STATE COLLEGE – There may have been some tears Tuesday afternoon, but the tears shed approximately 48 hours later were of a completely different variety for West Middlesex High’s baseball team.
Senior standout Ricky Ladjevich, ejected from the state semifinals, was beaming Thursday afternoon, a gold medal draped from his neck at Penn State University’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Ladjevich’s Middlesex mates rallied from an early 1-0 deficit and edged Greenwood, 2-1, to secure the PIAA Class 1A commonwealth crown.
By virtue of the victory West Middlesex (23-1) became Mercer County-area’s 2nd diamond squad – following Wilmington in 1981 – to win a state scholastic baseball title.
Owing to PIAA policy, Ladjevich was not allowed to play the game following Tuesday’s ejection; however, his Middlesex mates made a point of having his back.
“We’d been talkin’ about it, goin’ out there and winnin’ for Rick. It was a hard time playin’ without him,” related senior Logan Hurley, who won all 10 of his pitching starts this season, batted. 379, and who had a unique vantage point – filling the void at shortstop left by Ladjevich.
Though Middlesex made 4 miscues, Jake Bowen baffled Greenwood. Bowen’s backdoor breaking ball broke some ankles as the slender senior southpaw pitched a complete-game 3-hitter. His 94-pitch (68-strike) performance saw him strike out 7, walk 1 – ironically, the 1st hitter he faced – and yield only 1 unearned run.
The loss of Ladjevich from the lineup was motivation for West Middlesex, mentor Kevin Hoffman admitted.
“You know what? It was a hard practice the next day (Wednesday). I stood with Rick out in the outfield, he felt kind’ve alienated. We cried together – I could cry right now, ‘cause any coach feels for his kids – but we got him in, made him take ‘BP,’ he stepped in, and the kids gathered around. We just had one of those ‘heart-to-hearts, man. These kids are tight,” Hoffman related, adding,
“I don’t want to say it was not ‘Win one for Ricky, but win one for everybody,’ but, yeah, Ricky also helped with that chip on his shoulder.”
In a mature, even tone of voice, Ladjevich allowed, when asked if that was discussed amongst his Middlesex mates, “You know what? I don’t know, and I really didn’t want that. I didn’t want any distractions for the team. I just wanted them to go out and win,” said Ladjevich, namesake of the Mercer County Hall-of-Famer and former West Middlesex 2-sport legend.
In their first statewide stage showing, Greenwood’s Wildcats worked for the game’s initial run in the 2nd stanza on an error, fielder’s choice grounder, wild pitch and Kolby Seibert’s infield single over the mound.
The Big Reds rallied into a 1-all tie in the 4th frame. Alex Kachulis’ leadoff base hit, a steal, Chase Tomko’s single to left, and Hurley’s suicide squeeze bunt moved Middlesex to a draw.
“We fight to the end of the game. That’s what West Middlesex people do,” Bowen said.
Middlesex moved ahead 2-1 in the 6th stanza on Kaz Hoffman’s 1-out triple to the 375-foot, right-center field gap and Tomko’s sac fly to left. Tomko was down in the count, 1-2. The Gannon University-bound Hoffman’s triple was his 5th of the season.
“It was a fastball, it was right in my ‘wheelhouse,’” a smiling Hoffman related. (Greenwood pitcher Luke Myers) got down in the count ... and I was ready to turn on a pitch.
“It’s amazing!” continued Hoffman, serving as spokesman for his teammates. “Going out with a win is not something very many people can say. It’s an amazing feeling!”
Though bested by Bowen, the right-handed Myers’ mound performance was magnificent. His 7-inning stint (90 pitches, 58 strikes) included 2 runs on only 5 hits, 2 walks and a hit-batsman. He fanned 5 in the game that required only 99 minutes to complete following a 72-minute rain delay at the outset.
Two-time District 3 champion Greenwood ended 18-9 under Coach Mark Sherman.
“I tell these guys all the time, that ballgames, at this point (in the season) are lost; they’re not won,” mused mentor Hoffman. “We battled ... and we came out on top. The seven seniors (Bowen, Hoffman, Kachulis, Ladjevich, Hurley, Dom Stinedurf and Zach Long), they don’t panic. And Jake had the ‘will’ to keep goin’ He had a rough first inning, but just the ‘will’ to work, and we just drive off of one another.”
As with many of his Middlesex mates, Bowen is a 3-sport standout. But baseball, the beaming Bowen said, is his favorite.
“Absolutely! It’s my favorite sport ... this is one of my dreams, since I was nine-years-old. I just always wanted to win a state championship, and we finally did it. I’m kind’ve sad it’s my last game, but it can’t get better than winning a state championship,” Bowen said.
“There’s a saying,” related Long, who will continue his education and play football at Grove City College, ‘”You’re only as good as your last game.’ Just being out here, your last (high school) game ever. Winnin’ a state championship is just incredible!”
Coach Hoffman, himself a Middlesex kid, summarized, “There are a lot of good programs in Mercer County, and I don’t want to leave anyone out. But to be the first, it’s a great accomplishment. It says a lot about these kids, it really does.”
Ladjevich could have caved in to heartbreak; instead, he stoicly said, “I’m really proud to say that I’m part of a team that won their last game as a West Middlesex Big Red.”
And the younger Ladjevich is now one-up on his father, who did not win a scholastic state championship.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” the smiling youngster said, adding more seriously, “It’s always been a dream of mine, since I was a little kid, to try and live up to my dad’s legacy.”
PIAA CLASS 1A CHAMPIONSHIP
MIDDLESEX 000 101 0 –– 2-4-4
GREENWOOD 010 000 0 –– 1-3-0
WEST MIDDLESEX –– Bowen, p, 2-0-0-0; Kachulis, rf, 3-1-1-0; Hoffman, cf 3-1-1-0; Tomko, c, 2-0-1-1; Mild, pr, 0-0-0-0; Hurley, ss, 3-0-1-1; Long, 1b, 3-0-0-0; Donaldson, 3b, 2-0-0-0; Stinedurf, 2b, 3-0-0-0; Zappa, dh, 1-0-0-0; Tate; lf, 0-0-0-0. Totals: 22-2-4-2.
GREENWOOD –– Dalpiaz, c, 2-0-0-0; Myers, p, 2-0-0-0; Bollinger; ss, 3-0-1-0; Aa.Morder; 2b, 3-0-1-0; Howell, 1b, 3-1-0-0; Av. Morder, 3b, 3-0-0-0; Taylor, rf, 2-0-0-0; Fultz, ph, 1-0-0-0; Seibert, dh, 3-0-1-1; Jezewski, cf, 3-0-0-0; Gothel, lf, 0-0-0-0. Totals: 25-1-3-1.