There was a simple reason the young Lenny Nicoletti never scratched the itch to pitch.

He never had it.

From the time Nicoletti began playing T-ball at age 4, his assorted coaches always planted him at shortstop. Not only did he love the position, he reveled in its importance and never dreamed of playing anywhere else.

Then came the 2005 Franklin Learning Center baseball team, which was shaping up as something of a nightmare.

Leonard Dominic Nicoletti IV to the rescue.

"Coach John [Merlino] was trying to find anyone who could throw strikes," Lenny said, laughing. "I was the only one who could do it. Had to start pitching."

Fast-forward to yesterday. FLC met Alvin Swenson in Fairmount Park with a chance to win the Public League Division C regular-season championship.

The Bobcats' pitcher? Lenny Nicoletti. The result? A 3-1 win in a mostly tight and bright 1 hour, 34 minutes.

The 6-foot, 160-pound senior righthander cruised his way to a two-hitter with eight strikeouts, and he owned a shutout until two were out in the seventh.

With Justin Holzshu on second, after having walked and moved up on a groundout, Shawn Rose sent a fly to right. Pedro Lopez slightly circled the ball and it fell for a run-scoring single.

"I did??!!" That was Nicoletti's response when asked if he'd known he owned a one-hitter to that point. "I wasn't paying attention. I was trying to get them out."

When Pat Quinn followed with a comebacker, Nicoletti made the stop, hesitated briefly and dashed to first base to record the putout. He was promptly mobbed by his teammates and soon thereafter, managers Mike Davis and Eric Wilson were dousing Merlino with a bucket of water.

"The guy was basically still in the box when I caught the ball," Nicoletti said. "I was going to throw it over [to first baseman Keith "Spike" McCandless], but I was so excited. I didn't want to take a chance on anything going wrong. 'Just take it over there yourself.' "

Nicoletti, whose better pitching and hitting moments were accompanied by chants of "MVP! MVP!", outdueled soph righthander Harry Davila, who allowed four hits.

Two came early. With one out in the first, Joe Maloney fired a double down the leftfield line and Nicoletti followed with a bullet of an RBI single in the same direction.

The Bobcats added two unearned runs in the sixth. Nicoletti's hard grounder to third produced a wild throw, scoring Lopez, and Maloney scampered home two batters later when the catcher's attempted pickoff throw sailed into leftfield. A true peg likely would have erased Maloney.

Knowing the stakes, Nicoletti was nervous all day.

"Until I threw strike one, really," he said. "Then I felt better again when we went up, 1-0. You always feel better when you're pitching with a lead.

"The first four innings, I was throwing pretty hard [while recording seven of his whiffs]. I took a little off my pitches after that because I just wanted to keep getting outs. No use trying to blow guys away. I had faith in my teammates."

Maloney, a junior transfer from Roman Catholic, was outstanding at second base. His two best plays were a skidding catch of a line drive to his left and a heads-up bailout of McCandless, who mishandled a grounder with the ball bouncing in Maloney's direction.

Another time, Dom Simone grounded up the middle. The ball hit the rubber and bounced at least 20 feet in the air. Maloney stayed with the play, caught the ball near second and quickly stepped on the bag for a forceout.

Swenson's other hit was a second-inning groundball single by Holzshu.

Among the spectators were Nicoletti's mother, Cathy, and two of his six siblings, 10-year-old Joe and 8-year-old Hannah. Christine, the oldest in the Olney-based family, goes to Kutztown. Lenny is No. 2 in line (and, yes, he intends to father LDN V), followed by Rachel, Tessa, Timae, Joe and Hannah.

Nicoletti is also planning to attend Kutztown, though assistant Rich Yankowitz, of Penn State-Abington, pushed hard after yesterday's game. He wants to major in sports management.

"I want to coach. I'd love to be a coach," he said. "I coach soccer and baseball and I coach my little brother [Joe was standing right there] and I just enjoy the idea of teaching the game."

By now, Lenny Nicoletti also embraces his primary job as a pitcher.

"You're involved in every play," he said. "It's funner than any other position."

Funner?

"Funner . . . More fun . . . Whatever it's supposed to be," he said, laughing. "I just know I like it a lot." *