Chase Tomko

West Middlesex’s Chase Tomko makes contact with a pitch against Bishop McCort during Tuesday’s PIAA Class 1A semifinal game at West Mifflin High School.

WEST MIFFLIN – Baseball is a game of numbers, so here’s an interesting one:

Nineteen years.

An observer pointed out Wilmington’s win in 1981, followed by Sharpsville’s setback in 2000. Next up for Mercer County area’s aggregation, West Middlesex in 2019.

The Big Reds rallied from an early 2-0 deficit during Tuesday’s PIAA Class 1A state semifinal, and eliminated Bishop McCort, 6-3.

By virtue of the victory, West Middlesex (22-1) will meet Greenwood – a 10-0, 5-inning winner over Halifax – Thursday at 1 p.m. at Penn State University for the commonwealth crown.

“It’s awesome! Unbelievable! Any time you start the season, you always say that’s a goal of your team. But to actually fulfill it, that’s a different story,” admitted Middlesex mentor Kevin Hoffman. 

“This is huge! This is the best accomplishment I’ve ever had playing sports,” admitted senior Jake Bowen.

At West Mifflin High, West Middlesex manufactured a 4-run 4th frame, snapping a 2-all stalemate. Bowen and Kaz Hoffman had RBI-singles and Logan Hurley’s 2-run single highlighted the outburst, which started with Derrik Zappa’s lead-off single on a 1-2 pitch. Zappa was sacrificed to 2nd by Dom Stinedurf, and never slowed down when he noticed McCort’s infield rotation on the bunt vacated 3rd base. An errant throw helped him slide safely into scoring position.

Trailing 6-2, the Crimson Crushers cashed in a run in the 5th frame as Zach Ramach drew a bases-loaded walk. However Bowen, the senior southpaw, short-circuited the rally. He got Brendon Bair on a checked swing 3rd-strike breaking ball, then induced DH Nick McGowan to ground out.

“I was tryin’ to get the fastball for a strike and couldn’t get it. So coach came out and talked to me and said, ‘Your fastball isn’t working; throw a curve ball.’ So I started doin’ that and was gettin’ strikes and worked out of that inning,” related Bowen, who in 3 innings of relief, was credited with the win.

Bishop McCort moundsman Bair belted a 2-run home run to the right of the 345-foot marker in right-center field as the Crimson Crushers commanded an early 2-0 margin. It was one of the few times this season West Middlesex has trailed.

“It made me realize, ‘Okay, I’ve gotta go back and do my thing on the mound, and go back to work,’” related the right-handed Hurley. 

As the starter, Hurley hurled 3 innings (48 pitches, 36 strikes), yielding 2 runs on 3 hits while whiffing 3. Bowen’s 3-inning stint (51 pitches, 31 strikes), yielded 1 run on only 1 hit. He fanned 5, walked 3 and hit a batter. Burly righty Garrett Donaldson closed out. After surrendering Cole Bradley’s leadoff single in the 7th stanza, Donaldson struck out Will Miller looking and Cam Bunn swinging, before inducing a fly ball to left to send Middlesex team to the statewide stage for the 2nd time in 3 months.

In March, the Ms. Reds’ roundballers competed for the PIAA Class 2A championship, another first in the school’s athletic annals.

“I have a lot of confidence in Garrett. ... His number hasn’t been called often, but when it’s been called he’s done a great job for us on the hill. I have a lot of confidence in Garrett throwin’ strikes,” Coach Hoffman praised.

“It’s great to get one of our own,” admitted Bowen, who supported the girls’ basketball team that late-March Thursday in Hershey. “Instead of cheering them on, we actually get to play in (a state championship game), so it’s somethin’ really special.”

Down 2-0 early, the Big Reds responded with a game-tying 2-spot in the 3rd – without the benefit of a hit. A 1-out error, walk and hit batsman loaded the bases. Hoffman’s fielder’s choice grounder and a bases-loaded walk issued to Hurley drew Middlesex even.

