SLIPPERY ROCK – The game of baseball is based on metrics and statistical data, which can be interesting but also prove perplexing.
So when a trio of Mercer County District 10 championship teams commenced the PIAA playoffs Monday, Sharpsville had a single loss on its ledger, while Kennedy Catholic remained sub-.500. And during the regular season the Blue Devils defeated both Class 1A Kennedy Catholic and Class 3A Hickory.
But while Kennedy and Hickory harvested 1st-round wins on over the WPIAL’s Riverview and McGuffey, respectively, Sharpsville could not survive Seton-LaSalle, which defeated the Blue Devils, 2-1.
Kennedy Catholic and Hickory advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round, while Sharpsville’s season ends at 18-2.
• Kennedy Catholic 6, Riverview 1 – In the opener of Monday’s triple-header at Slippery Rock University’s Jack Critchfield Park, KC moundsman Cody May was magnificent.
May manufactured a complete-game, 4-hitter. From the 2nd-through-7th stanzas May’s command was such that he needed only 78 pitches as he retired 17 of the final 20 hitters he faced. In all, 68 of his 101 pitches were strikes. He whiffed 9 and walked 2.
May survived a 23-pitch 1st frame. He walked Luke Migely to commence the contest, and after a steal and wild pitch Migely scored on Ryan Aber’s RBI-single.
“I’ll be honest, I was a little bit nervous before the game,” May admitted, “but I said a prayer and knew that God had everything under control, and I trusted myself and my teammates and went out there with confidence. I knew it was gonna be all right.”
District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic (10-10) scored in every inning but the 2nd stanza.
May helped himself with a 1st-inning RBI-single, which scored Carmen Surano, who was hit by a pitch. May was matched by Remington Hart in the 3rd, as he scored Santino Multari, who reached on an error. Stargell Fuhr’s 1-out double in the 4th frame resulted in a run as he eventually scored on a wild pitch; then Tommy Malvar did likewise after reaching via an infield single. Both runs scored off Riverview lefty reliever Enzo Lio.
Hart had a leadoff single in the 5th frame and scored on Fuhr’s 2-out single through the box. Both Hart and Fuhr finished with 2 hits and an RBI.
In the 7th Dom Rapp ripped a single through the 5-hole, then scored on Multari’s triple to the left-center field gap. Multari also ended with 2 hits, as did May, who admitted his back tightened up about the 4th or 5th inning, which caused some concern for KC Head Coach Steve Pinney.
“He kind’ve looked fatigued when he got to seventy-five (pitches), and I went out (to the mound) and I just asked him, ‘How do you feel? You’re dealin’ here, so if you feel good we’ll let you ride.’ He pitched the whole game, so you can’t beat that. ... He just got his own personal rhythm goin’
“When I went out and talked with him, he said, ‘No, I want this. It’s hot out, my back is a thing, but I’m in.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll trust you,’” Pinney related
The Golden Eagles have entered uncharted territory. Fuhr pointed out the District 10 title was the program’s 1st in 31 years.
Regarding the Golden Eagles’ PIAA playoff win, May mused, “It feels different; not quite as electric as D-10, but at the same time in its own way it’s more electric. It’s very exciting to know we’re really pushin’ through this.”
WPIAL runner-up Riverview (11-8) got base hits from Aber, John Patsey, Alexio Ciorra and Aidan Sebastian. Ciorra’s was 7th-inning, 2-out triple. Raiders’ right-hander Vince Shook started and last 3 1/3 innings (64 pitches, 36 strikes). He permitted 3 runs on 4 hits, 2 walks a hit-batsman and he struck out 2. Lio lasted 1 2/3 innings (41 pitches, 23 strikes), and Patsy pitched the 6th. KC collected 10 hits.
Pinney admitted this season’s success “exceeds my expectations. I felt good about makin’, gettin’ into districts, but anything beyond that exceeds my expectations. It’s a credit to these guys that they’re comin’ along, everybody’s jellin’, gettin’ a little confidence, a little swagger with ‘em, so I’ve got no complaints at all.
“It had been up-and-down, a little bit of a roller-coaster sort of ride,” Pinney continued. “But the last three games of the season we just started to click, and here we are.”
KC will play Eden Christian in the PIAA quarterfinals Thursday. Eden Christian, the 3rd seed out of District 7, edged District 9 champ DuBois Central Catholic, 8-7, on Monday at Showers Field in DuBois.
Note: KC’s last PIAA playoff win was in Class AA in 1989. The Golden Eagles, who were D-10 champs in both 1989 and 1990, knocked off D-9 champ Ridgway. In 1990, KC lost in the 1st round to D-9 champ DuBois Central Christian.
