Kevin Czeczotka saved his best pitch for last.
The St. John the Baptist lefthander broke a curveball just over the outside corner to catch the batter looking at a third strike and douse a potential comeback by St. Dominic.
The Doms had loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning but Czeczotka left them stranded with his fifth strikeout as St. John the Baptist shut out St. Dominic, 4-0, in Game 1 of the best-of-three CHSAA championship series on Sunday at Hofstra Stadium.
St. John the Baptist is looking for its first crown since the Cougars won back-to-back titles in 2013-14.
The teams will meet again in Game 2 on Monday at 11 a.m. at Hofstra University. A St. Dominic win would force a Game 3 approximately 45 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.
“It was the best pitch I threw all game,” said Czeczotka, who improved to 6-1. “[Catcher Logan O’Hoppe] made the right call for the breaking ball in that spot.”
Czeczotka scattered six hits and walked two batters in the complete-game performance.
“We hit him but didn’t string them together,” St. Dominic coach Jim Goelz said. “It was a tough day to drive the ball with a strong wind in our face. But we had some opportunities.”
Czeczotka and St. Dominic righthander Carlos Hidalgo, who came into the game with a 6-0 record and an 0.75 ERA, went toe-to-toe for four scoreless innings. Czeczotka worked his way out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the second inning with a big strikeout.
Hidalgo had allowed only one hit through the first four frames, a line drive single by O’Hoppe with two outs in the third.
“It was a classic pitcher’s duel between two of the better guys around,” St. John the Baptist coach Casey McKay said. “And we saw some great defense.”
Hidalgo ran into trouble in the fifth inning when Anselmo Joya and Giancarlo Giacometti lined back-to-back singles to put runners at first and second. Joya moved to third on a passed ball before Hidalgo picked up his third strikeout for the first out of the inning.
That brought East Carolina-bound O’Hoppe to the plate. Sophomore Hidalgo battled the senior, a three-year starter, in a classic 10-pitch at-bat.
Hidalgo missed just inside on a 2-and-2 offering. After four foul balls, O’Hoppe walked to load the bases.
“That one pitch changed the whole complexion of the game,” Goelz said. “We thought we had a strike there.”
McKay saw it differently.
“Logan fouled off some tough pitches in a long at-bat,” McKay said. “He’s got a great eye and he’s been a tough out all season.”
The Cougars’ Will Shaw lined a two-run single just inside the first-base bag to score Joya and Giacometti for a 2-0 lead. St. John the Baptist added two more unearned runs to cap the four-run inning.
“Our defense made all the plays,” Czeczotka said. “Now we have to go out and get one more win for the title.”