FREDERICKSBURG, Pa. - The eight pets in Billy Fulginiti's life no doubt detected his disappointment the instant he walked through the door.

And they're only fish.

This isn't the first time Fulginiti has been forced to trudge down Sadness Street, but the journey never gets easier and this one will sting for a while.

One moment he's thinking, "How cool is this baseball season?!" The next, seemingly, it's over. As is his career.

This morning, don't be surprised if there's a tap-tap-tap on the office door of Ss. Neumann-Goretti High's principal. Having second thoughts about his recent walk down the aisle, diploma in hand, could be Fulginiti, a 5-8, 155-pound handyman.

"I'd love it if they could hold me back," he said. "These guys are going to have so much fun. I wish I could stay here with them."

Fulginiti spoke yesterday maybe 15 feet from N-G's dugout. His low voice was the only thing close to noise in that vicinity.

In a PIAA Class AAA state semifinal, played at comfy Wenger Field about 20 miles northeast of Harrisburg, the Saints dropped a 9-4 verdict to Abington Heights (near Scranton).

Also yesterday, St. Joseph's Prep fell to Parkland (Allentown), 6-2, in a AAAA semi at Spring-Ford, so the Catholic League's chance at winning a championship (or even two) in its first year of PIAA membership is history.

Fulginiti, batting seventh, went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. His positions ranged from second base to leftfield to rightfield as coach Lou Spadaccini used three pitchers - Al Baur, Reno Regalbuto and Mike Riverso.

Fulginiti and catcher Joey Armata were the Saints' only senior starters. They saw it all over these last three seasons, going from 3-18 in CL play as sophs, Spadaccini's first season, to CL and City championships and a pair of state triumphs this spring.

"I know they're going to do the same thing next year," Fulginiti said, referring to the CL/City. "I believed in Lou from the day he took over as coach. He kept putting the thought into our heads, 'We're going to win the Catholic League.' With his energy, and vibe, you just knew it was going to happen."

This game's egg-laying was quite the surprise, especially the manner. The Saints committed four errors. Nevertheless, seven of AH's runs were earned.

"If you'd told me we weren't going to field today, I would have laughed at you," Spadaccini said. "We picked a bad time to not make plays . . . That's not to take anything away from Abington Heights. Because they did hit the ball.

"It makes me sad that they have to be sad. Our relationship goes way beyond coach-player. These guys are everything to me."

Baur, a junior righthander who'd been mostly terrific all season, surrendered four runs in the second. Some loose play figured in, but he walked two and allowed four hits in that frame. He yielded to Regalbuto, a junior lefthander, two batters (error, walk) into the third.

Regalbuto surrendered eight hits (four for extra bases) and five runs (four earned) in 3 1/3 innings. Riverso, another junior lefty, retired his two batters on popups.

N-G tallied one apiece in the second (Nicky Nardini's single) and third (Armata's fielder's choice) and two in the sixth on Baur's borderline single through the right side. That cut the deficit to 7-4 and brought the tying run to the plate in the person of heavy-hitting first baseman Mark Donato. He popped out.

"Al's spent," Spadaccini said. "He just looked tired his last couple starts. He's never thrown this many innings in a short period of time."

Fulginiti mostly looked dazed and amazed.

"It's shocking," he said, "that we didn't bring our best stuff. We came in here thinking we had such a great chance to win. We did have a great season, though. No one can take that from us. I'm so honored to be a part of this team."

Fulginiti, who lives near 22nd and Porter, is headed for La Salle University. Although he has not yet picked a major, his long-range goal is to become a veterinarian.

Hmmm. Is he a fan of the Animal Planet network?

"Actually, I do watch that. And people make fun of me for it," he said, smiling. "I can't help it. It's interesting to me.

"I love animals. It's been that way my whole life. They keep me happy. I figure, 'Why not make that my life?' "

The fish, meanwhile, are in a tank in Billy's room. He has had other pets along the way and he still thinks often about a pair of dogs.

"One was crazy and my parents had to give him away," he said. "The other was killed. Attacked by another dog."

That tragedy occurred in 2001, and the pain still lingers. This downer will likewise hurt for a while. *