HIS GRADES ON final exams taken yesterday, in English and theology, are not yet available.

As for his performance on a big baseball test . . . Mark Donato aced it.

Under gray skies and occasional rain, the 6-1, 205-pound junior lefthander from Ss. Neumann-Goretti High was a gamelong bright light. And he had to be.

The occasion was a PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal, played at Spring-Ford High, that featured the Saints and Twin Valley, which is about halfway between Downingtown and Reading. N-G prevailed, 1-0, in a snappy 83 minutes to earn a spot opposite Abington Heights in a Monday semifinal (details TBA).

Donato allowed two apiece of hits and walks while striking out 11. Six of those punchouts were recorded in the final two innings and the last came as pinch-runner Alan McCarthy tried to steal third on a 2-2 count.

"He did? I didn't even notice,'' Donato said. "I wasn't worrying about him.''

With two away, Justin Pacana had ripped a hard single to left - it was only the third ball to leave the infield; the others were flyouts to center - and then McCarthy had moved up on a wild pitch.

Was Donato even remotely stressed?

"I knew they weren't going to score," he said, in his ever-present low, matter-of-fact tone. "Once we got that run in the third inning, I knew it was over. That was all I needed. I felt confident about all my pitches.''

Said coach Lou Spadaccini: "Sometimes, I think Mark needs to loosen up better before the game. But once he gets to the [later] innings, he's just so good. You can't ask for a better baseball player to be the guy who's on the mound for your team.''

The game was not without some saltiness.

Young Twin Valley fans, standing along the fence behind third base, kept making references to spaghetti - eight of N-G's 10 starters have Italian surnames - and Spadaccini finally snapped.

Not about that, though.

"I've heard spaghetti talk my whole life,'' he said, cheerfully. "That doesn't get to me. They went too far when they were calling [catcher/team leader] Joey Armata fat and saying he needs Slim-Fast. That's my boy. No need for personal attacks.''

The nearest ump agreed and told the kids to zip it.

About the game-winning run: Evidence strongly suggests that extra innings should have been necessary.

Marty Venafro started the uprising, such as it barely was, by reaching first on an infield bobble. Nicky Nardini, doing his move-him-up job in great fashion, used an inside-out swing to ground out to first. Reno Regalbuto was safe on a bunt when pitcher Eric Geedey slipped to the wet grass while trying to make the throw.

As Al Baur fanned, Regalbuto and Venafro pulled off a double steal. Or did they?

Catcher Greg Reardon's throw was to the first-base side of the bag. Shortstop Jesse May caught it in the baseline and tried to sweep-tag Regalbuto, who failed to slide. No doubt believing he had made the tag, May did not throw home and Venafro scored. An out call on Regalbuto, of course, would have completed an inning-ending doubleplay.

Some N-G parents, standing along the fence beyond first base, with perfect, looking-right-at-it angles, said Regalbuto had been tagged.

Under pressure from Twin Valley's coach, the second-base ump eventually conferred with his partner at first. The call stood.

How 'bout it, Reno?

After smiling and looking around, and then repeating the process, Regalbuto finally made eye contact and said: "I think he might have nipped me. But I'd never admit to that."

You have to appreciate the kinda-honesty.

Regalbuto said he didn't slide for two reasons: He thought the throw was wild, and he was still far enough from the base that he feared a slide on the wet dirt would have left him short of the bag.

With a laugh, Spadaccini disputed that.

"He's been doing that a lot lately,'' he said. "He's got a raspberry on his leg. Any time he does slide, it kills him. He comes up limping."

Venafro was the only Saint to advance past second. The other hit was a two-out, second-inning single to left by Dom Riverso. TV's other safety was an infield roller in the second by Ben Nelson.

"This was a game where we needed to steal a run, and we did," Spadaccini said. "This is a resilient bunch. They're starting to get my attitude, which is scary."

AlThough the game was scheduled for noon, the players received word at 10 a.m. that a push-back to 4 had occurred because of field conditions.

Donato headed home to nap.

"Albert [Baur] texted me, 'I'm gonna pick you up at 12,' " said Donato, who has allowed nine hits in 22 postseason innings while striking out 30. "I was asleep. When I saw that, it was five-of. I was still in bed when the next text came. 'We're outside.'

"I was a little tired. Was just trying to get some rest. Then, on the way up here [N-G's oversized van almost wound up in Reading, before backtracking], I had my head down, trying to get more rest. Once the game started, I was energized. Eight days of rest. Good to go."

Final mark: A-plus.


The St. Joseph's Prep-West Chester East quarterfinal, scheduled for Glen Mills, was rained out. It's slated for 4 o'clock today at the same site, although breath-holding is not advised due to a forecast for heavy rain. *