Shaw survives Holy Cross’ late comeback to win Class 5A playoff opener _lowres

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- Shaw's Jace Nini pitches against Holy Cross on Monday, April 28, 2014.

Round III of Shaw vs. Holy Cross looked like it was going to be much like the two regular-season meetings, with one team cruising to an easy victory.

But Holy Cross rallied late to make this one respectable before Shaw staved off the comeback for an 11-9 victory in the bidistrict round of the Class 5A baseball playoffs Monday at Winterscheidt Field.

“The bottom line is we came out on top, and that’s the main thing,” Shaw coach Kirk Bullinger said.

Shaw (22-11), the No. 12 seed, advances to play a best-of-three series starting Friday against the winner of Tuesday’s St. Amant-Fontainebleau game.

Shaw and Holy Cross split their first two games, with each team winning on the other’s home field by an almost identical score. Shaw won one game 14-4, and Holy Cross won the other 14-5.

This one seemed to be headed the same way as Shaw held what looked like a commanding 11-3 lead headed into the seventh inning.

That’s when Holy Cross got going. The Tigers scored six runs in the inning, including a two-run homer by Christian Clayton to cut it to 11-9 with just one out.

“After the home run, I settled in,” Shaw pitcher Jace Nini said. “I had the bases clear then, and it was like having a fresh start. I wanted the complete game.”

After Nini got Jarod Turner to fly out, Tre Turner followed with a double to bring the tying runner — No. 9 hitter Chip Bonura — to the plate with two outs. Nini got Bonura to fly out to center field to end the game.

“I was a little nervous after they hit the home run, but Jace has pitched well all season, so I knew he would get the win for us,” Shaw designated hitter Matt Keller said.

Nini, a junior, went the distance and improved to 6-4.

“It looked like he got a little upset and a little angry at the end and started to crank it up a little more,” Bullinger said.

It was Keller leading the Eagles at the plate. The sophomore was 2-for-3 and drove in four runs. Nini and leadoff batter Brandon Guillot had two hits each, and Bryce Dantin had three RBIs. The Eagles finished with 11 hits and now have 26 in their past two games after a 15-hit performance in the regular-season finale Saturday against Belle Chasse.

“We are swinging the bats really well,” Nini said. “It’s a big win because they are in the Catholic League with us. I wanted to get this win to keep our seniors playing.”

Shaw led 7-1 after four innings, thanks in part to Keller’s two-run double in the third and his two-run single in the fourth.

“The most important thing was that we kept adding on,” Bullinger said. “I was preaching that to them every inning. We knew they were not going to go away. We knew it was going to be a battle to the end, and it was.”

Holy Cross cut it to 7-3 in the fifth on Taylor Schwaner’s two-run single. Then the Eagles really got going in the seventh before coming up short.

“I was real proud of them because they competed until the end,” said Holy Cross coach Greg Battistella, whose team was the No. 22 seed. “I told our guys to go down swinging. If you noticed, we didn’t take a pitch there at the end.”

It was the final game for nine Holy Cross seniors.

“They are diehards,” Battistella said. “They are fun-loving group, and I am proud of them.”

Schwaner finished with three hits, while Clayton and Tre Turner had two each. The Tigers finished 17-16.

“It was the greatest see-saw ride we have ever had,” Battistella said. “We had ups and downs. We never hovered lower than two games below .500 and never went two games above. 500. We overcame the injury bug, and the guys were fighters all year.”

Shaw, meanwhile, lives to fight another day.

“It’s a big win for us,” Keller said. “It definitely builds up our momentum for the next round.”