“We had an opportunity to make a couple plays and we didn’t; we left some runs on the board. We were probably making a defensive play or two away or gettin’ a hit or two away, but that’s the game,” assessed 9th-year Bishop McCort mentor Chris Pfeil. “That’s what’s so hard about making these runs in the state tournament (Bishop McCort made it to the 2016 and 2017 PIAA title tilts) – you’ve gotta be really good for a long stretch of games. A bad inning can seal your fate, and it did (Tues)day.

“We threatened in the sixth. You need a hit, or maybe a ball to bounce your way, then maybe things change. But it didn’t happen,” Pfeil continued. “You’ve gotta give credit to (the Big Reds). They threw three different guys, (and) they seemed to get the big pitch and the big out when they needed to.”

An underclassmen-laded squad, Bishop McCort’s campaign ended 17-8. Meanwhile, Middlesex moves on for the first time in program history. Its lone loss occurred almost 2 months ago at Wilmington (10-7).

“We’ve been down before in games (Cathedral Prep, Hickory), but my kids don’t quit; they battle. And hats off to them, they battled (Tues)day,” Middlesex mentor Hoffman said.

The win was somewhat bittersweet, however. Senior standout shortstop Ricky Ladjevich was called out on strikes in the 6th stanza and ejected for questioning the call by home plate umpire Fred Orozo. As per PIAA policy, Ladjevich will not be eligible to play in his team’s next game.

“(Orozo) just said (Ladjevich) argued balls and strikes and he’s not allowed to do it, is what (Orozo) said to me,” related Coach Hoffman who asked for an explanation. “But it’s like what you say in every sport – it’s next man up. ... Whomever I put out there defensively, I’ll have confidence in them. ... But anytime you take a .450 hitter out of your lineup, it’s gonna hurt you.”

Regarding his Big Reds’ run, Hoffman said, “Any time you’re playin’ deep in the season when there’s no school, that’s fun; any time you’re playin’ after everybody else is at home watchin’ that’s always a good feeling.”

Notes: Bair, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore right-hander, threw 98 pitches (65 strikes) in 4 frames, permitting 6 runs (5 earned) on 4 hits, 5 walks, and a hit-batsman. He fanned 5. Senior southpaw reliever Matt Mosholder set down all 6 hitters he faced, whiffing 3 ... Coach Hoffman made a gutsy call. With the bases loaded and 1 out in the 3rd he had his son, Kaz, attempt a safety squeeze bunt, but it was fouled off. “I just wanted to get somethin’ goin’. I felt our kids were draggin’ a little bit. Kaz can put the bat on the ball. Kaz is a good hitter, he can bunt if he needs to bunt. ... I felt comfortable there that he could get one down if need be. The pitch was low and away; he did a nice job gettin’ the bat on it. I just felt we needed a run at that point in time.” Ultimately, Kaz Hoffman had the RBI hit in that at-bat.

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PIAA CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS

B. McCORT     200 010 0 –– 3-5-2

W. MIDDLESEX 002 400 x –– 6-5-0

BISHOP McCORT –– Miller, cf, 3-0-1-0; Bunn, 2b, 3-0-0-0; Ramach, c-ss, 3-1-1-1; Bair, p-1b, 3-1-1-1; Leis, ss, 0-0-0-0; McGowan, dh, 3-0-1-0; Leech, 1b, 3-0-0-0; Page, lf, 3-0-0-0; Staib, rf, 3-0-0-0; Bradley, 3b, 2-1-1-0. Totals: 26-3-5-2.

WEST MIDDLESEX –– Bowen, lf-p, 3-2-1-1; Ladjevich, ss, 3-0-1-0; Hoffman, cf, 4-1-1-2; Tomko, c, 1-0-0-0; Mild, pr, 0-0-0-0; Hurley, p-3b, 2-0-1-3; Long, 1b, 3-0-0-0; Donaldson, 3b-p, 1-0-0-0; Zappa, pr-3b, 2-1-1-0; Stinedurf, 2b, 2-0-0-0; Kachulis, rf, 2-0-0-0. Totals: 22-6-5-6.