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PV’s Hood overpowers Marian

Rock and fire.

That’s exactly what Panther Valley’s ace pitcher Stephen Hood did Friday against rival Marian.

The Panthers’ ‘Big Dawg’ had quite the bite on the mound as he fired away with authority and confidence in leading the Panthers to a 3-1 Schuylkill League Division 3 win.

Hood handcuffed the Colt hitters time and again, allowing just three hits and striking out 12.

When the Big Dawg reached his pitch count limit with two outs in the top of the seventh, Panther manager Rich Evanko called on slinky senior Tyler Black - and the ‘Big Cat’ finished off the win with a game-ending groundout.

“I just felt better and better as the game went on,” said Hood, who is bound for Kutztown next spring. After explaining that he had been dealing with some early season shoulder tendinitis in his throwing arm, he added, “After the second inning, my shoulder felt better and I started to throw much better than any time this season.”

His manager totally agreed.

“It’s taken him a long time to get comfortable,” Evanko said. “Early on, he didn’t look comfortable. I think it was about the third or fourth inning when he finally started to come around and get that good rhythm. Overall, it was a great outing for him.”

It was also a big outing for the defending divisional champion Panthers (7-2, 6-1) as it gave them a two-game lead in the loss column over the second-place Colts (5-6, 3-3).

Hood was in a pitcher’s duel with his Marian counterpart Mike Gelatko - who just so happens to be his cousin. Gelatko went the distance, tossing 90 pitches, while allowing eight hits, one walk and one strikeout.

Panther Valley was led at the plate by Hayden Goida and Brennan Kunkel with two hits each. Logan Fisher had the game’s only extra base hit, a double. Hood, Chase Weaver and Danny Wehr had the other PV hits. Marian’s singles came from Rocco Grigoli, Noah Bauder and Dylan Zullo.

“He was so much fun to catch,” said Hood’s batterymate Goida. “Coach was calling most of the pitches, a few times he waved it off. But that curve was great, it just came over the plate.”

The only time Marian batters were able to get to Hood was in the second inning when Bauder slapped an infield single, moved to second when Cole DeFrancesco drew a walk, and scored when Grigoli blasted a shot to right field. The Colts might have been able to do more damage in the frame, but DeFrancesco was cut down also trying to score on the play on a perfectly executed relay play from right fielder Black to second baseman Brody Breiner to catcher Goida.

That was a huge lift for the Panthers as Hood struck out the next batter and then got Brain Hinkle to ground out to third for the inning’s final out.

“The effort was there, I just told our players we’ve got to clean up the execution,” said Marian manager Tony Radocha. “We matched their effort and battled them play for play … but they took advantage of their opportunities to get a couple more runs than us.”

The Panthers took the lead in the home third with a two-run rally. Kunkel singled and stole second but got caught in a rundown with Weaver at the plate for an out. Weaver then singled and one out later, Goida reached base before Hood drilled a hit to score both runners.

Panther Valley added to the lead with a fifth inning insurance tally. Drew Kokinda was safe on an error, moved to second on a passed ball, then scampered home on a Goida single.

“We put the ball in play,” Evanko said. “You have to put the ball in play at any level, if you don’t do that you can’t score runs. I thought our lineup 1-thru-9 did a nice job of that.”

After getting the lead, Hood was nearly untouchable. He retired nine straight batters from the top of the second until Zullo singled to right in the fifth. Zullo managed to reach third with two outs, but Hood delivered his patented curveball to strike out the final batter of the inning.

After a quick sixth, Hood got two strikeouts to open the seventh before departing after throwing his 101st pitch - giving way to Black, who picked up the save.

BUCKLE TIME … Hood’s breaking pitch was nasty. He threw it for strikes and even threw it when he was behind in the count. He struck out every batter in the Colt lineup at least one time.

SOLID AS A ROCK … Both catchers were superb - Goida for Panther Valley and Lochlan Segedy for Marian. They are two of the best in the league.

DEFENDING … Marian’s left fielder Nate Davidovich made a terrific peg to second baseman Bauder, who applied a tag on PV’s Wehr who tried stretching his hit into a double in the sixth. “We spent a lot of time working on those things this past week,” Radocha said of the play.

BEHIND THE MIC ... Blue Ridge Cable-TV 13’s duo of Bob Capasso and former Marian/Penn State Hazleton baseball coach Jeff Nietz always do a bang-up job delivering the broadcasts throughout the season. Ditto for their stat guru Brock Heckman.

Marian 010 000 0 – 1 3 2

Panther Valley 002 010 x 3 8 2

Gelatko and Segedy; Hood, Black (7) and Goida. W - Hood. L - Gelatko. S - Black.

Panther Valley's Stephen Hood unwinds with a pitch against Marian on Friday. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS