PUNXSUTAWNEY — Punxsy starting pitcher Joe Pisano is flourishing at the right time.
The senior, who had a 10.70 ERA through his first 20 innings before he allowed three runs over his last 14 1/3-innings this season, was dominant Wednesday in the District IX Class AAA Semifinals against Bradford at Rich Kuntz Memorial Field in Punxsutawney.
Pisano delivered a one-hit gem during the Chucks' 10-1 victory over the Owls (5-13) to put Punxsy in position to win its eighth consecutive district title.
"This is what we needed — first game of the playoffs, make a statement for us," Pisano said. "I knew we needed a real good start out of me. I started out rough earlier in the year ... so I had to throw a good game."
The Chucks (13-7) will now face St. Marys (11-9) — which beat Clearfield Wednesday, 8-3 — in the district title game for the second-straight season.
No official date and venue have been set for the district championship game, though next Wednesday in Brockway is the likely situation.
Bradford barely touched Punxsy's right-hander, who had a perfect game through three innings and a no-hitter through five innings. Punxsy manager Mike Dickey said Wednesday's performance is what he expected out of Pisano.
"I really thought that if he brought his best stuff, he would overpower them. And he did," Dickey said. "When they did put the ball in play, we played well behind him today."
After Pisano set down the Owls in order during the first three innings with four strikeouts, he walked a pair in the fourth. But a fly out to left fielder Luke Janocha ended the fourth with two Bradford runners in scoring position.
After a 1-2-3 fifth, Pisano hit a batter before Colton Holzwarth reached base on a bunt single in the sixth. No Bradford hit ever touched the outfield grass, as a groundout with one out and the bases loaded led to the Owls' only run in the sixth inning.
While Pisano was setting down the Owls with relative ease, Punxsy scored during every inning but one. With one out in the first inning, Ty Zimmerman, Tyler Skerkavich, Jordan Mesoraco and Pisano singled in succession. The singles by Mesoraco and Pisano scored Zimmerman and Skerkavich, respectively.
Zak Dickey hit a two-out solo home run in the second inning, and the Chucks' lead improved to 7-0 through three innings after a four-run third.
"We were juiced for this game, there's no question. We wanted to come out and put a lead on them early," Mike Dickey said. "We did that and just kind of cruised from there."
Taylor Neal brought home a run with a bases-loaded walk, Dickey recorded his second RBI with a groundout, and Zimmerman drove home a pair with a two-run double.
Skerkavich, who finished the day 3-for-4, drove home a pair with a double in the fifth inning, and Brodi Lowmaster doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the sixth for the Chucks' 10th and final run.
Zimmerman, Mesoraco and Lowmaster each finished with two hits. Zimmerman, Lowmaster and Neal scored twice apiece.
The Chucks are in the district title game again, but manager Dickey kept in mind what Punxsy needs to improve upon. Punxsy left eight runners on base and struck out four times, sometimes swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.
"Always a perfectionist, what I'm remembering is bad approaches," he said. "I just don't think we maximized what we had, and that's something we're going to work on."
Jordan Harrington took the loss for Bradford. He surrendered seven runs on nine hits with three walks and a hit batter over three-plus innings. Nunzio Cavellero pitched the final four innings and gave up three runs (two earned) on two hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
Pisano struck out nine, walked three and hit a batter during the win.
"We came in with the mindset to hit the ball and throw strikes, and that's what we did," Pisano said. "We've won seven straight and (want to) keep it rolling."
Though the district title game is a week away, Dickey admitted that he's already thinking about St. Marys.
"I expected to win this," he said. "The guys can enjoy this for tonight, and we'll go to work tomorrow."