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DEREK BURLESON of SS. John and Paul slides safely home during a Division IV sectional championship game against Southington on Monday at Higgins Field.



By JAMES JOHNSON

Staff Writer

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP - Once SS. John and Paul shook off the rust, they had no problems Monday.

Thanks to the complete game four-hitter by senior hurler T.J. Sandella and a leaky Southington defense, the Heralds finally got their Division IV sectional championship game in the books, beating the Wildcats, 9-2, at Edgewood's Higgins Field.

The Heralds (11-5) finally advance to play East Suburban Conference rival Ledgemont (14-5) today at 4:30 p.m. in the district semifinals at Euclid High School's Stanic Field. The winner comes back Wednesday to play Fairport for the district championship.

The sectional final, which had been originally scheduled for May 11 was postponed for 11 straight days because of inclement weather and poor playing conditions at Smith Field. When the Ashtabula field was deemed unplayable again Monday, SJP coach Dave Rozzo was forced to ask Edgewood High School to use Higgins Field as a replacement.

Rozzo also said the long layoff definitely affected his squad, which had trouble hitting Southington hurler Andy Forrest. Monday's game was the first game in almost two weeks for the Heralds.

"We're really struggling right now anyway," Rozzo said. "We are not hitting the ball at all. We've been struggling since the last Ledgemont game.

"That (layoff) definitely had something to do with it today. We couldn't get outside at all last week. We were able to get in the batting cages, but that isn't like playing in a real game."

Forrest fed SJP a steady diet of curveballs, which kept the Heralds off balance for most of the afternoon. If not for five Southington fielding errors, five passed balls, six wild pitches and a balk, the Heralds might not have scored off the Wildcat ace.

SJP grabbed a 2-0 lead on Forrest with individual runs in the top of the second and third innings. Derek Burleson scored the Heralds' first run by coming home from third on a wild pitch. Ryan Prugar made it 2-0 with an RBI single in the third.

Southington (2-15) came right back with two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Wildcat leadoff hitter Trey Tietz smacked a solo home run off Sandella to cut the SJP lead to 2-1. After a double by Forrest, Tim Drory tied the game with an RBI single to left.

But the Wildcats proved to be their own worst enemy. SJP regained the lead in the top of the fifth when Burleson walked, stole second, reached third on a passed ball and scored on Forrest's fourth wild pitch of the game.

The Heralds then broke it open in the top of the sixth with three more runs, the big blow coming on Prugar's two-run double that plated Thomas Balch and Andy Phelps.

The Heralds added three more in the seventh for insurance. Joe Massucci (error), Balch (wild pitch) and Phelps (wild pitch) all scored on Southington miscues.

"We didn't play good defense, which is what we've done all season long," Southington coach Jeff Ciambotti said. "Our defense is why we have the record we have. Fielding the ball has been our biggest problem all season long."

Sandella struck out eight and did not walk a batter. His performance gave Rozzo an opportunity to save staff ace Alex Izzi for Ledgemont today.

"He (Sandella) really came through for us," Rozzo said. "I took a gamble not pitching Alex today, but I wanted to be able to use him for Ledgemont. We missed too many signs today. Fortunately, we won."

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