Nico Hickey and Sammy Oates aren't exactly known as power hitters, but they picked good times to go deep.
The Pacelli seniors' home runs helped carry the Vikings to a doubleheader sweep of Providence Christian, setting up a showdown Friday at Landmark Christian for the Class A state championship.
"It was a big momentum builder for me. When I saw it go out, I was surprised," said Hickey, whose three-run blast in the third inning of Game 1 propelled Pacelli to an 8-3 win. "It was a great pitch to hit and I just went with it."
But that was actually Hickey's third home run of the season. Oates' solo shot in the fourth inning of Game 2 -- which he paired with a head-first diving catch to rob Addison Thomas of a hit in the bottom half of the inning -- was his first of the season. It put Pacelli up 4-0 on the way to a 7-3 win in Game 2.
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"It was absolutely a good time for it. I couldn't ask for a better time," said Oates, who went 2-for-4 with two runs scored in Game 2, after being held out of the lineup in favor of a designated hitter in Game 1.
The wins push Pacelli into the state finals for the first time for any of this senior class -- and the first time for the school since a loss to Clinch County in 1991. The Vikings defeated Landmark Christian 8-6 a month ago in Columbus, part of a streak of 27 wins in their last 28 games.
"It's something new for me," Hickey said. "This is the first time I've ever been. It's the last chance I had to do it because I'm a senior. I'm just glad it happened today."
The Vikings (29-3) again got effective complete-game outings from starting pitchers Michael O'Neal and Charles Rossi.
O'Neal (12-1) earned the win in Game 1, allowing seven hits and two earned runs over seven innings. Meanwhile, Rossi (12-2) carried a two-hitter into the sixth inning and his team led 6-0 before he ran into trouble.
Rossi allowed six singles and hit a batter in the sixth inning as the Stars scored three times to cut Pacelli's lead to 6-3. However, Rossi battled out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Addison McDowell with a fastball to end the inning.
"I really wanted to strike him out, too. I put everything into that pitch," Rossi said with a grin.
In both games, Pacelli struck early against Providence's starter.
The Vikings scored twice in the first off Game 1 starter Jesse Meier (7-3) and made it 6-1 with a three-run third inning. Similarly, they put up three runs in the top of the first off Game 2 starter Austin Berry and eventually pushed the lead to 6-0 before Providence (26-8-1) rallied.
"I think it helped them relax a lot probably, and I think it helped them stay focused on that last week wasn't a fluke -- them beating Jefferson (in last week's quarterfinals) was because they were a better team," Providence coach Adam Cantrell said.
"Them coming out and scoring a couple in the first inning of both games probably helped them stay focused on what they do well as a team, which is keep the other team down and don't let them up.
"Even when we got a little momentum, they just were able to melt it back down and keep us from doing the things that we like to do."
The Vikings did it by getting clutch pitches and balanced production throughout the lineup. Seven different Pacelli players scored at least once in Game 1, while every batter in the lineup had either a run or an RBI in Game 2.
Rossi alone was 5-for-7 in the series and scored three times. In both games, he was one of the players who reached and scored in the first inning to give the Vikings the early lead. Once Pacelli took those leads, they refused to relinquish them.
"It's like when you go into a boxing match and you punch the guy first to let him know you're there," Oates said. "You establish yourself as soon as you get there... . I think when we went out there and put the runs on the board, we kind of showed them we were there. We weren't going anywhere."
However, the wins allowed the Vikings to go somewhere they've never been before. They'll visit Fairburn, Ga., this weekend with a chance to be crowned state champions for the first time.