Even with the tying run positioned at third base, Preston Falascino never lost his cool.
Keep in mind it was the bottom of the seventh inning and there were no outs.
That's the situation the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School junior right-hander faced Monday night before he struck out the next three batters and helped guide the Chargers to a 6-5 victory over Coudersport at Berwind Park in Saint Marys, in the first round of the PIAA Class A playoffs.
"It was a big game, but I've been there before," Falascino said. "I've pitched in these types of situations before, so I knew what to expect and knew what I needed to do.
"I stayed calm and knew I had to hit my spots."
With the game tied, 3-3, after three innings, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (18-6) added three runs in the fourth inning and held off the District 9 champion Falcons.
"We're really excited about the win," said Chargers coach Phil McCarren, whose team captured the program's first state playoffs win. "The kids battled. We jumped on them early and were able to maintain our lead.
"Coudersport is a good, fundamental team and they battled back, but we were still able to hold our lead."
Junior pitcher Tim Mulvey started for the Chargers and lasted three innings before Falascino entered the game in relief and struck out eight batters in four innings.
"Preston pitched well," McCarren said. "He was able to get out of some jams and did a very nice job that last inning."
That clutch performance, however, was not out of the ordinary for the Chargers' ace pitcher.
The victory Monday gave Falascino a 9-2 record. He also boosted his strikeout total to 101 and will finish the season as the program's all-time single-season strikeout leader.
"Preston is a tremendous player," McCarren said. "He's started since he was a freshman and continues to get better every year.
"He made a tremendous improvement with his command on the mound this season. He learned to pitch and not just throw. He loves baseball and is very serious about it."
But this season has been anything but easy for Falascino.
Just 13 days after pitching a no-hitter against Avonworth, his mother, Christine Falascino, died on April 10.
"I never thought about not coming back," said Falascino, who lives in the Banksville neighborhood of the City of Pittsburgh. "Losing my mom was a tragedy, but I knew playing baseball is what I needed to do and what my mom wanted me to do. Playing baseball has helped me get through everything and has helped me keep my mind off things.
"My team was always there for me and I wanted to be with them. We've prayed together and continue to pray before games.
"And I know my mom's always there as we pray and looking down on me."
Falascino also has helped his team offensively by batting .391 with 23 RBIs through the regular season.
"Preston is a very dedicated kid who loves the game of baseball," McCarren said. "He's strong, throws well, has good bat speed and is just a complete player.
"He's mentally tough and focused. With what he had to deal with this year, he handled it extremely well.
"He was able to be very mature, and he draws his strength from his mental toughness and focused attitude."
Behind Falascino, OLSH went 8-4 in Section 2-A to finish tied for second place with Serra Catholic and Chartiers-Houston behind Bentworth. The Chargers advanced to the WPIAL playoffs and beat Beth-Center and Serra before losing to Neshannock, which eventually won the Class A title, in the semifinals.
OLSH, however, clinched a PIAA playoff berth by defeating Bentworth, 4-2, in the WPIAL third-place consolation game.
"We have definitely worked hard and have been dedicated to winning," Falascino said. "We pick each other up and play together as a team. That has been a big thing for us. We're always picking each other up and making sure we keep our heads up."
Monday's win advanced OLSH to the state quarterfinals. The Chargers are scheduled to face District 6 champion Bishop McCort (21-2) of Johnstown at 2 p.m. today at Somerset.
"We have to stay relaxed and show up ready to play," Falascino said. "We know it could be our last game, so we have to make sure we keep working hard.
"We have to play lockdown defense and continue to pick each other up. That's going to be the key to our success."hsbaseball
First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 AM