With his team clinging to a one-run lead against Central Catholic two weeks ago, Bethlehem Catholic coach Mike Grasso turned over the game to his most experienced pitcher.
Connor Casey wanted the fireman role in his first time on the mound this season.
After shoulder problems limited him to serving as Bethlehem Catholic's designated hitter for the first few weeks this season, the senior right-hander earned a save by shutting down Central Catholic. He came back the next week and beat Northampton in his first start of 2012 before falling Wednesday against Parkland, allowing five runs and seven hits over five innings.
That loss to the Trojans dropped the Golden Hawks two games under .500 again (5-7 overall), leaving them with a lot of work to do to qualify for the District 11 Class 3A baseball playoffs. Having Casey back atop their rotation has Grasso hoping for a strong finish.
"An athlete like that, one of the better pitchers in the Valley, to keep him out of that rotation, that really hurts you," Grasso said earlier this week. "You put him back in the rotation, you have that senior leader, it really elevates the young sophomore [Jake Carty] and young junior [David Derkits]."
Casey displayed his leadership against Central Catholic, asking for the ball in a game the Golden Hawks needed after an 0-4 start in the league. A three-sport athlete, he wants one taste of postseason play this school year after missing out on the playoffs in football and basketball
Bethlehem Catholic will not have an easy path to districts. It needs to finish 5-3 over its last eight games to reach .500. Six of the Golden Hawks' seven remaining Lehigh Valley Conference games will be against teams with .500 or better records, starting with today's meeting against Emmaus.
Casey could give the Golden Hawks three starts during that stretch, depending upon how weather affects the schedule. The Golden Hawks also hope to have Derkits back by next week; he broke his nose against Central Catholic.
"With this being my last season here at Bethlehem Catholic, I just want to get back to districts and get that feeling of playing in the playoffs," said Casey, a key member on last year's team that fell one win short of districts. "I know all my teammates are working to get back one more time. It was tough in football and basketball [season], but getting back in baseball would be nice."
No matter where the Golden Hawks end up, Grasso is pleased with the way his younger kids have performed to this point. He said this has been one of the worst injury years he can recall — sophomore cleanup hitter Collin McGeary also has missed several games with an ankle injury.
"We're hanging in there," Grasso said. "And it's only because other kids are pushing themselves and doing a good job."
• Eastern University, which features four Lehigh Valley players, enters the final weekend of Freedom Conference play tied with Manhattanville for the fourth and final berth in the league playoffs. Misericordia, DeSales and FDU-Florham have all clinched playoff berths, with Misericordia and DeSales still battling for the top seed.
Bethlehem Catholic graduate Greg DeSarro (.431, 32 RBIs) starts at catcher for Eastern, while Parkland grad Devon Ziegenfuss (.314, 30 RBIs) is a starting outfielder. Ernie Stiegler (3-4, 8.17 ERA) and Nick Moeltner (4-5, 4.53), both from Parkland, are the team's top two starting pitchers.
The Eagles face Misericordia in a three-game series starting Friday.
• Shippensburg sophomore Pat Kregeloh, the Morning Call's 2010 pitcher of the year at Pleasant Valley, has been a two-way standout for the Raiders. His 2.41 ERA is best on the team (minimum 15 innings pitched). He also is hitting .264 with nine extra-base hits and 20 RBIs.
A glance ahead
With rain washing out last Sunday's three-game LVC card atCoca-ColaPark, the final week of the regular-season schedule became more intriguing.
Those three LVC games have been rescheduled for Monday, May 7, at Coca-Cola Park, with Parkland facing Whitehall (3 p.m.), Easton taking on Bethlehem Catholic (5:30 p.m.) and Liberty playing Freedom (8 p.m). Those same matchups will be repeated on Thursday, May 10, which is supposed to be the final day of LVC play.
The Liberty-Freedom and Parkland-Whitehall games could help determine which teams qualify for the league playoffs.