• Hickory 4, McGuffey 2 – To illustrate how dominant Hickory right-hander Nick Osborne was at SRU’s Jack Critchfield Park, consider that he threw 32 first-inning pitches, then needed only 61 more to muzzle McGuffey.
“Nick got off to a little bit of a rough start ... but for him to right the ship and be as sharp as he was and finish the game out, that’s par for the course for Nick Osborne,” praised Hickory Head Coach Bob States, who added,. “Just an outstanding effort.”
Osborne hit the first hitter he faced – Brock Wallace – and 1 out later issued his lone walk – to mound counterpart Jake Orr. That set up Logan Seibert’s 2-run single.
After nicking Kyle Brookman with a pitch, Osborne had to work out of a bases-loaded, 2-out situation, which he did by fanning Logan Hatfield. From that point he retired 19 of 20 hitters.
“I threw thirty-two in the first, then came back with two nine-pitch innings. I needed those to even have a chance at throwin’ a complete game, but I was able to do that, so it felt good,” Osborne admitted.
“Bein’ able to adjust my mechanics,” Osborne responded regarding the turnabout. “My back was a little sore; I re-aggravated it in that first inning. But it was just tweakin’ my mechanics and bein’ able to get that slider goin’, which really helped me.
“Mentally, I went into the dugout and calmed myself down, especially when we got those three runs, I knew we were set,” Osborne related.
Osborne had help from the Hornets’ offense, who responded to that 2-run 1st-frame deficit by tallying a trio of runs.
Luca Bertolasio’s 1-out single was followed by Clay Wiesen’s infield hit. Right-handed-hitting clean-up batter Joey Fazzone laced a 2-run triple to the right-center field gap, then trotted home 2 pitches later when Orr was called for a balk.
“I’d been strugglin’ at the plate during these playoffs, hadn’t gotten many hits. So I felt like I had to step up for my team,” Fazzone explained, adding, “I got a fastball, and just took it that way.”
Hickory (18-4) added an insurance run in the 2nd stanza on Matt Jordan’s hustle hit, stolen base, an Orr wild pitch, and Bertolasio’s infield grounder.
Coming off its District 10 championship and winning a PIAA playoff game, States said, “There are no borderline teams anymore; they’re all good now For us to come out and be the better team (Mon)day, that’s huge for us.
“I don’t want to say that we’ve exceeded expectations, but we’ve reached our goals that we set before the season,” States continued. “We knew we had a talented team, so I hate to say that I didn’t expect us to win a game like this. We’re certainly not (satisfied).
“Like I’ve said before and we’ve talked about it all week: This is a new opportunity for us, and we’re attacking it as such,” States concluded.
McGuffey (15-6) got 5 2/3 innings (104 pitches, 65 strikes) from the right-handed Orr. He scattered 8 hits and allowed 4 runs while fanning 4 and walking 2. Austin Beattie threw 2 pitches to retire Hickory in the 6th stanza. After Osborne had retired 13 straight, Orr drilled a double down the left-field line to start the 6th, but that was the Highlanders’ only other hit.
Hickory faces District 6 champ Central in the state quarterfinals Thursday. Central beat D-7 runner-up South Park, 12-8, on Monday.
Note: It was an all-Mercer County umpiring crew, including Jim Hart (plate), Matt Fabian (1st base), Will White (2nd base) and George Snyder (3rd base).
• Seton-LaSalle 2, Sharpsville 1 – An anticipated slugfest between two prolific offenses never materialized.
Seton-LaSalle (22-3) secured singletons in the 1st and 2nd stanzas, while the Blue Devils halved their deficit to 2-1 in the 3rd inning.
But the game’s pivotal play occurred in 6th with Sharpsville seemingly on the verge of a rally. Rebels’ right-hander Brett Wagner hit Kaleb Gorichky with a pitch, then Andrew Frye singled to left.
Sharpsville skipper Brian Smith utilized Jack Leipheimer in a pinch-hitting role with the purpose of laying down a sacrifice bunt. Leipheimer fouled off the 1st attempt, then took Wagner’s 2nd pitch for a ball.
However on the latter Seton-LaSalle catcher Mike Locastro picked off Gorichky, straying too far off 2nd. A resulting run-down accounted for the 1st out, then Rebels’ 3rd baseman Brian Reed rifled a throw across the diamond to 1st baseman Sammy Georgiana, and Frye was caught from behind in a unique 2-6-5-3-4 double play.
“ We executed two run-downs without a ball even bein’ in play. Unbelievable! I mean, those are the kind of plays that, in the state playoffs, they win and lose ballgames,” assessed 4th-year Seton-LaSalle Coach Mike Wagner.
In spite of that momentum-altering play – which also saved on S-L starter Brett Wagner’s pitch-count – Sharpsville still had one, last opportunity in the 7th.
Pinch-hitter Cam Williams worked Wagner for a walk, advanced to 2nd on Steven Tarnoci’s infielder grounder, then took 3rd on a wild pitch.
With Wagner nearing his 105-pitch ceiling, he caught Sharpsville standout Jared Leipheimer looking at a called 3rd strike, then exited after 6 2/3 innings.
Southpaw Georgiana needed just 4 pitches to retire Sharpsville stalwart Jackson Doyle on a game-ending pop up.
“I’m gonna take the heat for that one,” said Sharpsville skipper Brian Smith. “We haven’t bunted much all year because we’re such a powerful offensive club. I thought (the sacrifice bunt attempt) was the right baseball play, with first and second and nobody out, puttin’ down a bunt. But when you don’t do things a lot – especially in a pressure situation – runners got too far off the bag.
“Credit to (the Rebels),” Smith continued. “They’ve got nine great arms in the field and they really play great defense.”
“I went out there, ‘cause I was thinkin’ about takin’ Brett out,” the elder Wagner said of his son. “And Brett’s like, ‘You’re not takin’ me out; I’m not comin’ out.’ When a kid says that to me – in this scenario it’s my kid – I won’t take him out. If the kid wants the ball, I’ll leave him in.
“But my catcher said, ‘The guy on first is gettin’ off too far.’ So we talked, and I said, ‘Make sure (the runner) is going back to the base when you freeze him; don’t throw behind while he’s running to third, ‘cause we’ve done that a few times this year. We’ve been really workin’ on that to improve,” Coach Wagner continued. “I saw (the runner) freeze, I saw Mike (Locastro) come up, ready to go.
“The shocking thing,” Wagner admitted, “was the guy on first was just kind’ve hangin’ halfway between the bases, so (that out) was a bonus. I just figured he’d just run to second and they’d end up with a guy on second. But he got in-between ...”
Wagner silenced Sharpsville’s outstanding sticks. He scattered 7 hits, fanned 5, walked 3 and hit a batter. Of his 106 pitches, 63 were strikes. In addition to the pair of run-downs, the Rebels recorded another pair of conventional double plays, one of which Wagner initiated by spearing Kolten Eckles’ line, then throwing to 1st to double off Brock Lenzi, who had walked.
Sharpsville starter Doyle (2 innings, 44 pitches, 20 strikes) yielded 2 runs on only 2 hits, but 3 walks and a hit-batsman. He whiffed 1. Lefty reliever Lenzi allowed just 4 hits and shut out Seton-LaSalle. He whiffed 2, walked 2 and threw 67 pitches (38 strikes) in his 5-inning stint.
Jared Leipheimer had 2 hits, Doyle doubled, and Gorichky, Frye and Luke Distler drilled Devils’ hits. Following Leipheimer’s 3rd-inning infield single courtesy-runner Zak Ramsey scored Sharpsville’s lone run on a wild pitch.
Evan Henke had 2 hits and drove in a Rebels’ run, and Cam Colwell, Locastro and Brian Reed ripped hits. Wagner and Gabe Finale scored runs – the latter after he was hit by a pitch, advanced on a grounder, and came home on a passed ball.
Sharpsville skipper Smith summarized, “I thought it was gonna be (a score of) three-two. We’ve been playin’ sensational defense, and Seton-LaSalle plays outstanding defense.There’s just not many holes out there. ... They control the running game; it takes us a little out of our game. ... So you have to have three hits in an inning to score a run, and that’s tough against a team like that.
“We had plenty of opportunities with guys on third and less than two outs, but just couldn’t get the big hit,” Smith continued. “But credit to their pitcher (Wagner); he threw a lot of sliders with guys on third, and we struck out three or four times with runners on third and less than two outs.”
Smith will say adieu to seniors Doyle, Jared Leipheimer, Williams, Ramsey, Gorichky and Eckles.
“The season, as a whole, was great. The kids hustled all year, they played hard, they were positive. We pitched by committee, we hit by committee. It’s a great group of kids. We lose six of them.
“That’s the hardest part – the bus rides – knowin’ that that’s the last one for the seniors. But they had a heckava career: Two District 10 championships, and they did everything the right way,” Smith praised.
Seton-LaSalle advances to Thursday’s quarterfinals to play D-7 3rd seed Serra Catholic. Serra trailed D-6 champ Southern Huntingdon 11-5 heading to the 7th inning on Monday, but plated 6 runs to tie the game and then won 13-11 in 8 innings.