ball in play and we made the plays in the field. He shut them down and that's what we needed.
Through the first four innings, Central left 10 runners on base.
"Offensively, we stopped playing and that's something we need to fix," Young commented. "Ferguson came on and did a nice job for them. Big Red is not going anywhere. You let them hang around and you are asking for trouble. We have to score more."
Murphy allowed six hits in going the distance.
"He's our man," Young said of Murphy. "You can't put everything on Murph because of what we didn't do offensively. I probably should have made a move but he was OK and we were going to ride him on.
"It's just really tough. We have to be able to score runs when we have opportunities."
Big Red will go for its 20th OVAC championship today when it meets Martins Ferry in the Class 4A final at Toronto. The first pitch is set for 7:30 p.m.
Central will visit Harrison Central for an 11 a.m. twinbill Saturday.
As far as the 500 victories go Heatherington stated "it had to happen sometime when you are here 26 years."
"We've had a lot of great kids involved with our program," he continued.
Big Red 5, Central 4
Central 013 000 0 - 4 5 0
Big Red 000 100 4 - 5 6 2
CENTRAL (14-2): Murphy (LP, 6BB, 4K, 1 HBP) and Romano. Murphy S; T. Barber RBI; Colabella D; Romano D; Merriman S, RBI; Clark D, RBI.
STEUBENVILLE (15-4): Corsi (1BB, 4K, 3HBP) Ferguson (WP, 2BB, 3K) and McClurg. Pierro S, RBI; Collaros D, RBI; Zorne RBI; Petrides D; Jones S, RBI; McClurg D; Corsi S; Herrington S.