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Jefferson's season ends in quarterfinals
Dragons swept by Pacelli
Pacelli’s David Miller loses his balance after making contact with and tagging out Jefferson’s Tyler Hill in an attempt to steal second during the fourth inning of the Class A state quarterfinals Tuesday in Columbus. - photo by SHANNON SZWARC

COLUMBUS When Jefferson gave Charles Rossi a second chance, he took advantage of the opportunity.

Rossi’s Pacelli team was clinging to a one-run lead late in Game 1 of its Class A quarterfinal series, when he hit a routine foul pop that dropped between three Jefferson players in front of the Vikings dugout. Immediately afterward, Rossi hammered a two-out, two-run home run that propelled the Vikings to a 3-0 series-opening win.

"I knew that they’d just given me one, so I had to take advantage of it," said Rossi who was the winning pitcher in Pacelli’s 4-1 Game 2 win. "You’ve got to take advantage of mistakes.

With the loss, Jefferson’s season is now complete.

The quarterfinal sweep pushes Pacelli into Monday’s Class A semifinals, where they will meet the winner of Tuesday’s Providence Christian/Telfair County series. And it was a pair of dominant outings from Rossi and left-hander Michael O’Neal that got them there.

O’Neal kept the Dragons potent lineup at bay with an array of off-speed pitches that had Jefferson’s aggressive hitters off balance. He held Jefferson scoreless for the first time this season, finishing with a complete-game two-hitter, five strikeouts and three walks.

"We usually take really good swings, even at pitches we miss," Jefferson coach Tommy Knight said. "Today we were on the front foot swinging at balls in the dirt. Give him credit. We’ve got some kids that can swing it and he did a great job against us. (Rossi) did too. Both of them threw the ball well. And O’Neal helped his own cause, going 2-for-3 in the opener, including a towering solo homer high over the right-field fence off Jefferson ace Chris Beck.

Jefferson (22-7) mounted only one serious threat against O’Neal, who carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning. The Dragons loaded the bases in the sixth inning with a pair of walks and a Jed Gurley single, but O’Neal induced a hard-hit force out from Jefferson cleanup man Jake Fields, the power-hitting brother of University of Georgia closer Josh Fields to end the inning.

"I was just trying to throw a strike, O’Neal said of the pitch that retired Fields, who tied the school record with 18 home runs this season. "I threw it right down the middle and was just seeing how far he could hit it."

And he hit it right at the shortstop.

It was more of the same in Game 2, with Rossi tossing a complete-game five-hitter, allowing only one unearned run in the sixth inning. Gurley reached and took second on errors and moved to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Beck’s groundout to first.

Meanwhile, the Vikings (27-3) scored four unearned runs off Jefferson starter Cameron Blinn, who pitched a complete-game eight-hitter. Pacelli’s only RBI in the game came in the fourth, when James Miller drove in David Miller who reached on an error with an RBI groundout.

Rossi said he and O’Neal were motivated by hearing talk before the series of how difficult Jefferson’s preseason-No. 1 lineup and pitching staff would be to defeat.

"Everybody had said how great they were. Me and Mike took it as a challenge," Rossi said. "All we heard all week was they have the two best pitchers in the state, they have the best lineup in the state. Me and Mike were kind of like, ‘You know, we’ll see."

Gurley’s run in the sixth finally ended Jefferson’s scoreless streak at 12-1/3 innings. The Dragons again threatened in the seventh, with the first two batters reaching base. But Rossi settled down to retire the next three, getting leadoff man Blaine Skaggs on a game-ending groundout to second base.

"I’m speechless to be honest with you," Pacelli coach Chris Leak said. "If you’d told me we were gonna give up one run in 14 innings to Jefferson High School today, I’d have called you an idiot or a liar or something. I just can’t say enough about Michael O’Neal and Charles Rossi. They did exactly what they needed to do."